LOVE DIATRIBE, Great Beast, at National Pastime Theater. For its debut production, the Great Beast theater company stages one of the late Harry Kondoleon’s lesser-known works. Perhaps best known nationally for Self-Torture and Strenuous Exercise, Kondoleon has a unique, strangely satirical voice that earned him two Obie awards. His depictions of dysfunction and absurdity in the American family still resonate as we approach the end of the 90s, though his dark outlook will probably prevent his work from ever having popular appeal. The characters in Love Diatribe, one of his earliest plays, are all caught in a web of anxiety and confusion, unable to find a way to love even their own family, let alone themselves. But the play develops from contemporary satire into a hopeful, fantastically uplifting (if somewhat hokey) ending.

Director Dawn Marie Galtieri neatly translates Kondoleon’s sometimes highly theatrical language into realistic tableaux. The somewhat uneven cast don’t always create the richest characters but put a lot of heart into the text. Especially strong are the women; Ariel Brenner is particularly impressive as the overworked, ultimately loving mother, Gerry. Overall the Great Beast ensemble seems to work nicely together, creating an enjoyable, thought-provoking evening–not an easy task in Chicago’s off-Loop theater, especially during the summer months.

–Gabrielle S. Kaplan