HALE BELLOW WELL MET
Isaacson has a bloody good time.
Aristophanes’ merciless lampoon of Socrates in the comic playwright’s The Clouds, figuring the philosopher as a manipulative fraud, helped lay the path to the hemlock cocktail, according to Plato. The late U. of C. professors Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom are beyond the reach of the law, but from the moment Strauss (Shapiro) appears onstage leading a snarling Bloom (Troy Martin) on a chain, Dorchen’s savage, inventive and very funny new play places itself squarely in the Aristophanic tradition. It’s debatable how much blame these godfathers of neoconservatism deserve for the litany of Bush/Cheney-related evils with which Dorchen saddles them via a remorseful Saul Bellow (Isaacson). Still, Strauss at Midnight’s righteous anger over the calumnies of these self-styled philosopher-kings provides a corrosive, invigorating force in what otherwise might be just a goofily entertaining time-travel scenario.
The setup: The poker table around which The Odd Couple’s Oscar Madison (Ward) gathers his cronies has become a kind of transdimensional Yggdrasil connecting his apartment to the afterlife in which Bellow kvetches endlessly at his colleagues. Meanwhile, as in Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder,” a time traveler has created one of those chrono-synclastic infundibulums by killing a butterfly. The play’s a little too in love with its own cleverness, and the succession of metafictional metatheatrical metarecognitions eventually gets metalabored. But who could help loving a show in which Oscar and Felix (Brian Nemtusak) give voice to their long-repressed longings? Oobleck’s characteristically assembled an impressive roster of fringe talent, among whom Isaacson, veering from petulance to anguish, stands first among equals. –John Beer, Time Out Chicago