Chicago Theater Review: FLAMINGO & DECATUR (Block St Theatre Co at Theater Wit)

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by Lawrence Bommer on January 11, 2018

in Theater-Chicago


A troupe from Fayetteville, Arkansas has come to Chicago’s Theater Wit to showcase a new play about Las Vegas. That’s the download on Flamingo & Decatur, a sporadically fascinating character study about low rollers in a mean town. At his best, playwright Todd Taylor—and director Kevin Christopher Fox—share with us their strange and sometimes sweet sympathy for four grifters, squatters, hustlers, and opportunists living mostly beyond their means and far from the Strip.

Any plot in this sardonic two-act comedy is paltry to invisible. There’s a ton of talk about golf (miniature and life-size) and gambling (online and in casinos). Too easily, it assumes our prior interest. Mainly, Taylor seems taken with the different ways these four copers bet their lives—and everything else.

Trespassing on a foreclosed property forfeited during the 2008 housing crisis that ravaged Las Vegas, “sports investor” Jackson (Jason M. Shipman, a sad sack with a soul worth saving) regularly stakes on games more than he can afford to lose. He fancies himself a puma in a world of tree frogs. He tends to wager wildly and is potentially in dangerous hock to unseen racketeer “Houston Ray.” He soaks in his borrowed hot tub (it never rates as a Jacuzzi) and whacks balls in a backyard putting green where he imagines himself a golf champ at the nearby Diablo Canyon course. And, very incidentally, Jackson is on a vegan diet—for all the “laffs” that you’d expect.

No regular renter, Jackson’s equally illegal roommate is Ben (Drew Johnson, a dope with hope). He’s an online poker player looking for respectable—or at least reliable—work as a promoter. All his savings are in “the cloud,” frozen by the Department of Justice’s latest crusade against computer bets. Cowed by the slim pickings that comprise his existence, Ben’s sole hope is just to “not be unlucky.” So that means working for a Nevada company ironically called None of the Above.

In cunning contrast, Simon (Nicholas Stahlke, bumptiously ordinary) is their straight-arrow, cat-loving, next-condo neighbor. Newly divorced and subsequently suspicious, this member of the local homeowners’ association quickly wises up to the “occupiers” next door. Threatening to expose them, he extorts $500 every Saturday from a resentful Jackson. He plays a nasty game of “Simon Says”: Among other petty demands, he requires Jackson to fix his car antenna and regularly mow their lawns.

Finally, there’s San Diego émigré Nicole (Stephanie Bignault, equally wary and caring), a poker sharpie who plays smart and simple but is taken in (in both ways) as the squatters’ supposed renter. Attracting Jackson’s interest, he imagines Nicole as a friendly “vampire” preying on visiting suckers. She domesticates the dump with a musical wind chime and her own hard-boiled survival strategies.

Always believable and occasionally compelling, the unforced encounters among these four Las Vegans create whatever two hours manage to tell. Given Taylor’s natural dialogue and unpretentious presentation (aided by set designer Joe Schermoly’s very convincing backyard), four little lives with slightly larger dreams manage to grow before us. They matter while they’re there.

Taylor’s hopeful, hapless foursome stand in for a lot of schemers and scammers. Property values are not the only ones at stake here: Block St Theatre Co’s world premiere Flamingo & Decatur (its title appropriately meaning next to nothing) is all about Las Vegas’ non-neon side, where Nevada’s naughtiness—a highly speculative destination—blends in, smoothly or roughly, with the rest of America.

What happens here stays here. It has nowhere else to go.

photos by Evan Hanover

Flamingo & Decatur
Block St Theatre Co
Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave.
Wed-Sat at 8; Sun at 2 and 7
ends on February 18, 2018
for tickets, call 773.975.8250 or visit Theater Wit

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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