Mettle Theatre

at Heartland Studio Theatre

The cleverly named Someguy, Chicago playwright Mark Routhier’s update of our favorite 16th-century morality play, Everyman, resembles the original in everything but wit and warmth, plot and power. The classic tells how God, in league with Death, asks Everyman to account for his life before his death. Unable to bribe Death and deserted by his boon companions (allegorical pals like Fellowship, Strength, Worldly Goods, Beauty, and Wit), Everyman learns that only his good deeds will help him win grace.

In Routhier’s nonreligious version, clumsily premiered by Mettle Theatre, Someguy (played by Routhier) is blue-collar basic. He’s also suicidal–in fact, obsessed with becoming nothing. After being fleeced by God (a clownlike thimblerigger), Someguy meets Death (Ariel Brenner) in a dive. A combination tour guide and repo man, Death takes him on an all-night journey. Someguy ostensibly wants to learn “how to be human,” but all he’s shown are mean-spirited caricatures, miserable lives depicted with little or no compassion.

In drawn-out scenes that range from the goofy to the overwrought, Someguy and Death meet various examples of moral paralysis. The husband-and-wife team Beauty and Knowledge tease and taunt, flirt and fight. Someguy punches out Knowledge, Beauty goes out with Someguy, then she dumps him. He’s beaten up by Control, a jive-talking gangbanger for whom “life has no value” (and who develops a yen for Death). The stereotype is as blatant as it sounds.

In a punk disco Someguy meets Angst and Blame, jaded, promiscuous “club rats” who bitch and rant. They glibly label themselves possible AIDS carriers; too preoccupied with fun to be tested, they’d rather not know if they’re infected–then they’d need to blame someone, maybe themselves. (For sheer blame-the-victim nastiness it’s hard to equal this scene, which maliciously implies that one can get AIDS from a dentist as easily as from casual sex.)

Someguy’s date with Death also introduces us to the weirdly named Disillusion and Solicitude, a dysfunctional couple mired in sexism; to Doom, Someguy’s childhood pal who’s married to Hope but dies of a drug overdose; and to Someguy’s father, Trustfund, who shares with his son a lesson (typical of the play’s pseudoprofundities) on how life is like a shell game: though you keep your eye on the shell, you’ll still lose track of the pea. Finally Someguy resigns himself to “living this lie.”

Unfortunately it takes him 90 minutes to learn so little, though he sees enough to make him want to off himself even more than he did at the beginning. Oddly enough the press release refers to Someguy as “life affirming.”

Mired in actors’ exercises, Someguy is neither as hip nor as original as it thinks it is. The rare flashes of eloquence in Routhier’s script are snuffed out by scatological exchanges (“Fuck you!” “Fuck you too!”) and heavy-handed passages, such as Someguy’s description of his passion for Death: “It had broken the reins and galloped ahead into implacable obsession before we even met.”

Pointlessly faithful to the script, Louie Racht’s staging, with its aimless blocking and empty histrionics, has no momentum and regularly grinds to a halt, then grinds some more. Routhier creates Someguy out of wooden reactions; Brenner’s Death is much more alive. The other players sink into silly or stupid stereotypes; if they know what they’re doing or why, it’s a secret.

One last caveat: the Heartland Studio Theatre has no working air-conditioning, not even a fan. Once the door is shut the small space becomes a suffocating sauna.