Jackalope’s “The Casuals” Cannot Find Focus In A Confusing Script

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(L-R) Sam Kurzydlo, Morgan Maher, Ellie Reed and Ed Dzialo enjoy an evening Atom bomb explosion in Jackalope Theatre’s “The Casuals.”

 

Reviewed by: Joseph Hillenmeyer

Jackalope Theatre’s “The Casuals” sets mostly in the year 1955, during a decade many fondly recall as, and younger generations have almost exclusively seen expressed as the carefree and happy time following The Second World War. However, not every man returned from war a hero and not every kid grew up on Mapleton Drive. Even if the tragic parts of life were hidden between the catchy tunes etched on 45 rpms, under floral aprons and behind big smiles, they were still part of the human condition.

“The Casuals” follows the family and friends of Richard (Ed Dzialo), one of the tough skinned men of the greatest generation who only wanted to do the right thing when he buried a family’s darker past in the hope that they may find a brighter future.

He raised his nephew, Tom (Morgan Maher), to believe his father was a hero who jumped on a grenade, and did the same for the son of a friend. While one of the heroes did die with some honor – or at least for noble reasons – the truth behind both men’s demise is a lie, fabricated to protect their children from difficult realities.

When Tom and his new wife, Jessica (Ellie Reed) drop in on Richard the buried past begins to surface and tensions rise quickly in the house. However, there is some joy on the street as Richard is helping to throw a birthday party for his neighbor’s ill son, Tim (Sam Kurzydlo).

The story jumps back and forth between 1955 and around five years prior when Richard, an ex-military radio host, begins a job conducting interviews at an atom bomb research facility.

The first act of “The Casuals,” directed by Jonathan Berry, is a little grueling. Richard is lying to two different people, both of whom he is a sort of sit-in father for, and more confusing he his telling them both the same lie. Some of the initial transitions between 1955 and the previous interviews are also not marked very clearly, and until the story is better understood, it can seem very convoluted and poorly paced.

However, things do improve after the intermission, or at least gain some clarity. When you have finally sorted it out, the script is intriguing. It deals not only with family secrets, but the loyalty our country can request of us and the lies they told us – and still do – under the guise of national security.

Dzialo was last seen on the same stage in LiveWire’s “A Permanent Image,” and he once again gives a strong lead performance, bringing to life the post Word War II era, well-meaning gentleman for whom we feel sympathy, but also anger.

The play’s last 30 minutes is much better paced than its first, utilizing accurate period props, impressive lighting and an atom bomb explosion to keep us entertained, if still confused.

While things are better in the second act, many may have given up before that. Armed with a program and a press packet it was still difficult to follow in the first act. I also felt both parental relationships – that between Tom and Richard; and Tim and his mother, Lucille (Somer Benson) seemed awkward at best. “The Casuals” is an interesting concept, but has the stability of an Atom Bomb and knows as much about the direction it wants to go as we knew of fallout and radiation poisoning in 1945.

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Somer Benson and Ed Dzialo in “The Casuals,” now playing at The Storefront Theatre.

“The Casuals” runs now through July 28 at The Storefront Theatre, 66 E. Randolph in Chicago. Curtain times are Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 and available at jackalopetheatre.org/tickets or by calling (773) 340-2543. For calendar information visit theatreinchicago.com.