Chicago Theater Review: MUTT (Stage Left Theatre and Red Tape Theatre at Theater Wit)

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by Lawrence Bommer on January 14, 2016

in Theater-Chicago


Premiering in politically correct San Francisco in 2014, Christopher Chen’s cartoon drama purports to address multi-culturalism in politics. This two-act trifle focuses specifically–and improbably—on two Asian-American presidential candidates from both parties. (I guess Latino or African-American “mixed race” prospects weren’t available.) A blatant and simplistic satire of race-baiting and identity politics, Chen’s pathetically circumscribed drama is a one-trick pony with way too much tunnel vision (to mix metaphors). The one thing that matters in his Presidential election is the ethnicity of the standard-bearer, not positions, experience or even personality. The sole issues are discrimination, inclusion and immigration. The utterly unearned outcome is lethal. The result—both actual and artistic—is disastrous.

Heavy-handed and strident, this co-production by Chicago’s Stage Left and Red Tape theaters justifiably presents America as a boiling rather than melting pot. As the name implies, Mutt argues that, despite our kneejerk racism, homophobia and resistance to diversity, the U.S. itself is mongrelized. So, attempting to offer the electorate more than the usual white homogeneity, the G.O.P. settles on Len, a methodically homicidal Army veteran (he likes to shoot people in the face, which the opening night audience found perversely funny). This creature, who apparently has ancestors in every country, inevitably morphs into a stateside serial killer—but that’s no hindrance to his race (pun intended). Just as implausibly, the Democrats choose a former Republican congressman, a doofus of a cipher with no following or future, who’s patronizing, ignorant, and clueless–a progressive’s nightmare. Given these ninnies, nothing here has the slightest chance of seeming significant.

There’s clumsy mockery of in-your-face cable talk shows, campaign jargon (“optics”), manipulative “race management” consultants, and the condescension that mars the “conversation” about race. But, already dated two years later, the play makes no acknowledgement of the Democrats’ embrace of Bernie Sanders’ more radical ideology or the Republicans’ increasing addiction to divide-and-conquer fear-mongering and “know nothing” xenophobia. (The name Trump never surfaces.) The play is essentially D.O.A.

Anyway Chen’s arguments don’t matter in the least. Because every question in this Midwest premiere gets trashed in a final grotesquery: The incredibly cynical ending makes hash of intelligent discourse. Mutt is 105 minutes of wasted everything. Despite a vibrant video backdrop, Vanessa Stalling’s staging takes seven worthy actors (too good to name here) and dumbs down their IQs to fit their parts. Dumbass bombast has found its chosen play. Never has that terrible question—“So what?”—resounded so deafeningly during a curtain call.

Stage Left Theatre
Red Tape Theatre
Theater Wit, 1229 W Belmont
Thurs-Sat at 8; Sun at 3
ends on February 14, 2016
for tickets, call 773-975-8150 or visit Theater Wit

for info on more Chicago Theater, visit Theatre in Chicago

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