THE AUTHOR’S VOICE and OUT AT SEA, Liquid Stage Theatre Collective, at Theatre Building Chicago. The comic choices Richard Greenberg makes in his trashy 1987 one-act are reminiscent of bad episodes of Bewitched. A would-be writer snags a big publishing contract thanks to a troll with a gift for words who does all his writing for him, then becomes so dependent on the troll that he virtually imprisons him. There’s also a female editor hot to bed the writer, who’s afraid of sex. Many directors play the script as pure comedy, which makes Greenberg’s rather meager comic gifts glaringly apparent. But Karl Rutherford plays it straight: his actors focus on their characters’ emotional truth, such as it is, and forget about the laughs. Andrew DeWitt is especially touching as the troll. The result is a tolerably entertaining one-act about the creative process.
Liquid Stage pairs The Author’s Voice with Polish playwright Slawomir Mrozek’s absurdist one-act about three men adrift on a raft contemplating cannibalism. Out at Sea might have been more meaningful, at least as political allegory, when it was first performed in shortage-plagued Poland in 1960. But to a contemporary American audience it feels like a bloated sketch, filled with predictable twists and punch lines that fall flat. Here Rutherford’s strategy of packing his production with capable actors fails: there are limits to the improvements performers can make.