Strawdog Theatre presents the U.S. Premiere of QUIZ SHOW.
As a reviewer, I like to go into a show with little to no information. Because I want to have the same experience as the average audience member, I usually read the press release after the play. I went into QUIZ SHOW with two preconceptions. I knew the charismatic Anderson Lawfer (Daniel) was playing the game show host. And having seen Lawfer often playing the quick-witted master of ceremonies, I thought he was ideally cast. I also have experienced several productions directed by Max Truax at Oracle and Trap Door Theatres. And I knew his signature style was the direct opposite of a peppy, frothy game show. I walked in to Strawdog intrigued and bemused. And I stayed that way for most of the duration of the show.
Upon arrival, the audience is ushered to their seats for a ‘live taping‘ of FALSE! The television crew is scrambling to set up film equipment. We are part of the behind-the-scenes mayhem as we receive the warm-up tutorial about applause signs and catch-phrases. Scenic Designer Mike Mroch gives the stage a 70s-style-game-show look with three colorful podiums featuring a name placard. The crew is putting finishing touches on the set. The contestants are skittishly wandering around uncertain where to go. The energy level crackles with the urgency of live television. It’s all chaos until the music cues up, everybody and everything falls neatly in place and FALSE! starts.
As expected, the dynamic Lawfer fills the stage with presence. He schmoozes. He quips. He controls. The games begin. And the contestants are the reigning champ, Nikki Klix (Molly) and her challengers; Paul Fagen (Ben) and Sarah Goeden (Sandra). The confident Klix panders to the cameras, blowing kisses and smiling broadly. Fagen has the nervous stillness of stage fright. And Goeden continually looks around in wonderment. This could be a live taping of a game show as Lawfer rattles off false statements that the participants must make true. It feels legit… until it doesn’t. After just a couple rounds, Lawfer starts giving Klix and Fagen increasingly simplistic statements to solve while stumping Goeden with impossible ones.
I start to think, ‘Oh, I get it. This is a show about the corruption behind game shows.‘ But I quickly realize I don’t really get it. True to his reputation, Truax forcefully pulls the rug out and everything goes topsy-turvy. The show plummets from playful to thriller within seconds. Playwright Rob Drummond has penned this like a live theatrical “Sixth Sense.” Nothing really makes sense until we know Bruce Willis is dead. And once we have that epiphany, the acting, the writing, the directing is all so damn clever in both “Sixth Sense” and “Quiz Show.”
Although I don’t mind giving the spoiler for “Sixth Sense” – it’s been 16 years, I don’t want to ruin QUIZ SHOW. It’s best experienced like a winding roller coaster… disoriented and speeding toward the unknown ending. And that’s where I wanted the play to stop for me, breathless from the big reveal. I wanted to stagger out into the lobby still a little shaky. Drummond has other plans. He keeps it going without the high speed intensity. His script calls for Goeden to deliver a soliloquy. She does a fine heartfelt job. It just sounds like a preachy public service announcement. Still, QUIZ SHOW is a virtual, wild roller coaster ride with plenty of twists until it slams on the breaks and then drifts for 5 more minutes.
Running Time: Eighty minutes with no intermission
At Strawdog Theatre, 3829 N. Broadway
Written by Rob Drummond
Directed by Max Truax
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8pm
Sundays at 4pm
Additional performance on May 18th a 8pm
Thru June 13th
Buy Tickets at www.strawdog.org
All photos by Chris Ocken, Ocken Photography
For more reviews and information on Chicago theatre, visit Theatre in Chicago.