The Boys in the Band at Windy City Playhouse isn’t the only 1960s counterculture show in town. Theatre Above the Law’s current staging of Elaine May’s 1969 one-act Adaptation (an off-Broadway hit in its original run, but seldom seen these days) offers up a giddy and retro exploration of one man’s voyage through the game of life. The story is structured as an actual game show, where the Contestant (David Hartley) moves from birth to death through various challenges (familial, academic, professional, romantic, existential) with the help of a Game Master and an ensemble of three actors playing all the supporting roles.
It’s a bit like Chutes and Ladders crossed with the mid-century American male resentments and neuroses anatomized by Philip Roth, with a dash of Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle.” Only of course, since it’s May, it’s much funnier than all of those elements.
Some of the topical references (SNCC, for example) feel dated. But Tony Lawry’s smartly paced production in the tiny Jarvis Square Theater, where set designer Charlotte Lastra’s board-game squares fill the stage floor with roadblocks such as “extramarital affair” and “social infraction,” provides steady laughs over the 60-minute run time. As the Game Master, sixth-grader Delilah Lane is a deadpan delight, handing over cards of opportunity and fate to Hartley’s Contestant as he half-examines his life before resorting to the gospel of “OAM”: organization, administration, and management. Of course, the outcome of the game is predestined. But May’s gimlet-eyed view on how we play it still carries some heft. v