Chicago Theater Review: QUIZ SHOW (Strawdog)

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by Lawrence Bommer on May 17, 2015

in Theater-Chicago


“The truth can be cruel.” That’s the twisty motto of the interactive quiz show within Quiz Show, a maddeningly metaphorical one-act from Strawdog Theatre Company. The U.S. premiere of British playwright Rob Drummond’s puzzle piece, this treacherous 75-minute drama morphs like a microbe–from a game show that tests trivia to a lethal hostage situation, then finally to an anguished confession of child rape perpetrated by a celebrity abuser.

Sarah Goeden and Anderson Lawfer in Strawdog’s QUIZ SHOW. Photo by Chris Ocken.

Unfortunately, for all its babble about entering the “Door of Truth” to receive an ultimate prize of discovery, there’s no payoff for this incoherent indulgence. Drummond is too satisfied with his plot machinery to push it toward any real revelations. (The title is not to be confused with Robert Redford’s excellent 1994 film starring John Turturro, Rob Morrow and Ralph Fiennes depicting the 1959 television scandal involving fixed questions and celebrity guest Charles Van Doren.)

Paul Fagen and Sarah Goeden in Strawdog’s QUIZ SHOW. Photo by Chris Ocken.

The ostensible situation is elaborately presented with closed-circuit cameras, flashing lights, and sound effects depicting the set of truth-or-dare “FALSE!” Here we meet the unctuous stage manager (Scott Danielson), smarmy host (Anderson Lawfer), and three contestants (actually memories fleshed out): the defending championship Molly (Nikki Klix), the dangerously unpredictable competitor Ben (Paul Fagen), and motor-mouthed Sandra (Sarah Goeden), defensive victim of her own denial. Sandra is in dire need to recover some painful memories. The audience could care more.

Paul Fagen and Sarah Goeden in Strawdog’s QUIZ SHOW. Photo by Chris Ocken.

Drummond uses this metamorphosing quiz show, with its probing questions that strategically vary in degrees of difficulty, to deliver the less than novel argument that we are our own memories. The TV format rapidly devolves into a psychiatrist’s effort to get Sandra to deal with repressed recollections of a seminal violation. His task is cited in lines from “Looking for Truth with a Pin,” a cryptic poem by eccentric poet Ivor Cutler that clearly inspired Drummond’s smugly self-aware dramatic deception.

Nikki Klix, Paul Fagen, Sarah Goeden, Anderson Lawfer, Kelsey Shipley in Strawdog’s QUIZ SHOW. Photo by Chris Ocken.

Max Truax, who did remarkable work with the nearby Oracle Theatre’s The Mother, is a whiz at stirring up urgency even when it has no visible means of support. The six actors (including James Errico as the bland offstage “Voice”) efficiently turn tricks on us and “reality.” But their play is way too enamored of its own baffling intricacies to condescend to make sense, let alone feel Sandra’s sorrow.

(back) Nikki Klix, Paul Fagen, Sarah Goeden, and (front) Anderson Lawfer in Strawdog’s QUIZ SHOW. Photo by Chris Ocken.

photos by Chris Ocken, Ocken Photography

Quiz Show
Strawdog Theatre Company
3829 N. Broadway St
Thurs-Sat at 8; Sun at 4
ends on June 13, 2015
for tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit

for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit

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