Review: Mai Dang Lao (Sideshow Theatre)

| March 23, 2016

Sarah Price in Mai Dang Lao, Sideshow Theatre          

Mai Dang Lao

Written by David Jacobi
R. Christiansen Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln (map)
thru Apr 10  |  tix: $20-$30   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


Horrific and darkly funny


LaNisa Renee Frederick, Andrew Goetten and Matt Fletcher in Mai Dang Lao at Sideshow Theatre

Sideshow Theatre presents
Mai Dang Lao

Review by Lauren Whalen 

The meaning of the title Mai Dang Lao isn’t apparent in David Jacobi’s play, or in the program notes of Sideshow Theatre Company’s world premiere. The day after viewing this striking dark-comedy-turned-thriller, I did a simple Internet search that turned into a rabbit hole. On its surface, the translation of “Mai Dang Lao” is innocuous enough: it’s the Mandarin name for McDonald’s. According to an interview with the playwright, he spent some time in China and discovered a sort of citizens’ patrol system with a rather shocking manual of what these “deputies” were allowed to do to ordinary citizens. These two concepts tie together in a fascinating way in Sideshow’s stunning interpretation of Jacobi’s ripped-from-the-headlines play.

Andrew Goetten and Tyler Meredith in Mai Dang Lao, Sideshow TheatreIt’s clear from the first moments of Mai Dang Lao that Sophie (Sarah Price) has an attitude problem. She openly rolls her eyes at her supervisors, steals a Happy Meal toy, and worst of all, has just given her two-week notice at the McDonald’s in an unnamed small town. Her managers Kara (LaNisa Renee Frederick) and Roy (Matt Fletcher) don’t know what to do with all this insubordination…until a phone call from Officer Bill (Jim Poole) awards them the authority to put Sophie in her place.

Mai Dang Lao begins on a darkly funny note, as Sophie chomps her gum openmouthed as her managers and coworkers fuss around her, beginning their respective shifts. Sophie gleefully talks of her future plans, goofs off with stoner drive-thru guy Mike (Andrew Goetten) and antagonizes Nancy (Tyler Meredith), an unrepentant suck-up who just wants to be assistant manager. However, once Kara takes the phone call from Officer Bill, all bets are off. Sophie is in trouble. The audience is uncomfortable at the shift, then nervous for Sophie, then flat-out frightened. On the night I attended Mai Dang Lao, I heard many winces and gasps from the women in the audience (myself included). Only an older man let out what sounded like a genuine laugh.

LaNisa Renee Frederick, Andrew Goetten and Matt Fletcher in Mai Dang Lao, Sideshow TheatreMatt Fletcher and Sarah Price in Mai Dang Lao, Sideshow Theatre LaNisa Renee Frederick, Tyler Meredith and Sarah Price in Mai Dang Lao, Sideshow TheatreMatt Fletcher and Sarah Price in Mai Dang Lao, Sideshow Theatre (2) Andrew Goetten, Tyler Meredith and LaNisa Renee Frederick in Mai Dang Lao, Sideshow TheatreSarah Price and Matt Fletcher in Mai Dang Lao, Sideshow Theatre

Director Marti Lyons keeps the pace and action moving with a strong, sure hand. Jacobi’s script is based on true events that are not for the faint of heart, and only veers on histrionic in a couple of moments toward the end, including an ill-advised breaking of the fourth wall. Small missteps aside, Mai Dang Lao crackles with tension thanks to a perfect storm of direction, writing and acting. Scenic designer William Boles’ replica of a McDonald’s is so blisteringly real, I found myself craving Chicken McNuggets, and Matthew Chapman’s sound design is brilliant, a steady stream of pop hits that add to Sarah Price and Andrew Goetten in Mai Dang Lao, Sideshow Theatrethe play’s slice of life feel. Lighting designer Michael Stanfill creates a few striking horror-movie moments that left me with a sickening dread of Sophie’s fate.

Mai Dang Lao’s cast is as proficient as its scribe, director and production team. Trained actress and improviser Price hits every beat with confidence, and Goetten provides some much-needed comic relief as Mike, the happy stoner with a dark side. Poole’s Officer Bill is authoritative and creepy, and as manager Roy, Fletcher brings nuance to a character that could have been a caricature in the hands of a lesser actor. But the two standouts are Frederick and Meredith who, as authority figure and acolyte, play off of their fellow actors and one another with remarkable ability and sustained grace.

Mai Dang Lao is a sinister delight. The subject matter is unpleasant, sometimes shocking, but always realistic. Sadly, I wasn’t surprised by the events or their outcome, even before I learned the true story. Thanks to stellar work on everyone’s part, this difficult play resonates sharply in a culture that’s increasingly distrustful and violent. Go see it!

Rating: ★★★½

Mai Dang Lao continues through April 10th at Victory Garden’s Richard Christiansen Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 3pm.  Tickets are $20-$30 (students/seniors/industry $5 off), and are available by phone (773-871-3000) or online through (check for half-price tickets at More information at time: 80 minutes, no intermission)

LaNisa Renee Frederick, Tyler Meredith and Sarah Price in Mai Dang Lao, Sideshow Theatre

Photos by Jonathan L. Green 




Sarah Price (Sophie), Andrew Goetten (Mike), Matt Fletcher (Roy), LaNisa Renee Frederick (Kara), Tyler Meredith (Nancy), Jim Poole (Officer Bill), Laura Elliott (u/s Sophie, Nancy), Evan Bruce (u/s Mike), Rob Grabowski (u/s Roy, Officer Bill)

behind the scenes

Marti Lyons (director), William Boles (scenic design ), Sally Dolembo (costume design), Michael Stanfill (lighting design), Matthew Chapman (sound design), Mealah Heidenreich (properties design), Rebecca Adelsheim (dramaturg, associate director), Michael Trudeau (technical director), Colleen Layton (stage manager), Ellen Willett (production manager), Ken-Matt Martin (assistant director), Max Taylor (master electrician), Matt Fletcher (casting director), David Rosenberg (public relations), Jason Dunda (poster illustration), Jonathan L. Green (photos)

LaNisa Renee Frederick in Mai Dang Lao, Sideshow Theatre


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Category: 2016 Reviews, Lauren Whalen, New Work, Richard Christiansen Theatre, Sideshow Theatre, World Premier

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