Plays about parents with dead babies are usually just the worst, primarily because they’re of a stripe of theater you’re not allowed to dislike, lest you be perceived as favoring the death of children. In addition to featuring a central couple with a dead kid, Jenny Schwartz’s beat-poetry verse play God’s Ear takes place in an imagined homogenized suburbia, where playwrights have spilled plenty of ink trying to convince us the soil is poisoned but where the characters are too whiny for us to care. Despite these considerable odds against our giving a damn, Schwartz’s quietly shimmering 2008 drama, delivered here by Dog & Pony, Chicago’s premier storefront producer of contemporary American theater, is the surest evidence in recent memory that the scene with the most adjectival strikes against it—off-Loop, non-Equity, Generation Y—is as equipped as any to create engaging adult entertainment.
Schwartz cannily observes that humans speak only in clichés and pop metaphors; in this 90-minute daisy chain of lyrical soliloquies and ping-pong dialogue, her characters speak only in riffing bromides. The deceptively emotionless leads—a sexless, attractive couple played by monotonal, makeup-free Hurley and handsome, hapless Hatton—embody the overall atmosphere. At first, they’re both so deadpan you can hardly take them seriously; by the time Schwartz’s endless mourning bebop act is done, their surface layers of vacuity have boiled off from their internal warmth. The ensemble is resoundingly fine (D’Ercoli as a chatterbox would-be mistress excels), while the simple design contributions of Grant Sabin’s white-plinth-and-curtains set, Stephen Ptacek’s carefully integrated sound, the color drenching of Aaron Weissman’s lights and original music for Schwartz’s lyrics from Baby Teeth’s Abraham Levitan—sounds ranging from honky-tonk saloon piano to titillating glam rock—make this tart, oddball experience echo long after it’s over.