Chicago Theater Review: DELIVER US FROM NOWHERE: TALES FROM NEBRASKA (Tympanic Theatre Company)

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by Samantha Nelson on May 16, 2012

in Theater-Chicago

GOING NOWHERE

Samantha Nelson's Chicago review of Deliver Us From Nowhere: Tales from Nebraska at Tympanic TheatreRegarded as one of Bruce Springsteen’s best works, the 1982 album Nebraska has inspired tributes from Johnny Cash, Aimee Mann, Chris Cornell and other artists moved by its bleak look at ordinary life. Now Tympanic Theatre Company has brought its tales of murder, mortality and the unfairness of life to the stage with a series of 10 short plays, each inspired by a song from the album. Unfortunately, Deliver Us From Nowhere: Tales From Nebraska has more misses than hits.

“Resurrecting Beauty” is the show’s lowest point, a total waste of the excellent song “Atlantic City.” Whatever writer Adam Webster meant to say, or even depict, is lost in the bizarre spectacle that includes a man bleeding on a corpse and two women stripping into nude tights and exchanging dresses. The same applies to “Daughters of Necessity,” which appears later in the show: it features a trio of women –the Fates, perhaps, or maybe just bored diner waitresses – and just feels weird rather than profound.

Samantha Nelson's Chicago review of Deliver Us From Nowhere: Tales from Nebraska at Tympanic Theatre

Deliver Us From Nowhere finally delivers in its third play, “When You’re Dead.” The simple monologue performed by Nate White as he unpacks a series of suitcases, is the show’s highest point, making use of the theater’s small space to really connect with the audience. It’s the one play that embodies the spirit of a Springsteen song, recounting tales of shuttered factories and downtown stores as a backdrop for a tale of family tragedy and life’s injustices. White shines again in “The Drive,” playing the father on a family trip whose purpose is not revealed until a dark twist towards the end; despite its brief length, the crackling tension between the characters produces a riveting experience.

Samantha Nelson's Chicago review of Deliver Us From Nowhere: Tales from Nebraska at Tympanic Theatre

Nebraska is an album of sparse, low-budget recordings that shine amidst the lack of ornamentation, and Deliver Us From Nowhere is also at its best when it tells stripped down simple stories. “Gospel Hour” is the most dramatic example of this, featuring a single actor sitting beneath one light playing a state trooper who communicates with his wife and his girlfriend through the static of his car radio. It’s one of the many stories that contains murder, but its realism makes it feel more dramatic than “Winning Ugly,” a campy tale based on “Johnny 99;” you’re supposed to feel for the death row inmate, Johnny, and the girlfriend that tries to avenge him, but the comically large gavel used as a murder weapon, and Sergio Soltero’s self-righteous judge (reminiscent of King Lear), keep the play from offering anything but giggles.

The inconsistent Deliver Us From Nowhere: Tales From Nebraska has some stirring moments that will linger with you, but the high points aren’t enough to compensate for the low.

Samantha Nelson's Chicago review of Deliver Us From Nowhere: Tales from Nebraska at Tympanic Theatre

photos by Paul E. Martinez

Deliver Us From Nowhere: Tales from Nebraska
Tympanic Theatre Company
Right Brain Project, 4001 N. Ravenswood Ave.
ends on May 20, 2012
for tickets, call 773-750-2033 or visit Right Brain Project

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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