“The most effective science fiction is that which places authentic people in fantastic situations, lending a constant and credible edge to intriguing unreality. Somewhere along his writing journey, Mr. McDowell stumbled over that paradigm and was unable to course correct (space pun acknowledged, if not intended). By the conclusion of X, the audience, like the characters onstage, must necessarily lose the narrative thread.
While Mr. McDowell alone is responsible for the rhetorical downshift into linguistic babble, there is enough empty space left for director Jonathan L. Green to clarify the narrative, but he doesn’t seem to know what direction it’s headed, either. In spite of the dramaturgical and production challenges, Gage Wallace delivers a worthy performance as British space bro Clark, a revelation of obnoxiousness, comedic timing and genuine pathos. Mr. Wallace, Ms. Price and H.B. Ward, who plays universe-weary elder crewman Ray all deserve better material.
If X ended after the first act, theatergoers would be treated to a meditation on the present stewardship of our planet as leading to inevitable tragedy. However, the fresh ideas, innovative structure and fearless reckoning with the mistakes of the cultural present that offer such early promise, yield to a confusing, senseless and forgettable conclusion.”
“Red Theater Chicago’s production of An Oak Treehas a lot of good ideas. Written as it were by Tim Crouch, the semi-improvisational script tackles themes of loss, guilt and the ways one might manipulate reality to manage overwhelming experiences. It also leverages a handy and creative metaphor for that exploration.
Featuring Gage Wallace as First Actor, or Hypnotist, the play’s action occurs a year after a tragedy for which the Hypnotist is partly responsible. The family-friendly practitioner of the occult has lost his mojo, a development he reveals honestly and exhaustedly to his latest audience. When the Hypnotist seeks volunteers to participate in his ‘act’ (word very carefully chosen), his eyes fall upon a man he does not recognize, but should. Without giving away spoilers, the actor who takes a seat upon the Hypnotist’s stage is intimately involved in last year’s tragedy, and the two characters begin a cerebral, transcendental verbal dance that slowly exposes their respective suffering.
Here’s the script’s creative rub. Second Actor, or the individual who raises his or her hand to be hypnotized, is played each night by a different performer. Per An Oak Tree’s press packet, ‘the second actor will discover the play and their role at the same time as you [audience members] do.’ Actors and actresses who’ve agreed to take on the role are announced the Tuesday before the production’s weekend performances.”