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Corporate greed is downright fiendish in ‘Megacosm’

Larry Grimm (left) Danny McCarthy are featured “Megacosm” A Red Orchid Theatre.

Larry Grimm (left) and Danny McCarthy are featured in “Megacosm” at A Red Orchid Theatre.

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◆ Through Feb. 26

◆ A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells

◆ Tickets, $25-$30

◆ (312) 943-8722;

Updated: January 17, 2012 4:17PM

Attention all adolescent boys ages 10 through 60 or so, especially those with a passion for ultra-sophisticated video games and doomsday sci-fi scenarios: Has A Red Orchid Theatre got a play for YOU. (Others might enjoy it, too, but you’ve got the edge.)

The work at hand is called “Megacosm,” and it’s a world premiere by Chicago-bred playwright Brett Neveu (now a Los Angeles resident). Fast-talking, creepy and satirical, with a cast of terrific actors, it contains some supremely eerie and beautiful special effects, as well as a great big mash-up of ideas about everything from biological engineering and ecological and genetic calamity, to intellectual property rights and corporate domination and chicanery of the worst sort.

Too bad the play more or less falls apart in the final third of its 90 minutes of running time. But the first hour is a great ride. And you just might want to invite some of your friends in those Occupy crowds to come along for the fun, too. After all, their alter egos are offstage (Neveu’s villainous character has dubbed them “The Tight Shirts”), and they remain barricaded (if loudly protesting) outside the heavily fortified gates of the show’s hi-tech evil empire headquarters.

“Megacosm” begins with a “product presentation,” as Chris (Larry Grimm, uncannily winning in his blend of gentle artist/idealist and deluded madman), a tall, gangly, wholly nerdish, but fervent mid-career inventor (who prefers to be called “a creator”), nervously awaits his big demo opportunity. He is meeting Britt (Danny McCarthy, bristlingly energized and funny in his deviant control-freak demeanor), the rarely available, mega-successful owner of a mysterious and powerful corporation that deals in life-altering game technology.

Britt, who speaks in aggressive, non-listening David Mamet mode, and erupts in temper tantrums like those Steve Jobs reportedly engaged in, is maniacally arrogant, high-wired, manipulative and nefarious. And he doesn’t blink when talking about the coverups required for various calamitous “accidents.”

In a sense, Chris’ mind-blowing “product” — conjured by way of the truly hypnotic video magic of Seth Henrikson & Oddmachine, whose work, alone, makes it worth a visit to this show — is a form of technology that would enable players to play God. But while Chris’ intentions are about improving people and creating a peaceful race (even if the means to his ends require a certain amount of human sacrifice), Britt immediately sees the potential for full domination and control.

David Steiger, who plays Sam, a sort of corporate Quasimodo, is a hoot, from his shriveled scalp (great prosthetic makeup) to his linguistic tricks. And while Neveu’s whole subplot involving a mutant child/woman breaks the intellectual tension here, Eden Strong, a stage veteran and Lincoln Elementary School 6th grader, gives her mighty all.

The direction, by Dado, can’t compensate for the play’s flaws, but with significant help from designers John Dalton (set), Matthew Gawryk (lighting), and Joe Court (sound), it makes the most of its many strengths. Among these are Neveu’s brilliant use of language and a shrewdly political (and moral) imagination.

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