Credit: courtesy the Sound

There’s something wonderfully firsthand about this brilliant new work from
playwright Beth Hyland and the Sound, directed by Rebecca Willingham. To
begin with, it’s a small theater in Chicago performing a play about small
theater in Chicago. Red Bowl Ensemble, a fictional company, have netted
several Non-Equity Jeff Award nominations this year for their production of
Chekhov’s Three Sisters, and here they are at the Jeffs, in
jumpsuits, jackets, and a very memorable cape, ready to face the music and
disparage the competition. Willingham gets supremely unguarded performances
out of her top-notch young cast, as though everyone had been in this
ballroom before, sipped these same drinks, and worn these same embarrassing
ribbons that say NOMINEE on them. For viewers with local theater mileage
this show has enough to recommend it simply as a confection of dead-on
in-jokes about the incestuous storefront scene, but it handles its
Chicagoness well, never feeling too fringy or deep-dished out.

Indeed, anybody with a past in theater, or who ever made art with friends,
or who ever played Would You Rather between Shakespeare and Chekhov
(Chekhov wins, naturally: those glasses!), will find plenty to love here.
There’s a cute but unnecessary coda, and though the good doctor’s ghost
presides here, all right—in Hyland’s livid pauses and the superb Georgi
McCauley’s injured wit if nowhere else—the use of Three Sisters as
background is inconsistent. Nevertheless, Red Bowl is humble
Chicago theater at its finest.   v