The original production of Will Kern’s Hellcab was a gritty, naturalistic representation of ’90s Chicago that ran for nearly a decade after its 1992 debut. Now, 20 years later, the titular vehicle could well be a time-traveling DeLorean, taking audiences on a journey to the past that continues to entertain, even if it’s not quite as timely. (The script’s average cab fares: $2–$4.)
Taking place inside the taxi of a Russian immigrant driver (Konstantin Khrustov), Kern’s drama is sharply staged by Darrell W. Cox, who deftly utilizes his massive cast of 34 (as opposed to a smaller cast doubling or tripling roles). The short vignettes range from snappy sketch-comedy gags to more intense fare, such as when our cabbie picks up a woman who’s just been raped. The result is an expansive portrait of the city, depicting a South Side of dangerous depths and a North Side that’s safer but equally eventful.
Among a uniformly strong cast of cab patrons are a handful of standouts: Stephanie Monday’s nymphomaniac lawyer, Katrina V. Miller’s drunk welfare recipient, Maryann Carlson’s accordion-playing milkmaid and Aaron Holland’s exasperated drag queen. The focal point, Khrustov is at his best as a helpless bystander; when he explodes in rage, his characterization ventures into cartoonish territory, working against the hyper-realistic dialogue. Still, this Hellcab is a ride worth taking.