Review "Parallelogram": All the Right Angles

Steppenwolf Theatre presents


1650 N. Halsted
Written by Bruce Norris
Directed by Anna D. Shapiro
Thru August 29th
Buy Tickets
Running Time:  Two hours includes a ten minute intermission

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

If continuous lines run parallel looping the earth, they will eventually cross.  The crossed lines deliver a message like a telegram but more specifically, a parallelogram.  Steppenwolf Theatre presents the world premiere of PARALLELOGRAM, a new play by Bruce Norris.  Recovering from a hysterectomy, Bee meets her future self.  She is shocked to learn she becomes a glasses-wearing, cigarette-smoking, Oreo-eating cynical woman that doesn’t give a shit.   Refusing to believe her life impacts no one and nothing, Bee uses a magical remote to rewind scenes to add poignancy.  Playwright Bruce Norris has penned an existentialist crisis that may be real or imaginary.  Is present day Bee and future Bee coexisting in a sci-fi realm dimensionality?  Is Bee suffering from disease induced hallucinations?  Or is Bee just nuts?   It’s all about the lines intersecting!  In PARALLELOGRAM, they are developed, directed, and delivered with all the right angles. 


Life has no meaning.  Love doesn’t really exist.  Norris’ dark philosophies are lightened up with witty dialogue and rewound for comic effect.   ‘If you knew what would happen, would you continue?’   Marylouise Burke (future Bee) is hilarious as a wise-cracking old woman resigned to the inevitable.  Hitting the ‘mute’ button on the play’s action, Burke breaks the fourth wall repeatedly with sidebar comments to the audience.  Central to the conflict is the relationship with Bee (Kate Arrington) and Jay (Tom Irwin).  Arrington transforms perfectly from whiny to being in control of not being in control.  Arrington balances the lunacy in prophesying with matter of fact proclamations.  Irwin is a tool.  Whether it’s his disbelief Bee smoked or loved, his passionate monologues are the riotous byproduct of the stereotype he rallies against in the opening scene.  Tim Bickel (JJ) becomes part of the triangulation as a caring but unassuming lawn boy.   

bee and tool.jpg


It’s the attention to detail that gives PARALLELOGRAM shape.  In the development, it’s Norris’ passages about falling in love with a folding chair or the fatal ingredient in tropical bird salvia.  In the direction, it’s Anna D. Shapiro staging duplicate scenes with equal doses of comedy and drama.  In the delivery, the  talented foursome is housed on Scenic Designer Todd Rosenthal’s creation.  The original set is the bedroom of a condo complete with sliding glass doors to the lawn.  With a click of a button, the set changes…  four times into alternative realities.  PARALLELOGRAM is a provoking contemplation of the meaning of life.  I’d click ‘rewind’ to see it again or ‘menu’ to see what other Bruce Norris shows are playing.   

With one week left of his Dead Letter Office run, Joshua Volkers says simply, “I liked it.”


Production photography courtesy of Michael Brosilow.


In between shows, Josh and I grab a bite at Uncle Julio’s, 855 W. North.  It’s a chain restaurant.  Chicago certainly has more authentic and interesting Mexican dining alternatives but you can’t beat its proximity to the Red Line train station.   We order up margaritas on the rocks with a salty rim.  I go with the chicken quesadilla that comes with generous portions of guacamole and sour cream. Josh has his traditional chicken and rice dinner.  It’s all very familiar as we swap tales of past Uncle Julio experiences.  Our own individual lives running parallel until a chance intersection at a restaurant.  Does that past moment have a ripple effect that changes the future?   Were our fates already determined regardless of becoming friends?  Am I nuts or is it this a tequila induced mindslide?  Perfect for the end of a Bruce Norris play, we board the Red Line and go in opposite directions. 

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