'Ice Cream' a tasty bit of offbeat theater

"Ice Cream"

North Avenue Productions

Cafe Voltaire

3231 N. Clark St., Chicago

(773) 761-8621

$10 (Double feature with "Hot Fudge," a companion piece, $15)

7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Feb. 8.

 

Note: Theater is in the basement with no handicapped access.

 

By BEVERLY FRIEND

Theater Critic

 

If ever a play owed everything to its cast, it is this one.

 

"Ice Cream," premiering in a dingy basement room -- under the

rather drab, though tasty, vegetarian restaurant, Cafe Voltaire --

has no ambiance, no scenery, no props except for a few chairs, and

a plot line with more than a few holes. Yet the play virtually

springs to life via the excellence of the actors. If they are this

good performing in a virtual dungeon, it would be wonderful to see

what they could accomplish above ground in a better and more

elaborate venue.

 

The slim plot follows two couples. Americans Vera (Sandy Borglum)

and Lance (David Tatosian) travel to England to research family

history -- and errant relatives. There they meet Lance's third

cousins, siblings Phil (Harvey Fries) and Jaq (Jennifer Weigel),

and participate in hiding a murder. Later, the unexpected and

unwelcome British cousins return their visit by coming to the

United States.

 

This bare outline doesn't do justice to the range of scenes and

emotions evoked.

 

Borglum, in a multitude of episodes and moods, never hits a false

note -- companionable and understanding as the wife of a would-be

historian, flustered yet seductive in her affair with "Cousin"

Phil, guilt-stricken on a psychiatrist's couch. Verbose and

cliche-ridden, but charming throughout, she is a continual source

of delight.

 

The seduction scene is especially clever, with Borglum wavering

between desire and conscience, evading and succumbing alike with

her string of dialogue, as she makes statements and then clarifies

and refines them: admitting that her words are filed with cliches

and then defining these cliches as essential to experience. It is

a virtuoso performance.

 

Fries is also fascinating, more for his facial expression and

posture than for his language. Most effective are his glaring blue

eyes that focus with equal penetration whether displaying lust for

his cousin's wife or hostility towards the enemy he ultimately

murders. Tatosian as Lance and Weigel as Jaq are perfect foils for

their partners, hitting just the right pitches of regret and

self-centeredness.

 

Whose story is being told? Both the point-of-view and the emphasis

change as the characters continually shift, weaving into different

combinations at a breathtaking pace. Some scenes last fewer than

five minutes, but each furthers the story: moving the setting from

airplane, to automobile, to family homestead in Devon, to murder

scene, to forest, back to airplane, to psychiatrist's office, to

dance hall, to stolen automobile, to hitchhiker's home, and on and

on, separated by blackouts and rearrangement of the four chairs.

 

Author Caryl Churchill and Director Frank Farrell deserve much

credit for keeping and maintaining suspense with surprise plot

twists and unexpected moments -- such as when the cast breaks into

the "Macarena" during a dance-hall scene.

 

Jerry Rossetti as the murder victim, psychiatrist and professor

provides a wonderful satiric link between these three characters.

Gloria Dexter, who also skillfully plays three roles, is a

successful catalyst for the surprise ending.

 

This "Ice Cream" being served at Cafe Voltaire is truly a

wonderful dessert, proving once again that biting into offbeat

theater in the Chicago area is both a rewarding and a nourishing

experience.