36, Catbox Cabaret, at Philosofur’s. Robert Ayres moved here several years ago from Boston, where he and his cohorts had something of a reputation as the Catbox Cabaret. But whatever magic they made there–and I know they did because I’ve seen the gushy newspaper clippings–has not been reproduced here. Ayres’s re-creation of his cabaret two years ago was a tedious affair, more warmed-over Second City-wannabe work than anything groundbreaking or exciting.

Ayres’s new evening of performance, based on a book by Georges Polti, is not much better. This turn-of-the-century French literary critic broke down all of theater into 36 dramatic situations: rivalry of unequals, slaying of kin unrecognized, enemy loved, etc. Ayres–a graduate student in performance studies at Northwestern University–had the clever idea of writing 36 scenes, each one illustrating one of Polti’s situations, and staging them one after another. To mix things up a bit, he steals a page from Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind and asks audience members to decide the running order of all 36 scenes.

It’s not a clever enough gimmick to redeem Ayres’s scripts, however, which tend to be overwritten, overripe, and melodramatic. And for all his performers’ quickness on their feet, they’re unable to make this 160-minute evening seem anything more than a mildly interesting academic exercise.

–Jack Helbig