Review Genius (Profiles Theatre): Wonderfully awkward

Thursday, April 2, 2015 Permalink

GeniusReviewed by Tom Lawler

Profiles Theatre presents the world premiere of GENIUS.

As playwright Kate Walbert has done such interesting work in playing with the timeline of an extremely awkward dinner party between two NYC couples, let’s jump right to a scene that represents the very best of Genius.

We see an older couple recount the story of how they met one summer in an artist colony. Joel was a famous painter approaching middle age. Sara was a trailblazing feminist author (think Joan Didion) roughly half his age. Robert Breueler (a Steppenwolf ensemble member and for decades a stalwart of the Chicago stage) shares how the stunning author (a radiant Liz Zweifler) caught his eye. As expertly and intimately staged by director Darrell W. Cox, Breuler barely raises his voice above a low rumble as we see him reach back to that golden summer between gulps of port. In his singular jazzy cadence, Breuler’s dialogue seems improvised as words spill out of him with unpredictable rhythms and inflections, and he purrs in gratitude when Zweifler rouses herself to contribute her own asides and clarifications. They complement each other perfectly as they weave this story together. Of course, this is an old act for them. This is also naturalistic acting at its highest form!

Alas, winter is here, and relations between the two have grown much colder. The artist is now an unhappy administrator at a museum currently exposed in a very public scandal due to a risqué selfie he sent to a female colleague. In the middle of all this, they are invited to dinner by a young couple who have recently interviewed Sara for a documentary film they are making. He is embarrassed and she is livid, but they honor the dinner invitation.

That would normally seem to be enough plot and theme for a 70-minute one-act, but we also learn that the young filmmaking couple may qualify for a MacArthur Fellowship (or “Genius Grant”). This potential windfall disrupts the delicate balance of these young, hungry strivers. Although Joel and Sara later ridicule the couple’s tiny apartment and “cracked cups,” they no doubt envy their youth, drive and promise.

As realized by an ingenious staging (a Murphy Bed not only folds into a wall – it tucks into a brick wall with shutters), Cox and Frank Sjodin (Technical Director) are able to create two distinct apartments on Profile’s cozy stage that effectively contrast the two couples. Playwright Walbert keeps jumping us backwards and forwards throughout the eventful night, trusting the audience to follow along. We see the older couple ridicule the younger couple while back home,  and later vice versa, but for the latter scene, Cox leaves Joel and Sara on stage. They are can’t hear these insults, but we can. Imagine actually hearing the horrible things being said about you behind your back. It’s devastating!

Above all, Genius is an actor’s play and this quartet of performers is ideal. In addition to Breuler’s and Zweifler’s expert work, Stephanie Chavara burns with ambition and abrasive know-it-all-ness, and Brennan Roche is charismatic and hilarious as her hunky, lunky lesser half.

This smart, funny Genius almost begs to be seen again to better appreciate how the puzzle pieces fit together, and with such honest, entertaining performances, you would no doubt be rewarded for doing so.

Photo credit: Michael Brosilow

Running Time: 70 minutes with no intermission.

At Profiles Theatre, The Alley Stage, 4147 N. Broadway Ave.

Written by Kate Walbert

Directed by Darrell W. Cox

Thursdays-Fridays at 8:00pm; Saturdays at 5:00, 8:00pm

Sundays at 7:00pm

Through May 3, 2015

Buy tickets at http://www.profilestheatre.org or call 773.549.1815.

 

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