I would sum up Lookingglass’ season opener as ‘disturbing’! Lucas Hnath’s story swirls past in five scenes. The action takes place in a boxing-ring-type square but instead of ropes, the area is blocked off with theatrical floor lights. The visual reminds us that this is a play. A notion reinforced by J. Nicole Brooks announcing each scene. It’s an important distinction because the cruelty stacks up in a uniform and rapid manner. Knowing it’s a play helps us deal with characters deciding to be despicable with little hesitation.
Under the expert direction of Heidi Stillman, the acting is superb. Most scenes are a two person manipulation. The first scene has Deanna Dunagan needling Brooks. Dunagan is convinced Brooks is involved in a conspiracy to kill her. The hilarious Dunagan delivers her accusations in rapid-fire paranoia. Brooks fervently denies it until she doesn’t. What’s so engaging about this play is that we think we understand a character and yet in the very next scene, we learn we didn’t understand her/him at all. Dunagan and Brooks, along with Raymond Fox and Louise Lamson, are terrific at taking turns coercing each other. They each want something. And they are willing to go to dastardly lengths to get it. The continual plunge into the chilly, dark waters of no return is unsettling.
Hnath’s story bulldozes through scenes 1-4. And within each scene, there is an unexpected shift. And then the set-up for scene 5 is the biggest surprise of all. I’m being intentionally elusive. DEATH TAX is an enigma. The ongoing reveals make it enthralling. The dark humor bring comedic relief. And the premise stirs up suspicion in me. I find myself wondering who is manipulating me for their own benefit.
Running Time: Seventy-five minutes with no intermission
At Lookingglass Theatre, 821 N. Michigan
Written by Lucas Hnath
Directed by Heidi Stillman
Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays at 7:30pm
Saturdays at 3pm and 7:30pm
Sundays at 3pm and 7:30pm
Additional 3pm performances on October 2nd and 9th
Thru October 12th
Buy Tickets at www.lookingglasstheatre.org
Production photo by Liz Lauren.
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