Laurie Metcalf has fun but hits the wrong note with this small-minded comedy.
Original Steppenwolf ensemble member Laurie Metcalf christens the mothership’s new 1700 Theatre with a two-week run of this odd comic sketch, a play she and castmates French Stewart (best known for TV’s Third Rock from the Sun) and Maile Flanagan have previously performed in Los Angeles and New York. The broad-as-a-barn piece, which has Metcalf as a low-talent community-theater type determined to learn from Stewart’s hoity-toity voice teacher, is clearly a lark for the actors involved (Metcalf is squeezing the Chicago run in ahead of her appearance as a nominee at next Sunday’s Tony Awards).
And there’s some fun, to be sure, in seeing a performer of Metcalf’s caliber on a Chicago storefront scale. But though Metcalf, Stewart and Flanagan each have disarming moments, the whole doesn’t quite come together—perhaps because the actors appear to have directed themselves for this restaging, if one reads between the lines of the program.
Metcalf’s coarse, delusional Virginia lands somewhere between one of Kate McKinnon’s SNL whackjobs and Amy Sedaris’s Strangers With Candy character Jerri Blank. Stewart’s uptight Nate starts off fronting as Virginia’s cultured foil, but playwright Justin Tanner soon reveals Nate to be as much of an out-there outcast in his way as his student. By this hourlong sketch’s final scene, though, things cross the line from transgressive to distasteful; the kind of thing you might write off at the Annoyance is harder to forgive at ticket prices upward of $60. Let’s hope this is a lesson learned for Steppenwolf’s new space.
Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s 1700 Theatre. By Justin Tanner. As originally directed by Bart Delorenzo. With Laurie Metcalf, French Stewart. Running time: 1hr; no intermission.