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Photograph: courtesy of Nothing Special ProductionsCeleste Burns in Savage Land at Nothing Special Productions

Savage Land at Nothing Special Productions | Theater review

Despite some stylistic flourishes and a compelling turn by Celeste Burns, Josh Nordmark’s colonial jungle book doesn’t add up to much.

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In this new work by Chicago playwright Josh Nordmark, a spirited woman in a colonized jungle struggles to choose among three opposing worlds and two disappointing suitors: a dispassionate anthropological painter (Matt Drake) and an overbearing, egomaniacal artist (Scott Danielson). The play boasts an occasionally light wit, some moments of real danger and a few lovely, lo-fi technical whimsies (the twisted-burlap jungle is a clever example). As the woman in the middle, Celeste Burns drips with charisma; despite her instantaneously variable motivations, she effectively supplies the blood that keeps the play from drying into a thematic étude on…well, what exactly? Ultimately, the parts don’t coalesce.

The production exists in a limbo born of seemingly deliberate but incoherent choices: Period-ish costumes adhere to no specific time; Nordmark’s dialogue explores old-timey lingo punctuated with the stray modern expletive; some props are mimed, others have an antique look; the furniture (obsessively rearranged to no particular effect) is spare and nondescript; accents are resolutely American. Storefront inventiveness simmers under the surface—backstage whistling perfectly evoking jungle ambience, dollar-store masks lending a compelling Jean Genet–esque horror. Yet all the abstraction fails to serve any thematic purpose.

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