You know you’re in big trouble when a character (a literal talking head in the form of a Modigliani sculpture) has to tell the audience that Big Lake Big City is a comedy. And you’re in even bigger trouble when this inanimate object winds up having the funniest lines and most interesting part in Keith Huff's new play.
While the world premiere production from Lookingglass Theatre Company has a lot of bells and whistles, it also has a lot of red flags. Namely, the original work is unoriginal, reading more like an unsold screenplay than a workshopped stage play.
In lieu of laughs, this contrived crime show is bursting with too many characters, too many set changes, and too much exposition. It runs way too long with no real pay off, and is all over the place throughout.
Director David Schwimmer (with Production Stage Manager Narda E. Alcorn and Assistant Stage Manager Tess Golden) takes the approach that if you throw in enough special effects, props and costume changes, the audience won’t mind watching stereotypical characters spouting expletives when they ought to be delivering clever 1940s jargon since the play sells itself as a Film Noir parody. But the first half is more like a Coen Brothers knock-off and by the time the second half offers the appropriate dose of camp, it's too little too late. Such unevenness emphasizes the overall meandering feel of this supposed dark comedy.
The only bright part is Eddie Martinez who plays Stewart, nicknamed Stu for Stupid. He’s down on his luck with a screwdriver lodged in his skull. The role affords the production a bit of pathos and effective visual comedy but these scenes are lost amid a barrage of other scenes filled with bad puns and fourth-wall breaks that seem more calculated than comic.
Although the cast is huge, the real stars are the creative team: Sibyl Wickersheimer (scenic), Ana Kuzmanic (costumes), Artistic Associate Christine A. Binder (lighting), Artistic Associate Rick Sims (sound/composition), and Maria DeFabo (props) whose efforts are more evident than that of Huff.
Despite its merit, Big Lake Big City has been extended through August 25, 2013 at Lookingglass Theatre Company, located inside Chicago's Water Tower Water Works on 821 N. Michigan Avenue at Pearson. For more information, visit www.lookingglasstheatre.org.