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The Big Funk, Clock Productions, at the Chopin Theatre. John Patrick Shanley’s strange little concoction revolves around a knife thrower (Dave Hoke), his pregnant wife (Jennifer Fisk), an actor (Ryan Kitley), and a self-hating woman (Janell Cox) in a Pirandello-like tableau of disillusion and despair, mixed with dry humor and little smatterings of emotion. Employing a brittle structure that might be considered innovative–or just odd–Shanley presents his own strong opinions. The characters spell out their inner workings in candid comic monologues, and the dialogue is focused as much on preaching as plot development. It’s as though Shanley wanted to get the playacting out of the way so he could return to spouting off about society’s complacency, the value of living versus just existing, etcetera. These may be worthwhile messages, especially in this disheartening time, but they’d be much more easily swallowed if revealed through action and an unfolding story. It’s hard not to feel patronized by this script.

The play may or may not appeal, but Robin Chaplik’s production is fabulous. The physically and vocally diverse cast shows uniformly keen intelligence and comic sensitivity. Fisk’s deadpan in the face of her husband’s explosive neurosis is classic; also commendable is Kitley’s ability to sound sincere during Shanley’s circular, self-righteous diatribes. The gladiator-esque design (set by Lynne Koscielniak, costumes by Debbie Baer) adds to the comic absurdity. These people have done so much so well. They deserve a better play.