trip. at the Den Theatre. By Graham Brown, Nathan Faudree and Lisa Roth. Directed by Brown. With ensemble cast. 1hr 30mins; one intermission.
Theater review by Aeneas Sagar Hemphill
The sitcom is a style as old as Ancient Greece, with Menander's New Comedy establishing a structure for situational comedy that would continue through to our present day obessions like How I Met Your Mother. The humor, based in the arrangement of character types and circumstances that complicate each other in just the perfect way before somehow resolving with a similar perfection, is predictable, overdone even. There has been plenty of backlash against the television form—its pretense of being a filmed live show, the canned laughter, and what some may describe as an absence of real emotional truth. Shows like Arrested Development and The Office would reject these elements in favor of establishing conventions of their own. Community would subvert the form directly, highlighting its absurdities. To many, the sitcom is dead, stale. For me, there's always been something comforting about it. What makes a successful sitcom is what makes any dramatic piece successful: strong characters and relationships. The gaggle of misfits that constitute the cast become something like your family, and it becomes less about an overarching story or forward drive and more about visiting your favorite people for a laugh once in a while.
Trip.'s 4play sex in a series, making its Chicago debut after well-received runs in New York, is a play in four sitcom-length acts. The script, by Graham Brown (who also acts and directs), Nathan Faudree and Lisa Roth, mostly covers what you'd expect from an episode of Friends: relationship issues, miscommunication, ironies of expectation. But there's a bit more weight here, partially brought on by its metatheatrical elements—ground broken in one of the group's most celebrated productions, tripping, also written by the ensemble and incorporating a shattered fourth wall. The handful of interlocking stories are presented through playful back-and-forth and simultaneous action, all reigned in by the mind of the play's central protagonist (Graham Brown), a stage director who becomes romantically involved with one of his actresses (Cyra K. Polizzi). The self-awareness adds an interesting layer but can at times feel extraneous, leading to more confusion than depth. This is only a small hurdle, as the strength of 4Play is still what counts: the endearing characters, the honest and playful performances, and the credible chemistry between everyone in the cast.
This show was great fun. I saw it last weekend and was impressed with the truth of the relationships. The different couples have great chemistry, and watching their stories unfold proved funny, interesting, and at times heartbreaking. The actors played off each other really well, and by the end of the show I found myself quite invested in the outcome. The full bar downstairs might have had something to do with it, though.
This show was a trip! In a good way. A great way actually. Fresh concept, endearing cast, clear writing and impressive direction that was more like physical and emotional choreography. I understand the comparison to sitcoms but THIS IS THEATER! Better than anything on tv. I've recommended it to friends and plan to see it again with other members of my family.
This is great. Smart writing, great acting, brilliant direction... a thoroughly enjoyable experience across the board. I look forward to more great things from this .trip crew.
This show was not what I expected. Though, to be fair, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. And that, perhaps, is one of this show’s great charms. In unexpected ways, the play disarms you, draws you in, and doesn’t let go. It’s funny, witty, passionate, and profoundly personal. All pulled off masterfully by the script and cast. Theater of this caliber for $20? Pretty amazing.