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Theater Review:

"WORDS WITH C," A Reasonable Facsimile Theatre Company at The Cornservatory

BY LUCIA MAURO

Local playwrights Steven Simoncic and Aimee LaBrie certainly have a profound handle on the commitment fears of twentysomethings cautiously approaching their thirties in "Words with C," receiving its world premiere by the new A Reasonable Facsimile Theatre Company at The Cornservatory. But they reveal all their best insights during the first act, leading to a mediocre, unfocused second half that comes close to obliterating those earlier honest observations of why many people hover in relationship limbo while seeking the elusive "it" they think will make them happy.

The writers employ a sharp and forthright style as the two lead characters – Ben and Kate – deliver monologues poignantly illustrating the differences between men and women, especially in the realm of sexual pleasure. Ben’s reflections on the penis, in which he tries to reconcile intellect with the "Golden Retriever"-like waywardness of the organ, while Kate draws a map of the woman’s key orgasmic zones are witty and riotous.

Also boldly honest are Ben’s terror-ensconced descriptions of a yuppie future from the netherworld, complete with a wife who takes "cardio-squat" classes, a husband who drives a hunter-green SUV and kids with names like Zach and Zoe.

"Words with C"—the C referring to terms as vast as communication, cohabitation, clitoris and carpe diem – is set in a northside Chicago apartment. Kate, an intelligent but bitter young woman fed up with the dating scene, is packing for her move the next morning to California. Her next-door neighbor Ben – who has been dating the cute but self-absorbed Heather for six years -- unexpectedly barges into Kate’s apartment after he thinks he saw one of their elderly neighbors jump to his death. They can’t seem to find the body; but the night turns into a series of flashbacks on their relationships and the choices they’ve made.

Audiences witness the accommodating Ben’s gradual "neutering" by Heather, who criticizes his table manners and blames him for deliberately letting her cat run out the door. Meanwhile, they get to see Kate’s nightmarish first dates – one with a possible serial killer; another with a gay man in denial; and another with a guy obsessed with speaking in fake accents. My main criticism is that both Ben and Kate’s significant others are overblown caricatures. But, in the context of the play’s magnified tone, these scenarios ring with truth – justified by the shrieks of recognition throughout the audience.

By play’s end, Ben and Kate find themselves drawn to each other yet still torn about trusting their true feelings.

Director Michael Buino has an uncluttered sense of blocking – positioning his actors in revelatory formations despite The Cornservatory’s awkward and ramshackle configuration. Jason Borkowski is ideally cast as the unpretentious Ben – wholly believable and honest at every quirky and humiliating turn. We really know how devastating his character feels when he laments, "Forever means there will never be a first time again." As Kate, Cathleen Ann displays an elegant cynicism. And there’s a stylish frankness to the couple’s interactions.

The rest of the cast opts for broader approaches – but they have little choice given the deliberately bizarre and over-the-top way they were written. Some of them, like Kate’s mismatched parents and Heather’s horny girlfriend, are simply extraneous.
"Words with C," however, has a lot to say about the lure of comfort zones (made more evident by one of the neighbor’s pack-rat tendencies) and a certain generational malaise marked by a perceptive but depressing acceptance of one’s prescribed lot. The second act, unfortunately, grows too talky and convoluted – veering off into weird dream sequences and excessive bickering.

Overall, this is a play with smart and incisive potential. With some well-aimed revisions, it can better reflect the knowing cynicism of a generation.•

A Reasonable Facsimile Theatre Company’s production of "Words with C" runs through November 30 at The Cornservatory, 4210 N. Lincoln. Tickets: $12-$15. Call 773-545-0667 or log onto www.arftco.org.

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