Chicago Theater Review: THE SWEETER OPTION (Strawdog Theatre Company)

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by Lawrence Bommer on February 28, 2015

in Theater-Chicago

OPT OUT OF A PLOT THAT’S NOT

The real “sweeter option” is to miss this altogether. A new work written by company member John Henry Roberts and hyper-directed by Marti Lyons, The Sweeter Option is also Strawdog Theatre Company’s 100th production. Well, purely by default, it provides a good excuse to praise the previous ninety-nine.

Michaela Petro and Sam Guinan-Nyhart in Strawdog's THE SWEETER OPTION. Photo by Kyle Hamman, KBH Media.

Alas, this convoluted caper play, 80 minutes of impenetrable overplotting frenetically delivered by seven underused actors, is notable only for its lively look: Five different and elaborate Midwestern settings, rapidly assembled by a manic cast, depict–unchronologically, of course–four bloody  midsummer days in 1971 during which thieves without honor outfox each other. Reminiscent of cleaner and clearer heist dramas such as Fargo, Double Indemnity, and A Simple Plan, Roberts’ dark and grungy comedy painfully recalls the line from the musical Candide: “All this scheming and plotting / You end up with notting.”

Michaela Petro in Strawdog's THE SWEETER OPTION. Photo by Kyle Hamman, KBH Media.

Marinating in free-floating menace, the incoherent action focuses on a failed baseball player, now private eye, named Tucker (handsome Sam Guinan-Nyhart) who’s been hired by Hertz to track down a filched rental car. He stumbles on an embezzlement scheme that has netted $400,000 in cold–well, hot–cash, then runs afoul of Michaela Petro’s hardboiled suburban matron. He’s trying to get to Winnipeg but, happily, Canada is spared this silly story.

Under the fatal error that audiences want conflict, not plausibility, this mother Tucker is forever on the lam, holing out in a cabin in Eagle Lake, Wisconsin; a hotel room on Milwaukee Avenue, a car fleeing down Sheridan Road, a house in Wilmette, and an apartment in Chicago where even more mayhem ensues, as in starkly gratuitous violence.

Sam Guinan-Nyhart and Emily Tate in Strawdog's THE SWEETER OPTION. Photo by Kyle Hamman, KBH Media.

Happily, there can be no spoilers where there are no expectations. The audience, as much as these greedsters, is left in the lurch. The culprit: cryptic “one-liner” dialogue that feeds on what we don’t know until we don’t care. By welcome end Strawdog’s pointless exercise in film noir angst makes you want the real deal–Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett. What we get is Quentin Tarentino lite.

Michaela Petro and Sam Guinan-Nyhart in Strawdog's THE SWEETER OPTION. Photo by Kyle Hamman, KBH Media.

At least it’s also short. Lyons’ swift, sometimes sickening, staging can’t disguise a script that, far from adding up, perversely subtracts in every scene. No plot payoff keeps us interested; it’s just one unrelated happening after another; cause and defect. Real crime holds out more truths than this constipated chase “comedy.” There’s too much unknown here for any thrill. Worse, you can’t say actors are good when their script never sets up any standards for success.

photos by Kyle Hamman, KBH Media

The Sweeter Option
Strawdog Theatre Company, 3829 N. Broadway St
Thurs-Sat at 8; Sun at 4
ends on March 28, 2015
for tickets, call 866.811.4111 or visit www.strawdog.org

for more info on Chicago Theater, visit www.TheatreinChicago.com

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