A MAN WITH CONNECTIONS, Chicago Artisan Productions, at Famous Door Theater Company. Russian playwright Alexander Gelman’s conventionally realistic drama is the Russian inversion of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons. Andrei, a construction-site manager driven to complete a project on schedule and under budget, assigns an unsafe job to his son Alyosha (Karamazovian reference intended, no doubt), and as a result Alyosha loses both hands. But unlike Miller–who spends two acts building to the revelation that Joe Keller knowingly sold faulty airplane parts to the government during World War II and another act on Joe’s slow realization that his actions jeopardized his fighter-pilot son–Gelman has Andrei’s wife Natasha announce her husband’s moral lapse to him in the first ten minutes. He devotes the next hour to Andrei’s attempts to justify himself while Natasha tears him–and herself–to shreds.
As a consequence the play doesn’t offer much suspense, and Gelman expects the audience to invest in the couple before letting us know who they are. He knows how to create a compelling psychological dogfight, however. Katy Osterberg splits her staging between straightforward storytelling and meandering emotionalism, paying scant attention to pace, rhythm, momentum, nuance, tone–in a word, style. The play is perfectly clear if half-formed in the cast’s half-committed performances, but it lacks the careful shadings that might make it engaging.