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Photograph: James PalmerPaige Sawin in Red Tape Theatre's Tragedy: A Tragedy

Tragedy: A Tragedy at Red Tape Theatre | Theater review

A local newscast gets existential in Will Eno’s biting first play.


Vapid local newsers confront a long, dark night of the soul in Eno’s clever 1997 work, in which Chicago audiences might see shades of Mickle Maher. Covering a nightfall that everyone senses is somehow different from all other nightfalls, anchor Frank (Lawrence Garner) helms a special broadcast with contributions from field reporters John (Steve O’Connell) and Constance (Paige Sawin) and legal reporter Michael (Mike Tepeli), who reads increasingly unhinged statements from the governor.

Eno’s first play, Tragedy works on multiple levels, including simple but cutting parody of the broadcast news format and chill-inducing reflection on all the things we take for granted in our comfortable American lives. The reporters, forced to keep filling airtime even in the total absence of new information, get increasingly existential pondering their places in the world; it’s here that the playwright’s delicious facility with language takes off. There are turns of phrase that take your breath away, as when Constance, trying to calm a hyperventilating John, tells him to “think of other people breathing. Whole countries. Up and down.”

Wechsler lets his production breathe in all the right places. The technical aspects are less impressive than I’ve come to expect from Red Tape—Emily Guthrie’s set is imaginative but crudely executed, and even allowing for shaky, ancient instruments, Kyle Land’s lighting design is peculiar. But all Tragedy really needs are words and actors, and Red Tape has a lovely collection of both.

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