Will Kern's dark comedy about a day in the life of a Chicago cabbie—that day happening to be Christmas Eve—was a long-running phenomenon in the ’90s, running as a late-night attraction at the old Ivanhoe Theatre for years after its initial 1992 outing at Famous Door Theatre. Profiles Theatre, which was just a few years old when Hellcab debuted, mounted a new production of Kern's play last season to mark its 20th anniversary; this year it returns at Profiles with Hellcab's original driver, Paul Dillon, back behind the wheel.
Dillon's unnamed driver is easily identifiable, a particular type of well-meaning crank, and he's eminently watchable, even if the character seems clearly written as a young man: a recent transplant from Rockford who's awkward with women and more than a little naive. Combined with Dillon's very funny but particularly neurotic delivery, you wonder what kind of sheltered emotional life this guy must lived for so long in Rockford to be quite so shaken up by the collection of passengers he ferries this day.
Unlike the original production, in which a handful of cast members returned to the back seat again and again in different guises, Profiles assigns each of Hellcab's fares to a distinct actor, adding up to a total cast of 34 and making this production a nice showcase of sorts for a great many, mostly younger Chicago actors for Dillon to play off of. This parade of eccentrics, drunks and nutjobs, and couples ranging from canoodlers to squabblers to overeager lovers, is portrayed with a varying range of skill and nuance, but they're mostly well anchored.
Yet many of Dillon's finest moments are when he's alone in the cab: pumping himself up by rocking out to the radio, hyperkinetically punching the air, or in the hilarious, mostly silent opening sequence, in which all he has to do is battle the Chicago winter to get into his car and then get it to start. Dillon conveys this mundane but wholly familiar moment with such specificity and physical commitment that we can't help but call shotgun.