Chicago Theater Review: HELLCAB (Profiles Theatre)

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by Lawrence Bommer on November 14, 2014

in Theater-Chicago


One of Chicago’s longest running, righteously rooted hits, Hellcab follows a strong and simple formula: Depict the encounters a Chicago cab driver experiences on a very cinematic Christmas Eve. We watch this tried and true cabbie in an actual yellow car (with the top cut away for an unobstructed view) as the grizzled survivor picks up 34 diverse passengers in only 80 minutes. A former taxi driver, author Will Kern knows the real and psychological territory; here, it’s practically the entire burg with a complete cross-section of civic contradictions. He’s seen it all and sent back postcards, in this case rapid-fire vignettes of Chicagoans on the make, on the run, and sometimes out of luck. Katie-Bell Springmann’s graffiti-filled backdrop grounds the nitty-gritty action in the proverbial “naked city.”

Dennis Bisto, Monty Montgomery, Richard Cotovsky, and Amber Calderon in Will Kern’s HELLCAB at Profiles Theatre. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

It’s a round-robin, pell-mell set of seminal stories from what Nelson Algren called a “city on the make.” Director Eric Burgher exercises consummate crowd control in Profiles Theatre’s welcome revival, a rampaging staging of hit-and-run meetings. Veteran Chicago thespian Richard Cotovsky (who has worn into the role with resignation and pugnacity) plays an unnamed and increasingly fatigued, non-über-driver whose patience is tested to the max. A somewhat justified misanthrope on a bitter-cold night, he doesn’t like to be touched but, of course, human contact is as varied as a police blotter. Cotovsky played the part over 200 times in the original 1992 run and, well, Robert De Niro has nothing on this taxi driver.

Tamara Chambers, Andrew Kudla, and Richard Cotovsky in Will Kern’s HELLCAB at Profiles Theatre. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Among the gallery of fares on this pre-holiday evening are ill-assorted drunks; a whitebread family of evangelical proselytizers; a latecomer (or goer) in a very contagious hurry; a druggie in manic quest of the next fix; a couple squabbling over serial killers; New York trust fund brats mocking the Windy City because “it blows”; a pregnant lady who curses her husband for her pains; and a smug yup restaurateur who sweet-talks a girl and belittles her the moment she leaves the cab (in a perfect case of the “kindness of strangers” the cab driver later tries to tell her the truth about the louse she loves.) There are two very different lawyers, a scary Santa, a randy couple heading to the Days Inn on Diversey, a nutcase obsessed with space exploration, a drag queen whose boyfriend totally doesn’t deserve him, and, near the end, a rape victim wounded beyond words.

Jeff Gamlin and Richard Cotovsky in Will Kern’s HELLCAB at Profiles Theatre. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Occasionally our stalwart designated driver gets caught in the conversational crossfire or ignores kinky behavior in the back seat. More often he fends off unwanted attention, like the seemingly porcelain-pure matron who wants to be called “Sugar Momma” or the rotund party girl who demurely and repeatedly declares how much she loves him and plaintively intones “Auld Lang Syne.” At the very end a trip with a tender-hearted architect brings its own Chi-town Christmas miracle.

A drive on the wild side, this parade of passions makes for a thoroughly satisfying night of random reality. It’s every bit as engrossing as HBO’s Taxicab Confessions, and as intimate and in-your-face as the real deal. Powerfully impressive throughout is the sterling dedication of 34 Chicago actors, many of whom get mere minutes on stage but are in this for the duration (which is into 2015). As the Brits say, “Good show!”

photos by Michael Brosilow

Profiles Theatre
The Main Stage, 4139 N. Broadway
Thurs and Fri at 8; Sat at 5 & 8; Sun at 7
scheduled to end on January 11, 2015
for tickets, call 773 549 1815 or visit

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