RESERVOIR DOGS, Azusa Productions, at Chicago Dramatists Workshop. I can think of no more compelling evidence of the declining importance of drama in our culture than the fact that a gifted writer with a knack for crackling dialogue and compelling, twisted stories seems never for a second to have considered writing for the stage. I don’t think Quentin Tarantino even goes to theater. He’s probably too busy popping in one videocassette after another, cramming more and more images into his brain, that warehouse of pop culture.

Which is a shame, as this bare-bones staging of his brilliant 1992 debut film, adapted by Michael J. Alessandro and directed by Maggie Speer and Patrick Wilkes, reveals. Tarantino’s writing packs a punch even when it’s shorn of virtuoso camera work and clever editing. That’s because, despite his reputation as a purveyor of buckets of blood, Tarantino rarely depends solely on violence to hold an audience’s attention. Instead he draws us into the story, told in a series of flashbacks, with interesting characters in an extreme situation–criminals trying to cope with a heist gone wrong.

So fascinating are Tarantino’s fools, losers, and psychopaths that they remain interesting even when played by a cast representing the full range of non-Equity male talent in this city–that is, from pretty good to barely passable. In fact, Tarantino’s script is so fine and so strong I think it would flourish even if the entire cast were as loud and awkward as its weakest links. –Jack Helbig