ON THE OPEN ROAD, Wax Fruit Theatre Company, at Chicago Dramatists. Six years ago Steve Tesich clearly thought he’d written a profound play with On the Open Road, given its world premiere at the Goodman. Borrowing heavily from Beckett and Ionesco, he fashioned a theatrical universe in which Christ’s return engenders vicious religious wars, leading to the near destruction of civilization. Through this bleak landscape trudge the doltish Angel and the elitist Al; desperate to reach “the land of the free,” they hope their laundry cart full of pilfered masterpieces will convince border guards they’re a cut above the average refugee.

But comparison with Beckett, Ionesco, or any of the other great European modernists makes it plain that Tesich is out of his element. Despite such assertions as “Man is chaos with a conscience,” his play deals in prefab angst, then spins off on a grand, irrelevant tangent as Al and Angel discover they must murder Jesus to save themselves. And it’s anyone’s guess why Christ has returned as a concert cellist.

Wax Fruit director Gianine DeFrancesco does a competent job of finding clarity in the haphazard material. However, Ed Cunningham’s overacting as Angel and Brian McIntire’s underacting as Al leave the protagonists perpetually out of sync, obviating any real relationship. The two of them end up spinning their wheels in Tesich’s mire of superficial cynicism.

–Justin Hayford