The Designated Mourner, Lower Wacker Productions, at the Berger Park Cultural Center. Wallace Shawn has spent his career being astonished that the world isn’t nearly as nice or safe as he thought when he was a kid. Sometimes he uses this disillusionment as a catalyst for more interesting discoveries: life can still be fulfilling (My Dinner With Andre), or nice people can have fascistic ideals (Aunt Dan and Lemon).

But sometimes Shawn’s perpetual whine gets to be too much, as it does in this three-person play about a dystopic future in which everyone who loves highbrow art is rounded up and executed. Shawn makes some good points about the decline of interest in difficult poetry, classical music, and the like in our TV-besotted age. But he attempts to do too much in this highly digressive series of monologues: describe a failed marriage, satirize American values, mourn the coarseness of our age, and poke fun at the mandarin world epitomized by his father, former New Yorker editor William Shawn.

David Shapiro–who appeared in the U.S. premiere of the play at Steppenwolf in 1997 and who directs and stars in this revival–has done what he can with the script. Some of the scenes are fascinating, notably Shawn’s descriptions of the reign of terror waged against the rich by “the people of the dirt.” But Shapiro never quite succeeds at turning Shawn’s crazy quilt of moods, genres, and half-baked notions into a whole or at making Shawn’s characters seem anything more than ciphers

–Jack Helbig