Cut to the Quick: On Location at the side project | Theater review

The side project’s one-act festival stakes out venues across Jarvis Square with mixed results.
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Photograph: Anna C. Bahow Bryan Breau and Pat King in "The Billing King," part of Cut to the Quick: On Location at the side project
By Kris Vire |
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The side project reaches out to its Rogers Park neighbors for this slate of one-acts, giving them site-specific stagings at businesses around Jarvis Square. The effect can be as distracting as it is immersive: During a Saturday afternoon performance of Crystal Skillman’s “Nobody” at Gruppo di Amici, my attention was repeatedly diverted by the curious passersby who lingered outside the door, threatening to ignore the posted plea not to enter, as well as the noise from the kitchen, where the restaurant’s staff was prepping for that night’s dinner rush.

As a demonstration of goodwill between the side project and its ’hood, though, the experiment feels more genuine than gimmicky. Even 49th Ward Ald. Joe Moore gets in on the act, offering up his office as a setting for Mark Young’s “The Billing King.” Thematically, there’s no link among the six plays that make up this round of Cut to the Quick, and as you’d expect, the quality varies. “The Billing King,” in which a pair of junior lawyers are both awestruck and offended by the billing practices of a rising colleague, is one of the better choices; actors Pat King and Bryan Breau are well-matched to Young’s sharply observed characters.

“Nobody” boasts an interesting narrative structure, with the staff and patrons of a café getting successive monologues about their inner turmoils. But it also keeps the characters isolated, making their sudden connection at the end feel unearned, and director Derek Garza doesn’t make good use of the restaurant’s expansive space. Skillman’s other offering, the two-hander “Birthday,” is more successful. Staged by side project artistic director Adam Webster in the pub Poitin Stil, “Birthday” tells a simple, striking tale of two disappointed souls coming together. Meredith Rae Lyons charms as a temp receptionist whose life isn’t shaping up the way she’d like.

In “Ceremony,” a head-scratcher from Mark Schultz (A Brief History of Helen of Troy), a young man tries to win the trust of his soon-to-be younger stepbrother at their parents’ rehearsal dinner, but big bro’s intentions may be sinister. It feels ultimately like an empty exercise. Equally frustrating is Jesse Weaver’s aimless “The Float,” in which a new overnight cashier at a convenience store is harassed by her deeply unpleasant coworker. In Brett Neveu’s “Fixtures,” staged by Brant Russell at Elite Auto, Jason Lindner plays a guy shutting down his family’s auto dealership who’s approached by a mysterious man with an unlikely business proposal. What Neveu’s getting at with his vaguely spiritual approach to the commerce of old isn’t entirely clear, but John Henry Roberts’s off-kilter performance as the businessman keeps things interesting.

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