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Theater Tue Apr 07 2015

Today We Escape Was a Radiohead Let-Down

Thumbnail image for unnamed.jpgFor Radiohead fans, it was exciting to discover the Tympanic Theatre Company was putting together a festival of short plays (titled Today We Escape) based on Radiohead's OK Computer album. While it's not my favorite (In Rainbows wins that honor for me), I do love a number of the songs on it, including Karma Police and No Surprises. The thought of a local company pairing young playwrights and a fresh, young company with source material that I thoroughly enjoy seemed a brilliant idea to me. Seemingly a match made in heaven.

So when I got to the Den Theatre that Saturday night, I was full of expectations. I thought that perhaps the plays would go in the same order as the songs, I'd get to hear the album in its entirety (perhaps played by local musicians with their own original take) and I'd get to see performance art and theater pieces that would deepen my relationship with the material.

The Den Theater was an excellent location for such an experimental play festival. The Den is comfortable, funky in that sort of "Chicago storefront theater" fashion, well-located and boasts a large amount of space in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. Audiences entered the space and headed up the long staircase to watch the play in the third floor theater.

The first impression of the space was that it was a typical blackbox with minimal tech. The walls of the stage were painted with blackboard paint and covered with a plethora of Radiohead-related graffiti, lyric bits, song titles and images. Not all related to OK Computer, specifically (my companion noted that the Kid A logo was present in one corner), but it seemed to bode well for the production, as did the acoustic band playing Radiohead covers in the back corner of the seat bleachers.

What's great about a short play festival is that an audience member might like some plays and dislike others, but there's always something different coming up if you find yourself in the latter situation. For me, only one of the plays hung together and seemed to embody the spirit and oeuvre of the album. It was Randall Coburn's Terry (inspired by "Paranoid Android"), which involved a long musical recording session where a single bearded session guitarist tried and failed to get a piece right for a demanding unseen voice-of-God narrator.

Most of the plays had problematic production details that pulled my mind out of the action and into the the flaws: In one, one of the characters was barefooted and the others all had shoes; there was another where the characters were all shouting over one another not in a harmonious or purposely chaotic way, but in a distracting manner. No one of these details was the single, solid reason that the show didn't work for me, but as a whole, all of them added up to a production with mediocre standards.

Overall, the was show uneven and lacking in attention to detail. It didn't even cohere as a single work or a piece that was even inspired by the same source material. And the hopes of hearing the Radiohead album in its entirety were dashed. The musicians played short snippets in between each play, but it was easy to miss. It would have been better to just utilize the recorded music (or even use the local musicians playing the whole song as a part of each play) as way to hang the show together as a whole, which was simply lacking.

I would give the production a lukewarm rating. The play closed this weekend, but I wouldn't have recommended it anyway.

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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