Theater Review: PACKING (About Face Theatre at Theater Wit in Chicago)

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by Lawrence Bommer on November 8, 2019

in Theater-Chicago


Some solo shows can be valued simply for their superb simulations of someone else’s story. Others succeed because we pay extra special attention when the chronicler actually experienced what they’re sharing. Packing, an About Face Theatre world premiere by and from Chicago theater artist Scott Bradley, has the best of both breeds of one-person plays. As they say, “he’s been there and sent back postcards” and Bradley tells his trauma with pizzazz as much as precision.

In 90 minutes expertly choreographed by Victory Gardens artistic director Chay Yew, the 53-year-old Bradley performs on a stage covered with Stephan Mazurek’s potent projections and Lee Fiskness’s pulsating lighting quadrants, employing as props just two family muskets (hence the title).

The thrust here is Bradley’s lacerating self-history, a tissue of truths that spares him and us no confession of self-doubt, suicidal longings, and resistance to repression. Growing up gay in Iowa brought an eviscerating combination of enthralling natural backdrops and terrible human ones.

Religion ironically provides a seeming shelter from the human storm. Then there are those saving moments of sheer serendipity: A seminal happening comes at the Iowa State Fair where this lavender lad enjoys the all-defining delight of having Cher herself sing right to him.

Nonetheless, because of something as natural as he way he walks, Bradley makes enemies he never knew he had. He finds himself plagued by an inner “voice” that prophesies doom and cautions surrender.

However familiar Bradley’s painfully detailed examples of homophobia and taunts from the haters who wanted to “fix” him, Bradley reinvents the terror of gratuitous smears, the failure of a drunkard dad to offer any security, and the helplessness of his mom to allay the ”glitches” that plague her boy. His recounting a hate crime in a cattle barn is nightmare central.

Coming out is complicated, especially just as AIDS fears and fatalities — one almost as devastating as the other — take away friends right and left. A trip to Hull, England where he begins to hone his passion for plays provides a solace and distraction. Always, Bradley works on “keeping busy to keep the glitches at bay.”

Back in the states, this “genderqueer vagabond” and “hot mess,” who wonders if he has the right to be happy, acts out more “glitches.” The ex-disco bunny erupts with kinky sex, drug taking that goes beyond experimentation to addiction, and an ugly habit of “using” older boyfriends. This plays out in the Capitol Hill section of Seattle and New York City’s “gayborhoods,” with a foray to Arizona. The tortured trek finally leads to Chicago, where Bradley gets caught up in more than a few theatrical triumphs with Hell in a Handbag Productions and About Face Theatre, like his invigorating romp We Three Lizas.

Packing comes full circle as Bradley returns to Iowa, a former hotbed of bigotry that has grown up like him. He’s accompanied by his once boyfriend and future husband “Cowboy.” The glitches finally die. No more need to reinvent what was never broken.

We’re with him every step of a journey worth taking.

photos by Cody Jolly Photography

About Face Theatre
Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave.
Thurs-Sat at 7:30 (dark Nov 28); Sun at 3; Sat at 3 (Nov 30)
ends on December 7, 2019
for tickets, call 773.975.8150 or visit About Face

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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