Puff (Stephanie Shum) and Jame (Taylor Blim) are two young oddballs hanging out in the alley behind a nondescript American mall. They’re at loose ends, wondering where life might take them beyond the Revolution Cuts salon where they just got off shift and where they became best friends–even though maybe it’s weird to have your work friend as your real-life best friend, one of them worries.
Maybe, just maybe, life might take them across the parking lot to the bar at the Rainforest Cafe, where they can celebrate Puff’s 26th birthday with cocktails in collectible cups. Or perhaps she and Jame will just grab some beer and snacks from a nearby liquor store (known for its improbably wide variety of ancillary merchandise) and share a quiet toast. Puff thinks that might be best; neither of them have much cash and she’s feeling anxious about taking on a managerial position at the salon.
In these early moments of A Red Orchid’s world-premiere production of Brett Neveu’s new play, one gets the sense this will be a fun hang with plenty of laughs but not much drama. In fact, it’s lovely to see these women “yes, and-ing” each other like they’re working out a Second City character sketch. That generous spirit permeates the entire show, though it may be more accurately described here as “sure, why not?” This artistic writing choice, convincingly upheld by Shum and Blim, and given laconic room to breathe by director Travis A. Knight, makes what happens next feel both plausible and genuinely good-hearted.
For just as the friends are about to go on a booze run, a veteran clerk from neighboring Ross Dress for Less walks by on the way to her car. They’ve seen this woman once before, at Ross, but they don’t know her. And Georgia, an off-kilter whackadoo played with gonzo panache by Natalie West, is probably twice their age. In most such dramatic circumstances, the older interloper would be the one to insinuate herself into the party, such as it is. But in this case, the young women ask her to stay. It’s a crucial distinction, and how that ongoing goodwill plays out may end up saving Georgia’s life.
How to describe Georgia? If you picture what Kristen Wiig’s Target Lady might be like to hang out with after work, you’d be in the ballpark. Give her a rich backstory full of disappointing relationships and unrealized dreams, all recounted with the manic zeal of Gary Busey in party mode, and you’re near the bullseye.
Georgia quickly becomes the life of this party, stopping by her car to grab a tray of ham bites that have been sitting in there on ice awaiting delivery to an event at the church her husband recently became obsessed with. When the drinks arrive, Georgia pulls a bottle opener out of her purse that reveals a howlingly funny sight gag. She may even have a stash of old–perhaps dangerously old–drugs to share from the days before she stopped partaking.
These three actors have wonderful chemistry even though Georgia borders on caricature early on. But as the ragtag shindig continues, we see the toll that loneliness and alienation have taken on her. Could friendship offered with pure and open hearts help keep the world from closing in on Georgia? Maybe they’ll find out over several rounds of Cheetah Ritas just across the lot, while the rest of us remind ourselves how little it costs to lead with kindness–and how rich the payoff can be.
Revolution runs through October 29 at A Red Orchid Theatre.
For a full roundup of reviews of this show, visit Theatre in Chicago.
Photo by Evan Hanover