THE QUARE FELLOW, Common Air Theatre Company, at the Chopin Theatre. Brendan Behan drew on his own prison experiences–he served time in the 40s for IRA activities–in this 1954 tragicomedy recounting the events in an Irish prison on the day an inmate is going to be hanged. And it’s a shame this rich, troubling play hasn’t had a professional production in Chicago in such a long time. Behan offers a powerful indictment of the death penalty yet manages to be funny in a dark, Irish kind of way. (When the prisoners are told they’re going to have a special dinner because an inspector is coming, one of the men quips, “Oh, so there’s going to be food with our meal.”)

Clearly the folks at Common Air Theatre Company decided to produce The Quare Fellow because of its position on the death penalty–opening it just a week before Timothy McVeigh’s scheduled execution. But timeliness alone can’t justify their production. The actors drone Behan’s rich language in fake-sounding Irish accents, director Matthew Hahn is unable to plumb the script’s comedy or tragedy, and even though they’re performing in a dark basement space complete with echo, Hahn and company are unable to re-create the claustrophobia of being locked up.

–Jack Helbig