THE MUSTACHE, Thirteenth Tribe, at the Athenaeum Theatre. I can recall few Chicago productions as compulsively fascinating as this adaptation of neogothic French author Emmanuel Carrere’s surrealistic novel about a man driven to madness after he shaves off his mustache and no one seems to notice. The story is utterly unpredictable yet fiendishly logical as the unnamed hero (played to perfection, with an amiable sort of Tony Perkins neurosis, by Mark St. Amant) first suspects his wife and colleagues of playing a practical joke, then questions his wife’s sanity–and his own–and finally seeks escape in Hong Kong, of all places.
Directed and adapted with commendable precision and confidence by Katie Taber, the serpentine narrative takes the path of a particularly vivid dream, echoing the works of such artists as Franz Kafka, Alain Robbe-Grillet, and Luis Bunuel while exploring our tenuous hold on the fragile realities of our lives. Virtually every element in Thirteenth Tribe’s hallucinatory production, from Ginger Farley’s haunting, witty choreography to Mike Frank’s alternately soothing and propulsive sound design to Joanna Settle’s minimal yet evocative set and lighting, is both wonderfully imaginative and absolutely professional. One could, perhaps, have desired a bit more subtlety and ambiguity in the disturbingly grisly coda, but this is less the fault of Thirteenth Tribe than of Carrere, who has a penchant for provocation. That moment aside, this is an uncommonly, even dizzyingly daring, thought-provoking, and entertaining 100 minutes of theater. –Adam Langer