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Rantoul and Die at American Blues Theater | Theater review

Mark Roberts’s ugly purported comedy is hopelessly cynical and painfully unfunny.

Photograph: Paul Marchese
Francis Guinan and Kate Buddeke in Rantoul and Die at American Blues Theater

Roberts’s chief credits are as writer and producer for some horrid CBS sitcoms (Mike & Molly, Two and a Half Men), and this deeply unpleasant play suggests a cynical sitcom writer freed from corporate censors, gleefully indulging in tendencies toward darkness, violence and profanity he’s been forced by network Standards and Practices to suppress.

Set in small-town Rantoul, a real-life downstate burg that apparently did something big to piss off Illinois native Roberts, Die takes place in the home shared by Debbie (Buddeke) and Rallis (Wilder), a fiftyish couple in the midst of a divorce, much to the chagrin of the now-suicidal Rallis. His frenemy Gary (Guinan) alternates in the play’s opening scene between talking him down and speeding the job along. Things go downhill when Debbie arrives home from her job at the DQ, spewing a painfully unfunny rant about “retards.”

Graeff shows up in the play’s second half as Debbie’s manager, a Crocs-wearing cat lady so impossibly sunny that her inevitable dark secret can be spotted at a hundred paces. Even this normally outstanding quartet of actors can’t overcome Roberts’s ugly contempt for his characters, their environment and, apparently, humanity at large.

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