Dialogue, Acting Carry Huff's Screwball Dramedy

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), July 5, 2013 | Go to article overview

Dialogue, Acting Carry Huff's Screwball Dramedy


Byline: Barbara Vitello bvitello@dailyherald.com

There are several cringe-inducing scenes in "Big Lake Big City," a noirish, black comedy/murder mystery by Arlington Heights playwright Keith Huff ("Mad Men," "House of Cards"). But there are no dull moments in director David Schwimmer's kinetic, briskly paced world premiere at Lookingglass Theatre.

The reason has to do with Huff's multiple, overlapping plot lines.

The central strand involves a pair of hard-boiled (are there any other kind?) Chicago detectives investigating the double homicide of a couple found shot to death behind a diner. Another strand -- informed by recent scandals involving wrongful convictions, police-sanctioned torture and overcrowding at the Cook County morgue -- has to do with an ex-con who stalks the guy who ratted him out. That guy, it turns out, is walking around with a screwdriver lodged in his brain.

Add to the mix strained marriages and cheating spouses, and you've got a sharply written, funny yet somewhat inconsistent show better sited to AMC than a Chicago stage.

An exceptional writer, Huff's skill was apparent in 2007 when "A Steady Rain," his unflinching examination of cops whose lives spiral out of control, premiered at Chicago Dramatists. A runaway hit, "A Steady Rain" opened on Broadway in 2008 and, since then, has had about a dozen international productions, with more scheduled for this year. Among Huff's talents is a keen ear for police patois (his father-in-law was a Chicago police commander). And his deliciously caustic dialogue is one of the best things about this play, which pairs a kind of madcap sensibility with a dark, even perverse, humor.

How perverse? A medical examiner, during down times at the morgue, practices his golf swing using a severed head as the ball.

The action unfolds at various Chicago locales, which set designer Sibyl Wickersheimer effectively pares to their essentials: A single red car stands in for the Navy Pier Ferris wheel. And a cluttered desk locates us in the office of police detectives Bastion Podaris (a complex, conflicted Philip R. Smith) and Vince Getz (the ideally cast Danny Goldring, a master of dry humor). …

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