REVIEW ROUNDUP: Kevin Anderson, Frances Guinan, et al. Open in Victory Gardens' A Guide for the Perplexed
The play focuses on a newly released petty criminal, who's forced to take up residence with his sister's husband, their teenage son and a tank of tropical fish and, unexpectedly, is visited by his female pen pal who arrives bearing strange gifts. The company also features Cynthia Baker, Meg Thalken and Bubba Weiler.
The creative team includes Jeff Bauer (scenic design), Carol J. Blanchard (costume design), Todd Hensley (lighting design), and Andre Pluess (sound design).
The critics from Chicago's two principal dailies as well as the trade paper Variety have reviewed the show, and both are finding the performers' work, particuarly Anderson and Guinan's turns, laudible, but they are less charitable toward Johnson's play and Shinner's production.
The reviews include:
Perplexed has confusions of its own
"In Joel Drake Johnson's laudably ambitious and heartfelt new play at the Victory Gardens Theater, the remarkable Chicago actor Francis Guinan offers an exquisitely clear and detailed guide to the inner workings of a North Shore neurotic.
"His magnificent performance is a quiet tour de force, reaching a stomach-churning pinnacle when his wound-tight guy asks for a divorce."
"The director of the show, Sandy Shinner, stages this piece with an intentionally languid style on a set from Jeffrey Bauer that features a house and patio on a big turntable. Shinner, who uses that revolving stage a great deal, is trying, I think, to find a poetic style and texture that would paint the intended picture of a group of differently perplexed and needy individuals, all trying to move on with their lives and not quite knowing how."
"But the slow pace and wrought pictures only work when you have a surer imaginative world than the one on display here. This is a play with many crises, but it also needs some therapy of its own. It's brand new. There is no shame there."
Weird plot will leave you Perplexed
"What happens when five gifted actors (including two veteran Steppenwolf ensemble members) get stuck in a dreadful play? The painful answer to this question can be found on the stage of Victory Gardens Theater..."
"The problem in all this is that the actors, uniformly excellent, can boost the play, but they cannot rewrite it."
A Guide for the Perplexed
"There are so many positive elements to Joel Drake Johnson's new play "A Guide for the Perplexed" -- receiving its premiere at Victory Gardens in Chicago -- that it's nearly possible to overlook its absence of satisfying narrative cohesion. The play possesses needy, quirky characters -- played to the hilt by a potent cast lead by Hollywood journeyman Kevin Anderson and Chicago stalwart Francis Guinan..."
"The playing, though, has flashes of brilliance. The early scenes between Anderson and Guinan -- an Oscar-and-Felix-style odd couple with more in common than they'd care to admit -- are vibrant and funny, although at points director Sandy Shinner lets them go overboard into corny physical shtick. And later scenes have plenty of emotional depth, giving Guinan in particular the opportunity to demonstrate his uncanny range as an actor."
"These are worthy, interesting characters, but the narrative never emerges from situation into story."