Review: “Reverb”

SLIGHTLY RECOMMENDED

Where: Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.
When: through June 23
Tickets: $25-$30
Phone: 773-728-7529

By ANNE SPISELMAN
Theater Critic

If you have a taste for gonzo Chicago theater in the service of a most distasteful subject, check out the local premiere of Leslye Headland’s “Reverb” at Redtwist Theatre. In the course of 90 intermission-less minutes, Dorian (Peter Oyloe), a rising young singer/songwriter with severe emotional problems, and June (Mary Williamson), his enabling past and now-again girlfriend, repeatedly beat each other up, have violent sex, almost kill each other and argue vehemently. The idea seems to be that these mutually abusive children of abusive parents are victims of dysfunctional pasts that reverberate in the present and only survive by forming a bond against the world, however destructive that may be. The playwright, a woman, comes disturbingly close to romanticizing this ugly situation, and more than a little of the dialogue, dubbed “raw” by some critics, is embarrassingly similar to bad pornography. 

Since the milieu is the Los Angeles music scene, we also get a satire of the biz featuring a smug blogger/groupie named Ivy (Ashley Neal) who sleeps around to get ahead, invades everyone’s space and credits herself for getting Dorian a big break. He has band mates, too, namely Hank (Nick Vidal) and Shane (Chris Chmelik). Rounding out the cast is Lydia (Brittany Burch), Dorian’s estranged sister, who coped with their abusive alcoholic father by finding religion and now wants her brother to make peace with the dying old man. Dorian, not surprisingly, is in such bad shape, he can’t cope with much of anything, and unfortunately, unresolved plot lines leave us with too many loose ends.

While Jonathan Berry’s direction is suitably relentless, and Joe Schermoly’s enveloping set is effective, the real saving grace is some of the acting. Oyloe’s tightly wound Dorian, icy but always on the edge of losing control, contrasts well with Williamson’s simultaneously warm yet severe and unstinting June, and the chemistry between them is believable. Burch does a fine job of conveying the troubled but self-disciplined Lydia’s complexity rather than coming across as a cartoon. 

On the whole, “Reverb” is seriously flawed as a play but the performances aren’t.