Reverb at Redtwist Theatre | Theater review

The supporting characters are more compelling than the predictably tortured musician at the heart of Leslye Headland's play.

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Photograph: Jan Ellen Graves

Mary Williamson and Peter Oyloe in Reverb at Redtwist Theatre

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Photograph: Jan Ellen Graves

Mary Williamson and Peter Oyloe in Reverb at Redtwist Theatre

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Photograph: Jan Ellen Graves

Peter Oyloe, Nick Vidal and Chris Chmelik in Reverb at Redtwist Theatre

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Photograph: Jan Ellen Graves

Peter Oyloe, Chris Chmelik and Nick Vidal in Reverb at Redtwist Theatre

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Photograph: Jan Ellen Graves

Peter Oyloe and Nick Vidal in Reverb at Redtwist Theatre

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Photograph: Jan Ellen Graves

Mary Williamson and Peter Oyloe in Reverb at Redtwist Theatre

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Photograph: Jan Ellen Graves

Mary Williamson and Peter Oyloe in Reverb at Redtwist Theatre

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Photograph: Jan Ellen Graves

Ashley Neal and Mary Williamson in Reverb at Redtwist Theatre

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Photograph: Jan Ellen Graves

Brittany Burch and Mary Williamson in Reverb at Redtwist Theatre

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Photograph: Jan Ellen Graves

Peter Oyloe in Reverb at Redtwist Theatre

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Photograph: Jan Ellen Graves

Brittany Burch and Peter Oyloe in Reverb at Redtwist Theatre

 

On my bus ride home from seeing Leslye Headland's Reverb, my iPod shuffled up a Pretenders song that turned out to be a pretty perfect soundtrack entry for Headland's portrait of the volatile relationship between a musician on the verge and his on-again, off-again girlfriend and inspiration. "I hurt you / ’cause you hurt me," Chrissie Hynde sings in the refrain, "so I hurt you / ’cause you hurt me."

That reciprocal cycle of hurt describes the violence both emotional and physical that marks the connection between Dorian (Peter Oyloe) and June (Mary Williamson). And using music as metaphor seems especially apt for a play that, like many such works set against the music industry, feels self-conscious in its attempts to establish cred by dropping names from Eric Clapton to Jeff Buckley, Arcade Fire to Apples in Stereo (not to mention references to the current landscape of music media, including name-checking Pitchfork and Stereogum).

Jonathan Berry's production for Edgewater's Redtwist Theatre—the Chicago premiere of a piece that had a staged reading at the Goodman as part of its New Stages Series in 2011—perhaps inadvertently emphasizes the divide between the two plays Headland has stuffed into one script. One is a biting satire of callous modern record-industry mores, featuring a delicious turn by Ashley Neal as a self-important music blogger. The other is the depiction of two damaged souls playing out their abusive upbringings via sadomasochistic sex games. 

Williamson finds all kinds of interesting corners to June's journey, and Brittany Burch brings a novel dignity to Dorian's born-again sister. But Oyloe, an actor of no small skill, is hampered by the numerous tics and generic tortured-artist bullshit the playwright assigns to his character, leaving Oyloe working uphill to earn our sympathy. To shift from the Pretenders to paraphrasing R.E.M.: Everybody hurts, dude.

 

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