at the Edge of the Lookingglass
In four months of operation Lookingglass Theatre has built up something of a reputation as a venue for the kind of performances that used to be confined to Lower Links, Randolph Street Gallery, and Chicago Filmmakers. Their latest production, British playwright Jonathan Moore’s Treatment, is an imaginatively conceived, excellently acted, fairly well executed version of a play that, quite frankly, doesn’t really work.
Moore seems to think his play is an unconventional work about ideas, pitting the nihilism of the skinheads’ creed against the more hopeful humanism of the British middle class. In fact, the play is a conventional morality tale that could have been lifted from half a dozen social melodramas of the 1950s.
Two lower-class brothers, Rory and Liam, tough it out on the wrong side of town until one day Liam, the more sensitive of the two, falls in love with Julia, a Cambridge-educated bohemian who takes it upon herself to show him the way out of the slums. The next thing you know, Liam no longer cares about street fighting, has taken to reading books, and has even begun to hang out with a kinda hip, kinda streetwise Catholic priest named Father Michael. Of course street nihilist Rory takes all this very badly, and sets out to win Liam back, which leads him inevitably to a battle with Julia and Father Michael over Liam’s soul.
Moore adds a few twists to the story to keep it from becoming just another cross-and-switchblade melodrama. For one, he has a fondness for long soliloquies and rock-video-inspired dance sequences. Some of these monologues advance the story, while others, such as Father Michael’s pretentious speech at the play’s beginning, do nothing but baffle and bore. The dance sequences actually do add something to the story, giving us insight into the souls of this pair of all-but-inarticulate skinheads.
To Moore’s credit, he does a good job of creating characters, not stereotypes. Father Michael is far too weak–both physically and spiritually–to be a stock priest type. And Julia is given the kind of normal sex drive that in the 50s would have given a girl a reputation. In fact, her attraction to Liam is based as much on lust and lots of great sex as it is on love. “I despise his ignorance,” she tells us in a confessional monologue, “I love his body.” Even Rory and Liam are more than just a pair of skinheads dropped into the story to make it seem hip.
However, Moore’s play, at center cold and emotionless, never manages to make the characters worth caring about. And Lookingglass’s production never comes close to redeeming the play, despite some marvelous expressionistic lighting, interesting digitally sampled musical effects, and an excellent and well-directed cast.
Alain St. Borges and Philip R. Smith are absolutely convincing as the skinhead brothers Liam and Rory. St. Borges in particular turns in a wonderful performance as the more poetic brother Liam. His monologue describing a street-gang battle in Chelsea could easily be one of the best monologues I’ve heard all year. Joy Gregory looks the part of Julia, though her performance is somewhat restrained and inexpressive next to St. Borges and Smith. She also seems a little too mousy to be playing with cats as ferocious as Liam and Rory. Raymond Fox makes Father Michael a perfectly believable, if somewhat innocent priest.
Directors David Catlin and Elizabeth Kairys have done a good job making an interesting and original production out of material that could have strayed into the worn and cliche-ridden. Not only do they not use a single cut from any Sex Pistols album, they don’t even quote the more obscure punk bands. Unfortunately, the best that Catlin and Kairys manage to do is turn a flawed play into a passably interesting one.