"44 Plays for 44 Presidents"
In the inevitable follow-up to "43 Plays for 43 Presidents," first staged in 2002, the Neo-Futurists return with their frenzied vision of American history, sliced and diced into tiny bits and blurs — sorry, plays — about each man who has held top political office since Numero Uno himself, some guy named Washington.
At its strongest, the show (directed by Halena Kays) goes for broke and conjures a berserk, sometimes dark-hearted vaudeville about our chief executives. Thomas Jefferson gets shoved to the side of his own segment, overshadowed by a glad-handing, Boston-accented Benjamin Franklin (played with a terrific sense of mirth by Joe Dempsey). The mass killing of Native Americans by
Presented in chronological order, the show too often resembles a series of live-action
The deeper and more heartening observation one might take away is that the United States, both as a nation and as a concept, has endured despite any number of seemingly dire problems and much faulty commander-in-chiefing. That's saying something. And it puts the coming election in perspective, even if the show itself can seem too busy to acknowledge or embrace larger themes, let alone offer a cohesive point of view. Five credited writers will probably do that to a production (which has added and subtracted material in the past 10 years). For what it's worth, the complaints that arise here are the same that greeted earlier incarnations of the show.
Through Nov. 10 at the Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland Ave. Tickets are $20 at 773-275-5255 or neofuturists.org
"Mistakes Madeline Made"
In the basement office of a large, wealthy household sit two personal assistants. They are tasked with an endless list of banal domestic errands, everything from buying sneakers to tracking down just the right brand of cleaning wipes. The details are scant. (I wanted to hear more about the absurdity of running that house!) But just when you think the plot is shaping up to be a sharp-eyed socioeconomic satire, the play takes a sharp left turn into a world of unresolved grief and loneliness — and all but runs itself off the road.
Written by Elizabeth Meriwether (creator of the far more engaging Fox television sitcom
It's not the kind of story you expect from the play's first 10 minutes — and that's not a bad thing — but Meriwether doesn't have a firm grasp on where to go with the narrative (or the characters) once she sets off in this new direction. Director Krista D'Agostino appears to be just as lost. There's an uncertainty at work here that gives an odd sort of nonrhythm to the production.
Almost miraculously, Collins — potentially one-note as the uptight wet blanket with a perky smile — somehow finds shadings in her character that suggest this woman is a three-dimensional human being who might actually exist somewhere outside the confines of the play itself. It's the one element in the production that actually works.
Through Nov. 3 at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets are $20 at greenhousetheater.com