Illegal Use of Hands
More sad than chuckle-worthy
|American Blues Theater presents|
|Illegal Use of Hands|
Review by Katy Walsh
When I was a senior in high school, our football team sucked. They won only two games in our final year: homecoming and senior night. Luckily, those were the most important ones. But no matter the anticipated outcome, we were there. We were there to cheer, to complain and to console.
American Blues Theater presents the world premiere of Illegal Use of Hands. Roy and Cody went to the homecoming game and dance…twenty years after they graduated. Roy is still a local. Cody is just visiting. Low attendance at the football game has awakened Roy’s anger. He wants to blame someone for tonight’s loss and his entire miserable life. He chooses the referee who made a questionable call twenty years ago. Roy believes if he can get a confessional apology, he will finally get the life he deserves. When he and Cody stumble into Wallace’s house, Roy thinks he’s found his way out of misery. Illegal Use of Hands is a game where tough D doesn’t stop the offense from running constant interference.
Playwright James Still penned this story about an ode to glory days that weren’t. Still’s main character, Roy, isn’t a football hero…or even a hero. He is an unlikable guy who is stuck in a dysfunctional job and relationships. The supporting characters are likable but harboring dark secrets. So, what do they do? They get drunk together. The story is billed as a dark comedy. Dark, maybe? Comedy, okay? It’s not clearly defined. There are some chuckle-worthy moments, but primarily it’s just sad. Roy is so abrupt and overbearing that the subtle nuisances of the other characters and even his understated transformation are easily missed.
Under the direction of Sandy Shinner, intensity builds and scuffles erupt. I’m constantly waiting for something big and pivotal to happen. I’m ready for significant relevance but the guys just keep drinking. Howie Johnson (Roy) goes bold as an over-the-top, beer-drinking bully. Steve Key (Cody) balances him out as an earnest sidekick. And Dennis Zacek (Wallace) provides the most surprising reactions to unwanted house guests. A resigned Zacek delivers whiskey-soaked deadpan in the well-preserved house that scenic designer Grant Sabin built. Viewing the plethora of vintage collections stacked by props designer Eileen Rozycki, Zacek’s Wallace becomes the most discernible character. And I’m still not even sure about him.
Illegal Use of Hands is a throwback to Friday night lights. Fragments of all the characters tap into familiar personalities clinging to the good old days. It’s the unresolved issues that are dissatisfying. I want Still to hit it harder and go for the touchdown. For more yardage on this play, Illegal Use of Hands has to go deeper or funnier.
Illegal Use of Hands continues through Date at the Richard Christiansen Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln (map), with performances Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays 5pm and 8pm, Sundays 2:30pm. Tickets are $29-$39, and are available by phone (773-871-3000) or online through VictoryGardens.org (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at AmericanBluesTheater.com. (Running time: 80 minutes, no intermission)
Photos by Johnny Knight
behind the scenes
Sandy Shinner (director), Grant Sabin (scenic), Charlie Cooper (lights), Samantha C. Jones* (costumes), Lindsay Jones* (sound), Eileen Rozycki (props), Jaclyn Holsey* (stage manager), Kelli Marino* (dramaturg); Johnny Knight (photos)
* denotes American Blues ensemble member