If Chicago theater has a high priest, a white-ponytailed president of the underground, that person is Beau O’Reilly, cofounder and artistic director of Curious Theatre Branch. His latest show, A Packet of Holiness and Joy Will Come to You? (A Fable), is a ragtag six-hander about making do and being weird in dark times. Gentrification, marginalized artists, youth protest brigades with enthusiasm and no vision: the landscape is familiar. Only instead of a diatribe, we are treated here to reality as warped in the elongated mirrors of Beau’s fun house.
The play’s many carnivalesque noises highlight this atmosphere. A slide whistle is heard. Roving cartoon rabble-rousers bark idea spittle into a cardboard megaphone. Scenes flow together with the blare (aah-ooo-ga!) of a little clown horn in Vicki Walden’s pocket (she has four lovely roles, including “Cliff the Lyft Driver” and an orphan who’s lost her dog). O’Reilly plays a lonely writer for a bit, but doubles the rest of the time as the drunk Hap Happenstance, who barters family heirlooms—including a “pencil sharpener that looks like Walt Whitman” (it does not)—for looted booze from a thief friend. Things end, after 65 minutes, much as they started: randomly and strangely, but with abrupt beatnik gusto.
Do all of the jokes land? Hardly. Is it a shame the banjo went flat and no one fixed it? It is a shame. That said, oh Beau, hail to thee. As long as you are out there making your screwed-up plays, we will be here to celebrate them, egging the antics on, watching those big eyes swim with light at the edge of your stage. v