The Neo-Futurists present EMPTY THREATS.
Creator and performer Lily Mooney (Pearl) plays with our minds in this palpable cerebral tickler. The show starts with Jared Fernley (Victor) in an office behind a plastic tarp. Fernley is working hard to rub one out. As he attempts to jack off, Mooney pulls down the tarp exposing him to the audience. She then barges into his office to argue about her paper on Mary Shelley’s introduction to “Frankenstein.” A flustered Fernley doesn’t remember making an appointment or having Pearl in class. His confusion is amplified as Mooney comes for him. She takes him down in an exhausting series of emotional manipulations.
The play is described as Shelley’s “Frankstein” meets Mamet’s “Oleanna”. That’s definitely a piece of it. In fact, Mooney jumps on the desk hysterically screaming ‘Oleanna’ and threatening to kill herself with a knitting needle. Mooney seems to channel #metoo fervor along with Trump gaslighting. She insists and protests opposing stories. An empathetic Fernley tries to help but Mooney is a whole-bunch-of-crazy. Mooney also blurs the line between reality and fiction.The show is also a play within a play. Mooney does a whole riff on what it takes to get a good review that everyone is ‘Jonesing’ for. She tries to convince Fernley that he is onstage and being watched by an audience. He believes she’s a troubled student.
Director Krissy Vanderwarker skillfully holds the audience hostage in the room. She builds the tension as the lies and empty threats stack up at an alarming rate. Mooney’s multiple implosions had many laughing at her absurdity. I spent the show in WTF cringe mode. I felt trapped and helpless to Mooney’s tirades. I wanted to scream at Fernley to get the hell out of the room. Fernley almost plays it too nice and vulnerable. I don’t go back and forth in my alliance. I see Fernley as the helpless victim and Mooney as the mean-spirited predator.
Following what seemed like the end of the show as Fernley finds his way out of the theatre, Mooney begins to speak directly to the audience. She has us do a breathing activity. She shares a story about another play where she did something controversial at not one but two shows. She hints at performing the radical act again. The ten minute discourse seems an odd choice to tack on to the play. And her extremist deed annoys me. I was chatting with someone after the show who suggested Mooney might have been lying about that too.
Mooney’s EMPTY THREATS got a rise out of me. I’m still not certain what the truth is within all her deceptions.
Running Time: 100 minutes with no intermission
At The Neo-Futurists, 5153 N. Ashland
Created by Neo-Futurist Ensemble Member Lily Mooney
Directed by Krissy Vanderwarker
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.
Thru July 14th
Ticket Prices: Thursdays and Previews Pay-What-You-Can, Regular Run: $10-$25
Tickets and information are available at neofuturists.org or 773.275.5255
Production photos by Joe Mazza
For more information and reviews on Chicago theatre, visit Theater in Chicago.