By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
The 12th annual Out of the Loop Fringe Festival continues at WaterTower Theatre in Addison for one more weekend. Eighteen shows, most under an hour, are on this year's schedule, which covers three acting spaces. (The Observer is a sponsor.)
If you're there, don't miss The Ugly One, directed by Terry Martin in the Studio Theatre (7:30 p.m., March 13; 8 p.m., March 15; 2 p.m., March 16). It's a bizarre but precisely acted 50-minute comedy by Marius von Mayenburg, reminiscent of the old Twilight Zone episode titled "Eye of the Beholder."
Exceedingly handsome actor Montgomery Sutton plays Lette, a tech exec told by his wife (the cupcake-cute Natalie Young) and co-workers (Ted Wold, Jeff Swearingen) that he is so "unspeakably ugly" that he must see a plastic surgeon (Wold again). With his face improved, Lette's life changes, but only for the worse. Now everybody wants a face like Lette's. He's no longer special.
"Does a flawless face exist?" asks Lette as he's forced to consider questions about beauty and self-worth. A final bit of directorial flair has the character speaking to three versions of himself in mirrored panels, a knockout visual trick.
Too bad Underneath the Lintel, another one-hour wonder, written by Glen Berger, starring Minnesota-based actor Patrick O'Brien, won't be around for the festival's closing weekend. What a gem. O'Brien, playing The Librarian, spent 10 minutes of pre-show time setting up his props in the tiny Stone Cottage acting space, then launched into a clue-by-clue mystery of a library book, a Baedeker travel guide, returned through the night slot 123 years overdue.
Obsessed with finding out who borrowed the book in the late 1800s, The Librarian set off on a round-the-world journey to London, Brisbane, New York and other cities, each of which just happened to have a production of Les Misérables playing. "The Miserables," he said in the play, "and two hours into it, I was."
The scope eventually widened to explore the myth of "The Wandering Jew," a cobbler condemned to walk the earth and never rest because he turned Christ away from his doorstep. Had this figure left signs for The Librarian to find to prove that he still exists?
Speaking rapidly, sweating copiously, O'Brien, who bears a passing resemblance to the late Tony Randall, gamboled through the chapters of the tale. He was twitchy and funny, always aware of the audience, who hung on his every word.
Out of the Loop needs more performances of shows like that and fewer of ghastly offerings like Pluto Is Listening, maybe the worst thing Loop Fest has featured over the past dozen years. It's an hour and a half of geeky Ben (Nick Lewis) and needy Grace (Joleen Wilkinson) chattering nonsense in baby talk.
Written and directed by David Parr, Pluto is unspeakably boring, and yet they keep speaking, saying the line "Are we in a wormhole?" so often you'll feel like you're in one. The characters are childhood friends, maybe lovers, maybe ghosts floating around in space. It doesn't matter. You'll hate them and the premise and just keep praying that every word they utter is the last. But it won't be. This script ends 15 times and yet they keep talking.
Parr loves having characters repeat words: "Hark! Hark!" they bark. And "Schism, schism, schism." Which means "split." I wish I had before suffering through Pluto Is Listening.