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No foolin'
By Barbara Vitello | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 8/31/2007 12:28 AM | Updated: 8/31/2007 1:24 PM

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Once I stopped trying to uncover some profound meaning from "The Fool (Returns to His Chair)" and started enjoying the ride, I had a much better time.

The latest unique and oblique offering from the never dull Neo-Futurists, the show examines fools in their various social and historical incarnations (the lobby display includes a chronology), from romantic and religious to obsessive, devious and dangerous. Conceived by actor/writer/musician John Pierson, it unfolds as a series of loosely connected vignettes depicting the titular character as a celebrity-obsessed fan, self-interested leader, would-be lover and disaffected loner.

Perfunctory arguments against excess, intolerance and egoism aside, "Fool" succeeds mostly on the strength of its quirky, imaginative visuals. Never have plastic milk crates been used as extensively and ingeniously as they are in this physical, occasionally unsettling show that supplements its limited dialogue with a soundtrack that memorably incorporates such tunes as Tina Turner's "Fool in Love," along with snippets from the Looney Tunes theme and the sounds of flatulence.

They seem to be taking a page out of 500 Clown's playbook, but the Fools fail to satisfy as fully as the Clowns. That's because the show -- written by Pierson and fellow cast-mates Eliza Burmester, Kurt Chiang, Anthony Courser, Dean Evans, Chloë Johnston and Ryan Walters -- lacks narrative coherence, something a director (another element "Fool" lacks) might have imposed.

What emerges is a chaotic, cryptic play that falters for its lack of focus. That said, this "Fool" has a certain appeal, especially for those who appreciate unconventional theater. Anyone familiar with the Neo-Futurists knows to expect as much from the Andersonville ensemble, which deserves credit for consistently pushing the envelope.

The show features an animated young cast who turn in some affecting and amusing performances, despite having their faces covered by plastic milk crates for much of the 90-minute running time.

There's the likable Walters, displaying the con-man's consummate affability as the trickster fool. Bare-legged Evans' contained mania makes his troubled loner an unsettling but amusing presence. And Burmester charms as a housecoat-wearing, celebrity-obsessed young woman who finds fulfillment vicariously through the lives of Hollywood stars. Maggie Fullilove-Nugent's moody, distinctive lighting and Kurt Chiang's sound design also deserve mention.

"Fool" juxtaposes poignant moments (Chiang's desperate suicide attempt, Burmester's resigned acceptance that "everything keeps falling apart") with madcap chases, Three Stooges-inspired shtick and a couple of impressive stunts, including one where Chiang, Courser and Evans balance atop a precariously stacked column of crates while they make their way across the stage. But they reveal little we don't already know. Mostly, they serve as an excuse to "Fool" around. In this case, that has to suffice.

"The Fool (Returns to His Chair)"

2 stars

out of four

Location: The Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland Ave., Chicago

Times: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays through Sept. 29

Running time: About 90 minutes, no intermission

Parking: Street parking available

Tickets: $15, $10

Box office: (773) 275-5255 or

Rating: For adults, contains violence, mature subject matter, sexual situations