Barrie Cole presents a series of overheard phone calls on the CTA that add up to a beautiful, polyphonous portrait of city life. Nine performers, sitting among the audience like fellow riders on a train, occasionally changing seats—prompted by familiar-sounding station arrival announcements—talk into their phones and inadvertently reveal more than they intend to a roomful of strangers.
It’s a deceptively simple setup and, on the face of it, doesn’t offer much more than the vicarious thrill of hearing something one isn’t supposed to be privy to. But as the one-sided rants, whispered pleas, and philosophical musings accrue, one can’t help but fill in the blanks and identify as either the speaker or the listener.
Cole and director Jen Moniz first staged this piece as street theater on actual CTA trains, then moved it inside as part of Rhinofest a year or two back. This run serves as the debut of a new performance space called Walnut Spaceship Studio housed within the Bridgeport Art Center. Besides Cole’s skillful heightening of common speech, it’s an added treat not to have to trudge up to Rogers Park to take in a piece of theater. This marks the first time in my two-year play-reviewing tenure that I could walk to a performance. For a piece whose essence is bridging the gap between strangers, the fact that it’s being presented in a neighborhood that rarely gets the opportunity to take in theater is no small accomplishment. This is a train any Chicagoan should count their lucky stars to catch. v