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“Revolution” at Red Orchid a compassionate play set at the mall

Behind every mall, strip or otherwise, there’s a back channel, a loading door where workers can catch a drag around the dumpsters, hide from the bosses, or just chat with colleagues and breathe in the suburban air. Ever since Eric Bogosian’s “SubUrbia” in 1994, set in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven, they’ve been fertile single-set locales for offbeat playwrights specializing in the fears and longings of youth.

Brett Neveu’s quirky new comedy “Revolution,” its title ironic, is set in just such a spot: in this case, outside the service door of the Revolution Cuts hair salon, a business the Chicago-based scribe appears to have based on the Hair Cuttery, or the like. There in the dock stand two 20-something women, Puff (Stephanie Shum) and Jame (Taylor Blim).

Puff, a die-hard fan of Warner Bros. cartoons, is having a birthday but neither she or her friend have any money and their jobs are anxiety-inducing enough that organizing a party feels like too much. Even the bar of the Rainforest Cafe at the other side of the mall is intimidating, even though you can keep your glass. But both young women are aware of the dangers of life passing them by and the importance of, as they say together, marking the moment with a “celebration.”

But how?

In many ways, that’s the central dramatic question of Neveu’s sweet, weird, funny play at this longtime Chicago theater specializing in sweet, funny, weird plays. As things turn out, the two women do not have to figure out this existential question alone, thanks to the arrival of Georgia (Natalie West), a fellow mall employee in her late 50s, a longtime worker at the Ross Dress for Less store, where you cannot really befriend colleagues because none of them stick around for long enough. She even has some semi-fresh snacks in her car.

Natalie West and Taylor Blim in "Revolution" at A Red Orchid Theatre.

For much of this one-act play’s running time, you sit and wonder if Georgia is an optimistic characterization of these younger women’s futures, or a tragic one, and whether she is a truthteller or a fraud.

I won’t spoil that musing but I will say that the show bops along in a quite delightful way; Neveu knows the architecture of exurban, Midwestern culture (life working retail on Elston or Touhy Avenues, say) and this long has made his series of A Red Orchid plays central to the Chicago theater’s soul.

By the time things have resolved, it feels a bit like you’ve just watched a play about anxiety, and about the difficulty of finding joy that is neither atrophied nor otherwise problematic, especially when celebrations cost the celebrants so darn much.

The show is very nicely performed by all three (well-cast) women, and longtime fans of the veteran actress West will have a blast watching her famed, present-tense playfulness, as tinged here with a palpable fear.

I think Neveu yet has more work to do on the muddier last few minutes of the play: there’s a false ending and the rhythms of director Travis A. Knight’s otherwise skilled production don’t flow with the quiet urgency of what has gone before. In general, Neveu still has to figure out the scale of the connection between the women’s lives and the cartoons Puff loves so much, and how central the communication of that is to what he has to say here about life, post-pandemic and all.

Still, this is a rich and funny piece of theater, a shot against the bow of elitism and pretension and a win for compassion and understanding.

Theater Loop


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Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.

Review: “Revolution” (3 stars)

When: Through Oct. 29

Where: A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells St.

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Tickets: $35-$45 at 312-943-8722 and

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