Tympanic Theatre Company at the Den Theatre. By Jackie Sibblies Drury. Directed by Nathan Robbel. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 30mins; no intermission.
Theater review by Benno Nelson
In Jackie Sibbles Drury’s 2013 play, receiving its Chicago debut in Tympanic's claustrophobic production, a group of survivors struggles to form a functional society after a zombie-esque apocalypse overtakes the country.
There are two pretty special things about the show. First, there are moments when the audience has literally no idea how to react to what we’re seeing. For how eager theater is to boast its ability to “provoke,” it’s damn rare and super fun when it really happens.
So when we watch a zombified woman eviscerating one of her cohabitants while a bystander sings "Poison" by Bell Biv DeVoe, it’s baffling to the point of hilarity. And here’s the thing—I have no idea whether this humor is intentional or not, on the part of Drury or director Nathan Robbel. Everyone in the theater at the performance I attended was looking around at each other trying to understand how to react. It was oddly fitting in a play about how to handle the apocalypse and a bit of unapologetic, Halloweeny fun.
Social Creatures also explores, in darkly comic metaphor, the destructive power of racism and privilege. When a stranger—the only African-American we meet—joins the group, he's given the uncomfortable nickname of “Mr. Brown.” He then suggests the disease ravaging the country is the result not of any pathogen, but of white people so used to getting whatever they want that all morality is discarded in favor of limitless self-satisfaction. This is an idea way too interesting to be unceremoniously discarded almost as soon as it is uttered.
Ultimately, though, the production doesn’t really hang together. There’s too much introduction before the wrinkles appear in what’s otherwise a fairly formulaic piece. And its ending is too odd and too quiet to give a satisfactory conclusion to a 90-minute play that, for all its suspenseful positioning, feels much longer.