TUTA Theatre Chicago plays Jean-Luc Lagarce's song in a compelling ode to the performative spirit.
"When you've been through hell, you don't fear the devil," the Artiste at the center of Lagarce's work repeats like a mantra. But what if you've been into limbo and can't get out? That's the fate that seems to have befallen the Artiste, a perhaps once grand star of cabaret who regales us with a litany of the little indignities she's been reduced to: traipsing from one town to the next on foot, unlike the boats of yore, only to play ever smaller stages that aren't configured for her to make a proper entrance, and in front of ever shrinking audiences. Why, she's even had to procure her own stool, just to maintain a modicum of glamor.
The late French writer's work (Lagarce died of AIDS in 1995), seen here in its U.S. premiere in a TUTA production that will next head to New York for a brief Off Broadway run, seems to spin in circles as luxurious and precise as the seat of it's star's propietary stool. Phrases and motifs repeat and return as the Artiste—here played with intriguing notes of androgyny by the compelling Jeffrey Binder—banters with her backup boys (Michael Doonan and Darren Hill). These left and right sharks are eventually revealed to be the latest in a long line of supporting players, and both they and the Artiste acknowledge that they too will eventually swim away when they smell new blood, only to be replaced by the first chum to be found.
Staged by Zeljko Djukic on an unadorned dance-studio style set, and making nice use of its mirrored walls, Lagarce's tale of three pities plays a sometimes mystifying but quite charming tune—a paean, one suspects, to those compulsive performers for whom the show must always go on—devil may care.
TUTA Theatre Chicago at the Den Theatre. By Jean-Luc Lagarce. Directed by Zeljko Djukic. With Jeffrey Binder, Michael Doonan, Darren Hill. Running time: 1hr 30mins; no intermission.