CATCH-22, Thirsty Theater and Cenacle Theatre Company, at the Pilsen Arts Center. Sometimes it seems that only awful books make great movies and plays–that great books rarely jump to another medium successfully, even when the author of the original does the adaptation. Joseph Heller’s stage version of his brilliant 1961 novel satirizing the military bureaucracy captures only a fraction of what makes the book great. Though Heller preserves his own vaudevillian wit, he sacrifices his comedy’s darker tones, those haunting, angry moments when a few sentences reveal the awful, empty horror of war.

Still, for all its faults, Heller’s play isn’t nearly as bad as this production makes it seem. Looking over the script, I see no notes from the playwright asking actors to overplay the comedy, telegraph punch lines, speak in ridiculous cartoon voices, bellow lines that would work better in a normal tone of voice, or wear silly costumes–Groucho glasses, an Indian headdress–better suited to a high school talent show.

A few of the 12 cast members here have a clue: P.J. Baio is great as the wheeler-dealer supply officer Milo Minderbinder, and Audrey Demetzensky has her moments as an Italian whore. But in the catch-22 of comedy, most of them are too busy trying to be funny to be funny. –Jack Helbig