Chicago Theater Review: CORPUS DELICITI (MadKap Productions at Greenhouse Theater Center)

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by Lawrence Bommer on February 28, 2014

in Theater-Chicago


Matthew J. Lloyd and Destiny StrothersSometimes truths get told that only murder can out. The quaint, perhaps anachronistic, setting for David Alex’ problematic two-act drama, just premiered by MadKap Productions, is a book repair shop. (Nowadays it’s hard enough to sell paper literature, let alone fix it.) In this dingy cellar cluttered with vellum covers and scrolled manuscripts, Contrapasso (an elaborately nasty John Norris), the very angry proprietor with secrets to secrete, heatedly loses his cool. A religious nutcase who talks to the statuette of St. Anne that his controlling mother gave him, the putatively larcenous Contrapasso bosses around two put-upon employees: Albert Durante (anguished Matthew J. Lloyd), an innocent African-American ex-con, and Beatrice (an exuberant if mannered Destiny Strothers), Albert’s chatterbox niece. Beatrice is the kind of bubbly and effervescent teenager who’s a tad too eager for life not to seem doomed from the start. The true-believing Contrapasso views manically merry Beatrice as a “torch from God”—and that’s not a good thing.

The playwright delivers a taut plot in a tight world that explodes with a contrived crime. There’s no room for the luxury of philosophizing, other than speculation about the shifting roles of accident and intention in the wrongs that happen here.

John Norris and Destiny StrothersAlbert’s sole confidant is a colorful bum named Virgil (goofy and believable Michael J. Bullaro) to whom he gives fresh socks and describes the circles of Hell from Dante’s beloved spiritual travelogue. (Thoreau also provides Albert with a natural one.) The fifth and final character is Michaels (stolid Jeffrey M. Brown), a dour dick who disputes “jailbird” Albert’s recent exoneration but is also available to “detect” any new crime.

And it comes like a curse. The first act ends with a horrible killing. It proves to be the play’s big mistake. Perversely it’s as gratuitous as it is predictable–a murder so repugnantly inexpungible that the second act–in which it’s torturously but not ingeniously resolved–seems anticlimactic and irrelevant. No punishment can fit this crime. Albert’s apparent redemption and escape cannot remove the collective bad taste from the audience’s mouth. There’s no payoff possible: Some crimes are too mean for words and this madness really needs a method.

On opening night Wayne Mell’s skittish staging slowed down the action until everything seemed underlined and italicized in boldface. The best thing going here is Bullaro’s well-grounded hobo. He’s a simple survivor whose silly desire to count freight cars is, given the story that surrounds him, as much innocence as Corpus Delecti can afford.

photos by Scott Richardson

Corpus Delicti
MadKap Productions
Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 North Lincoln Ave.
scheduled to end on March 23, 2014
for tickets, call 773.404.7336 or visit

for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit

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