Kitten with a whip, at Voltaire. Having worked in Chicago off-Loop theater as a playwright, performer, and theater critic, I relate well, if a bit uncomfortably, to fellow critic and playwright Jack Helbig’s comic look at one actress’s initiation into the local scene in Kitten With a Whip. In this tight one-act we meet Rebecca McTeague (played with authenticity by off-Loop veteran Deborah King), a well-mannered, well-intentioned young woman from downstate Illinois who’s trying to adjust to the unglamorous lifestyle of a non-Equity actress. Helbig’s got all the essentials down: unbearably boring temp jobs with freaky bosses, pompous actor-directors who run their own “companies” and hit on all their female leads, two-faced fellow thespians, even “that asshole from the Reader” who doesn’t mention Rebecca in a review. Thankfully, Helbig gives the script some humanity by introducing a sincere love interest for Rebecca: the flower-watering guy at her day jobs, a fellow actor named Terry (delightfully played by Howard Cohen). He offers a bit of salvation in our leading lady’s otherwise hellish existence.

Appropriately playing at the center of low-budget Chicago theater, Voltaire, Kitten With a Whip will provide a moment of recognition to anyone who’s ever attempted the unpredictable underbelly of local theater. With a solid cast and good direction, this little comedy proves that laughter can fly without big bucks.

–Gabrielle S. Kaplan