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Gift Theatre’s ‘Ten’ a fine mix of comedy, drama

Norm Woodel David Rabe's GOOD FOR OTTO directed by Jay Worthington. Phoby Claire Demos

Norm Woodel in David Rabe's GOOD FOR OTTO, directed by Jay Worthington. Photo by Claire Demos

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‘TEN . 2014’


When: Through Jan. 19

Where: The Gift Theatre, 4802 N. Milwaukee

Tickets : Free

Info: (773) 283-7071;

Run time: 2 hours and 10 minutes, with one intermission

Updated: April 14, 2014 4:50PM

In introducing “Ten. 2014”The Gift Theatre’s third annual season opener — a free smorgasbord of short plays and improv — associate artistic director Paul D’Addario said the event “gives us the rare opportunity to be in the same room with many of the people we love working with, which doesn’t usually happen when you do a single small show.”

The final bow drove the point home as 17 actors, both veterans and students in the company’s giftED program, shared the tiny stage.

Marking The Gift’s relationship with playwright David Rabe (“Hurlyburly,” “In the Boom Boom Room”), was “Good for Otto,” a powerful little piece he wrote some years ago for a New York benefit. It features a marvelous performance by Norm Woodel as a recently retired man of 70 who, much to his wife’s distress, has simply taken to his bed. When he finally meets with a pretty young therapist (Emjoy Gavino), he embarks on a series of abstract ruminations that turn into a beautifully imagined quest for the meaning of life.

The work of two Chicago playwrights, Will Nedved and Laura Marks, can be seen as intriguing variations on this theme. In Marks’ “Winsor McKay,” a familiarly bickering middle-aged couple (James Farurugio and Alexandra Main) gets lost during a car trip. As they move through a long, dark tunnel to nowhere they realize they are lost in the truest sense — perhaps even dead. They get back on the life track in a winning way. In Nedved’s “Body & Blood,” former lovers (Gabriel Franken and Cassie Gorniewicz) meet for a drink and engage in unfinished business. HE is about to enter a seminary. SHE has been salving her wounds with an affair with a rich artist and many others.Faith, love and forgiveness are sharply debated.

In “Despacito,” J.C. Chandor (and Oscar nominee for his screenplay for the Robert Redford film, “All is Lost”), again uses physical action more than dense dialogue as three construction workers face a challenge. In the “Our Town”-like “The Corn Queen of Lakeford Falls,” Melissa Ross gives us a slice of 1943 Americana, as a young girl (Sara-Jayne Ashenhurst) pays a tearful goodbye to her first love (the winning James Doherty), as he heads off to World War II. And in “Moon Rhymes,” conceived by Filament Theatre (soon to be a Jefferson Park neighbor of The Gift), we get a loose riff on Shakespeare’s Sonnet 107 that is more winning in concept than in execution.

Natural Gift, The Gift’s improv team, scored manye laughs in a scene about a resturant serving “runch”. Storyteller Robert Kirkbride read his wonderfully thought-provoking essay on charity. And giftED teens Pat Weber, Corbett Baratta and Francesca Plantz joined for “The Detentionists,” a deftly done sketch.


Twitter: @HedyWeissCritic

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