“The Sovereign Statement” a Hilarious Satire of What Defines a Country

TSS vert 1

(L-R) Gwynn V. Fulcher, Phil Ridarelli, Jen Ellison in The Neo-Futurists’ “The Sovereign Statement.”

The Neo-Furturists’ “The Sovereign Statement” is now playing at the company’s theater in Andersonville and the fast-paced comedy is a different experience for all who immigrate to its stage. The fourth wall comes down immediately, with playwright Bilal Dardai and ensemble member Phil Ridarelli well aware of the audience and the fact they are actors in a play. Still, Dardai catches Ridarelli off guard with his plan to turn the stage into a sovereign state – an independent authority over the theater – for at least the duration of the production.

Phil hasn’t memorized all his lines and is given a prop script that features an outdated draft, but he quickly falls into character. For the next 100 minutes he is the commander and chief of [insert audience selected country name here]. Like so many handed such great power, Ridarelli quickly turns from the hero protagonist to a cautionary tale. It’s hard to review “Sovereign’s” plot as the intense audience interaction will create a unique experience for each ticket holder. It would also be unfair to spoil its more intriguing and comical moments. Furthermore, the division of the audience into separate rooms means their parts of the play (minimal) that I did not see at all, so consider this the review of my participation in one of its tangents.

As I stood in the immigration inspection station preparing to enter the show, I was a little concerned. I personally do not like plays that involve the audience and would rather attend as a spectator – comfortably hidden from the stage lights – than an unsuspecting cast member. However, “The Sovereign Statement” was as enjoyable to participate in as it was too watch.

At times hilarious, the script exposes the dark reality of nation building and there is certainly deeper meaning behind the comedy that ensues. The play is more humorous than it is didactic, though, and manages to tell a political tale without ever becoming politically divisive – at least in regard to U.S. politics. There is no republican or democrat, left or right, conservative or liberal. There is only a plot.

As Ridarelli begins to unravel, requesting votes for everything from the colors of the flag to which cast members should leave the stage, the audience becomes more involved. Actually, some become less involved, since Ridarelli exiles a few ticket holders from the main stage as well. If you attend the play with a significant other or in a group, there is a good chance you will not spend the whole production sitting next to them – or even in the same room.

I myself was whisked away to a back room and made an agent of the Jen Ellison secession that would occur later. While I felt important, the irony of the play is that despite the incredible audience participation, the script has already been written. The audience is just pawns. Their votes are meaningless and merely help forward the story to a predetermined conclusion. And that is the satire. “A nation is a narrative,” the audience is told – and will come to find out they are only characters in it, not editors.

TSS horiz 2

(L-R) Clifton Frei, Jen Ellison, Phil Ridarelli, Mike Manship, Gwynn V. Fulcher in “The Sovereign Statement”

The parallels between the scripted democracy seen on stage and the horse trading occurring backstage are painfully comparable to the reality playing out in national governments every day. Everyone in the theater has a voice. Their voice is heard but ignored. The script is written, the major characters are cast and the outcome has been decided long before the curtain rises.

All members of the ensemble (and the audience as well) gave excellent performances. Phil Ridarelli is recognizable from his small roles in countless commercials; the films “The Last Rites of Joe May,” “The Road to Perdition,” and many others with a Chicago setting. However, he certainly proves with the Neo-Futurists that he has the stage presence to command a comedic lead role.

Cast aside preconceived conceptions about audience-involved productions (if you have any) and make your up to Andersonville for “The Sovereign Statement.” This micronation will only fly its flag through Nov. 23 and you will regret it if you don’t pay a visit.

“The Sovereign Statement” runs Thursdays – Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. at The Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland in Chicago. Tickets are $20 ($10 students/seniors) and are available by calling 773-275-5255 or at www.neofuturists.org. For calendar information, please visit www.theatreinchicago.com.