By Venus Zarris
Women’s Studies class meets Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim in Sheila Callaghan’s chaotic That Pretty Pretty; Or, The Rape Play. Director Billy Bermingham delivers a non-stop macabre funhouse in this blood-spurting Midwest Premiere. While the topics of rape, the objectification of women and misogynistic violence are not fun; the distorted funhouse mirrors that Callaghan shows them through make for startlingly silly scenes. They are delivered at such a break-neck pace and tempered with enough balls-out absurdity that the violence and explicit moments are more goofy, rather than flinch-inducing. There’s a lot of meat to the subtext of Callaghan’s mad-capped treatise but the script is so scattered and frenetic that it cancels out its potential potency.
Agnes and Valerie are ex-strippers that go on a Thelma and Louise-esque killing spree of Pro-Life conventioneers. As the women blog about their vicious exploits, Owen and the Rod plan to turn the story into a sure-fire Hollywood blockbuster movie script. Throughout these scenes, that repeat dialogue and action while juxtaposing the characters, Jane Fonda’s workout-guru-incarnation shows up to keep everyone in shape with her aerobically Stepford-wife-on-steroids disingenuous enthusiasm.
There’s nothing fresh about the wild ride that we go on and the dissection of the subject matter smells of stale formaldehyde. If you love playwright Christopher Durang, you will enjoy the Betty’s Summer Vacation–like bedlam and brutality. If you are not a frequent follower of absurd theater, the insane extremes of That Pretty Pretty; Or, The Rape Play might seem startling but whether you are shocked by the violations of conventional taboos or amused by the irreverent implications and clever dialogue; you’ll be hard pressed to come away with a new perspective. This is fleeting provocation that lasts for a moment and is then hurried along to the next outlandish scene.
What Callaghan HAS accomplished, and what Bermingham takes full advantage of, is an intense exercise in acting agility and risk-taking. The cast gets more of a physical and emotional workout than any Jane Fonda video played at three times its normal speed could provide. Scene after scene, the dedicated ensemble throws themselves into the pandemonium with profound fearlessness and fascinating focus.
K.D. O’Hair, Kasey O’Brian, John Wilson, Victoria Szilagyi and Jesse Manson all deliver intrepid and captivating performances of this contemporary nightmare. Any hesitation on the part of any one of these gifted performers would shatter the insane reality and cause a bottleneck of confusion in this scathing sociopolitical hallucination, but they are resolute in their lunacy.
Although not a completely profound theatrical offering, The Charnel House’s production of That Pretty Pretty; Or, The Rape Play delivers outstanding performances of challenging material. It also adds more color, creativity and conviction to the dark, daring and delightful diversity of Chicago’s fringe theater, thereby adding even more depth to this city’s already incomparable wealth of talent and vision.
It is both befitting and delightfully ironic that The Charnel House, located in what was formerly a funeral home, would choose this rampaging bloodbath as their first in-house production to baptize their wonderful new digs. If it is true, as one character from the play proclaims, that “Nothing is more delicious than a steaming mound of damage.”, then That Pretty Pretty; Or, The Rape Play will provide you with a ferocious feast.
2 ½ STARS
(“That Pretty Pretty; Or, The Rape Play” runs through October 3 at The Charnel House, 3421 W. Fullerton Ave. 773-871-9046)
* Visit Theatre In Chicago for more information on this show. That Pretty Pretty, or the Rape Play – Charnel House Chicago – Play Detail – Theatre In Chicago