The Willing Participant
By Matt O'Neill. Dir. Steve Walker. With Manny Tamayo, Heather Tyler, Rick Lazarus. Factory Theater at Prop Thtr.
Like its loner central character, The Willing Participant doesn’t seem to have much on its mind but pleasing itself. Yet O’Neill’s low-rent sci-fi dramedy is strangely successful in its selfishness. By creating a world that doesn’t care if we’re watching it or not, O’Neill and director Walker make us care a good deal about a haunted Chicago cop (Tamayo) whose repeated abductions by warring tribes of aliens piss him off more than they freak him out.
As the hey-I’m-just-a-regular-guy-so-get-off-my-back protagonist (which is to the Factory what the delightfully superfluous trapezist is to Lookingglass), Tamayo comfortably navigates the play’s two worlds. It’s a little disappointing that the scenes in which he confronts the dreadfully literal-minded extraterrestrials are more credible than the ones from his workaday cop life, especially since the play seems to pride itself on its blue-collar sensibility. But then, the aliens (and especially the Halloween-looking robots) are well rendered with arch seriousness, and they are that much funnier as a result.
Participant has neither the bloodshot caffeine eyes nor the drunken-sailor swagger of a typical Factory show. But by creating a protagonist who refuses to be a pawn in sci-fi scenarios or in real-life ones (yes, his ability to defeat aliens helps him take control of his own life), O’Neill reminds us that it’s always best to be the captain of your own spaceship.—Christopher Piatt