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Lives of the Pigeons at the side project | Theater review

There's more than a chess match at stake in Sherod Santos's intriguing power game.

 (Photograph: Scott Dray)
1/3
Photograph: Scott Dray

Lives of the Pigeons at the side project

 (Photograph: Scott Dray)
2/3
Photograph: Scott Dray

Lives of the Pigeons at the side project

 (Photograph: Scott Dray)
3/3
Photograph: Scott Dray

Lives of the Pigeons at the side project

 

In Sherod Santos’s darkly comic new play, two men, Gus (Vincent L. Lonergan) and Max (Don Bender), settle a bet over chess at the “People’s Park.” Max commends the democratic nature of the park—its promise of freedom and equality for all who share it—but it becomes increasingly obvious that the power in his and Gus’s friendship is skewed in his favor. While Max maintains an iron-fisted reverence for the park and its rules, Gus is content with a little bend. His insistence on feeding the pigeons, despite clear signage forbidding it, becomes a major point of contention. Their game, along with their philosophical exploration, is told in tandem with a similar battle of wits between Gus and the mysterious Man With Cane (Matthew Lloyd), an interaction that fully exposes the darkness underneath the park’s egalitarian promise. 

Lives of the Pigeons is renowned poet Santos’s first play to be produced in Chicago, and the side project gives it a solid world premiere. While heightened, Santos’s poetic dialogue feels immediate and truthful. It also gives a lot for the actors to play with. There's excellent chemistry between Lonergan and Bender, but Lloyd’s Man With Cane, with his intricate physicality and gleeful command of the language, fuels the play with a palpable menace. Frequent scene changes give Adam Webster's production some choppiness, but the story is well-paced and, at 70 minutes, the play feels deliberate and focused, an amplified examination of power and absolution.

 

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