It’s easy to forget that Hellcab is a holiday show. The plot doesn’t hinge on an angelic visitation or a nutcracker come to life or a reindeer with bioluminescent properties. There really isn’t any plot at all, when you come down to it. Just a premise: a long, hard day in the life of a cabbie. A guy known only as the “driver” spends a single, seemingly endless shift bouncing from one end of Chicago to the other, picking up fares. That can happen any time. And so can the hopheads, sexpots, sports fans, gangbangers, accordion players, basket cases, broken hearts, sweet souls, little Hitlers, and regular fools who climb into his cab. But in fact the show was called Hellcab Does Christmas when it premiered back in 1992, and playwright Will Kern keyed the cabbie’s shift specifically to December 24. And you know what? This 20th-anniversary revival demonstrates that it makes a rather wonderful tribute to the season—albeit a counterintuitive one, given the rawness of some of its approximately two dozen vignettes.
Director Darrell Cox has assembled 33 actors to play the passengers, so there’s no doubling up on roles and no conserving of energies. They all give their characters their all. But the real powerhouse here is Konstantin Khrustov. Though smart and wary, his driver is also vulnerable and—amusingly at certain moments, frighteningly at others—way too dutiful for his own good. It’s fun to watch him rise and slump in his seat during the course of the show, like a human barometer registering the state of his fortunes.