Chicago Theater Review: THE UNVEILING & DOZENS OF COUSINS (Trap Door)

by Paul Kubicki on December 27, 2012

in Theater-Chicago

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HAVEL UNVEILED AT TRAP DOOR THEATRE

While most probably know Václav Havel as the Czech Republic’s first president, he has gained notoriety in the avant garde world for his absurdist plays—making him the patron saint of edgy liberal arts students everywhere. Just before the holidays,  Trap Door opened up two Havel one-acts: The Unveiling and its contemporary sequel Dozens of Cousins (the latter receiving its U.S. premiere).

Paul Kubicki's Stage and Cinema review of Trap Door's THE UNVEILING in ChicagoIn The Unveiling, Vanek  (Michael Doonan) visits his married friends Vera (Tiffany Bedwell) and Michael (Kevin Cox), who expect him to notice all of the various ways in which they’ve redecorated their house. The two spend the entirety of his visit congratulating themselves on their new enlightened lifestyle, expecting Vanek to do the same. After some time, Vanek begins to realize that his visit is not simply about pampering their egos—in fact, they intend to make his life their next redecorating project. In Dozens of Cousins, a sketch Havel wrote as a sequel about 35 years after Unveiling, a similar visit is depicted when the characters are much older, and Michael and Vera have significantly deteriorated in their lifestyle.

Paul Kubicki's Stage and Cinema review of Trap Door's THE UNVEILING in ChicagoAt face value, Havel’s pair of plays could be read as comedic fluff—but director Beata Pilch (Artistic Director of the Trap Door) demonstrates a profound understanding of the text, underscoring the farce with themes of existential crisis and suicide. Vera and Michael frequently remind Vanek how happy they would be if he resolved his “situation,” but stop short of telling him what that “situation” is. By the end of The Unveiling, we realize that they are referring to his life. While Vanek struggles for meaning, the couple claims to have found it in their contentment—and in Cousins, we see the results of their simplified resolution to that struggle.

Paul Kubicki's Stage and Cinema review of Trap Door's THE UNVEILING in ChicagoPilch’s attention to detail pays off, making the production work on several philosophical levels. That said, Cousins feels somewhat overdone—the playwright effectively elucidates his themes in the first play, rendering the second mostly unnecessary, however fun it may be. Furthermore, Pilch includes an uncomfortable, ill-suited transition between the two: The actors all lip-sync an unoriginal ditty about a high school jock/rapist who becomes a successful businessman—the American story (ha!). It’s a bit too silly, and simply beats us over the head with a theme that both plays already drive home effectively.

Paul Kubicki's Stage and Cinema review of Trap Door's THE UNVEILING in ChicagoAs is standard with the Trap Door, the cast is wholly excellent. As the clingy, hysterically loathsome couple, Tiffany Bedwell and Kevin Cox are absolutely delightful. And as the straight man in this comedy, Michael Doonan grounds the production, meshing excellently with the other two. These highly physical performances dance on the line between the comedic and the grotesque, making the subtleties of Havel’s work apparent.

The Unveiling & Dozens of Cousins, though a bit overstated, prove themselves worthy of the all-star season that Trap Door has assembled.

photos by Michal Janicki

The Unveiling & Dozens of Cousins
Trap Door Theatre
scheduled to end on January 26, 2012
EXTENDED to February 9, 2013
for tickets visit http://www.trapdoortheatre.com/

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