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Friday, November 30, 2012

Failure: A Love Story is the most disappointing play of 2012

Philip Dawkins' new play, Failure: A Love Story, which is currently receiving its World Premiere at Chicago's Victory Gardens, tells the tale of the three young Fail sisters - Nelly, Jenny June and Gerty, each of whom we are told in the opening scene died in 1928 from a blunt object, a disappearance/drowning and consumption, respectively. And I must confess that during the show's intermissionless 90 minutes, I became quite impatient waiting for them to die so that I could go home. In fact, I almost entitled this review, "Are They Dead Yet?"

Obviously I didn't care much for the play, which I was looking forward to with high expectations. I loved Mr. Dawkins' previous theatrical endeavor, The Homosexuals, which was given a fabulous production last year by Chicago's About Face Theatre. It was the best new play I saw in 2011. Unfortunately, the talented playwright's new show annoyed me right from the start when the sisters and their parents began narrating their own story - "Nelly did this" and "Jenny June did that" - and this continued until the bitter end. I'm just not a big fan of plays that make me feel like I'm reading an endless novel - especially one that doesn't make me care that much about any of its characters. Perhaps if Dawkins had simply allowed the drama to unfold through conversation, I might have had a better time.

And then there were the exotic birds, the python snake and the clocks. The Fail family owns a clock shop, and the sisters' adopted brother John N. feels more comfortable around animals than people. So Dawkins unwisely forces his cast to also play inanimate objects and pets - and a little of this makes me want to run screaming from the theater. I'm sure it's fun for actors to "act" as birds and snakes and clocks, but it's not that amusing to sit and watch them.

However, I didn't mind the random singing in the show of a few old tunes like "Let Me Call You Sweetheart". It was a welcome diversion from everything else. And the performances were all fine - especially Michael Salinas as John N. and Emjoy Gavino as Jenny June. But the best part of the evening for me was the "All You Can Eat" sushi at Ringo, a nearby Japanese restaurant that I dined at for the first time beforehand. I will definitely be going back.

Failure: A Love Story is a bit like sushi. It's an acquired taste that some folks just might not enjoy. There were some audience members who were laughing themselves silly during the play, but I rarely cracked a smile. I just found it kind of depressing - waiting for death to arrive and then breathing a sigh of relief when it was all over.

Failure: A Love Story runs through December 30 at Victory Gardens' Richard Christiansen Theater (2433 N. Lincoln Ave). For tickets, call (773) 871-3000 or visit

Image by Saverio Truglia.

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