A Phoenix Too Frequent, Writers’ Theatre Chicago. Though Christopher Fry penned this odd poetic drama more than 50 years ago and set it in ancient Greece, the play’s ironic, irreverent tone gives it a decidedly Gen-X feel. Dynamene, holed up in the tomb of her recently deceased husband, mock-heroically prepares to follow him into death (her husband’s brain, she laments, “was an ironing board / For all crumpled indecision”). Her horned-up servant Doto can’t stop thinking about sex long enough to shed a tear for the deceased–though she does sob over a good pair of shoes she foolishly gave away. When the soldier Tegeus wanders into the tomb at three in the morning, it doesn’t take much for these mourning women to feel raging libidinal fires. The play may not amount to much more than a curiosity, but Fry’s wildly incongruous juxtapositions could be outrageously fun.
Strangely, director Michael Halberstam and his cast of normally stellar actors treat Fry’s script with such decorum as to level his iconoclastic extremes. Playing Dynamene and Tegeus, Karen Janes Woditsch and Sean Fortunato are so sincere they’re nearly featureless, neglecting to poke fun at overblown ardor the way they did with such success in last season’s Spite for Spite. And the usually earthy Maggie Carney sanitizes Doto’s lustiness by turning her into a flighty 14-year-old. This production needs a healthy dose of impudence to elicit more than mild chuckles.