Monday, May 14, 2012

Hellcab, Blank Canvas Theatre

( From left: Kenneth Bryant, Sonya Barnes and Patrick Ciamacco)

If you just want to laugh for a while and not think very much, then you should flag down Hellcab at Blank Canvas Theatre before it’s put up on blocks on May 20.

Written by Will Kern, the highly episodic show is a fast and furious ride through the numb-nuts, horndogs and wasteoids that wind up occupying one cabbie’s backseat on his Christmas Eve shift.

Apparently the streets of Chicago are filled with wackos as the unnamed taxi driver’s fares range from coke freaks to angry couples and from fantasizing professionals to the inevitable pregnant woman whose water breaks. There even one weirdly normal gent who is actually jolly and generous.

Although there are some cute lines, most of the fun comes from the cast that, under the spirited direction of Marc Moritz, manages to make these 2-3 minute mini-sketches into chuckle-worthy moments.

Plopped into a yellow cab (minus roof, doors and windows), six of the cast members take on various characters. Particularly adept at this are Sonya Barnes and Kenneth Bryant, each of whom fashions indelible characters with lightning speed and supreme confidence. They are a joy to watch.

Also handling the rapid-fire role changes with skill is Doug Kusak (his glowering, almost mute, plaid-shirted dude makes Travis Bickle look like Pee Wee Herman).

Carla Petroski and Katie Nabors trade off portraying a variety of reality-challenged women. Nabors is particularly amusing as a stoner girl who can’t stop giggling. Petroski also has her moments, although her drunk schtick is too uncontrolled to be truly funny. Joe Dunn also contributes well while not having as much opportunity to shine as the others.

It’s all held together by Patrick Ciamacco, who plays the cabbie with a short temper and a soft heart. And although deftly handled by Ciamacco, it’s this character that reveals the weakness of the script.   

Playwright Kern wants to have it both ways throughout. The cabbie tells us he thinks he’s in hell inside his cab, but he treats all his fares with mellow equanimity. Meanwhile, the fares themselves are a bit off-center but not really hellacious (ie. no robbery, runners, or projectile vomiting, three of the many banes of the taxi driver existence).

And when Kern tacks on a serious event at the end, as counterpoint to the fun that’s come before, it feels like an obvious ploy to garner some heft for the play.  

He should have been happy settling for a 70-minute romp that makes the audience glad they have their own car in which to drive home.

Through May 20 at the Blank Canvas Theatre, 78th Street Studio, 1305 West 80th St., Suite 211, 440-941-0158.

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