SR review: “Dutch Masters” at Jackalope Theatre

Jackalope mounts a persuasive production of Greg Keller’s unconvincing script

Jackalope mounts a persuasive production of Greg Keller’s unconvincing script

Theater review by Kris Vire

Sam Boeck, left, and Patrick Agada

The year is 1992; the city is New York; the mayor is David Dinkins (for now); the soundtrack on your Discman is A Tribe Called Quest. You’re approached on the subway by an insistently chatty dude who needles you about the book you’re reading, where you’re headed, who you’re meeting. After whispering to you that he and his boys are holding people up on the train you’re riding, he suggests you should get off the train with him to go smoke some weed. Do you go with him?

Greg Keller’s play Dutch Masters, which opened this week in an impressive Chicago premiere at Jackalope Theatre, is a two-hander, but I’m using the second-person singular to refer to just one of the two, because Keller determinedly aligns the audience with just one half of the pair: Steve (Sam Boeck), the white college kid from the tony Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx. Eric (Patrick Agada), the black stranger around Steve’s same age who finally cajoles Steve into coming with him by suggesting it’s racism that’s making him resist, is impossible to read in Keller’s rendering until a big reveal midway through the 75-minute script.

Sam Boeck, left, and Patrick Agada

Once the hidden connection between these two young men shows itself, the dynamic between the two is allowed to shift back and forth in fascinating, volatile ways. But until that midpoint reveal, it’s Eric that feels volatile, since the playwright keeps us in the dark with Steve as to what exactly Eric’s game is.

Jackalope’s production is admirable; director Wardell Julius Clark has elicited two compelling, deeply-felt performances from actors Patrick Agada and Sam Boeck, as Eric and Steve respectively. Agada plays a blend of danger and charm so smooth you can almost see yourself following his lead. Boeck, among his performance’s relatable traits, nails the state of having gotten way too high and panicking at the predicament.

Patrick Agada, left, and Sam Boeck

Clark’s physical staging is no less impressive; Ryan Emens’s surprise-laden scenic design and Simean Carpenter’s scene-setting lights are among the most awe-inducing I’ve recently seen on a storefront budget. Even Keller’s metaphors are all in order, once he finally lays all his cards on the table. But in order to get to that point, the playwright has to lean on suspiciously schematic turns of events. Jackalope’s production is great, its actors’ performances are strong, and the broad idea of Keller’s play is worthwhile. But the behavioral leaps the playwright needs his characters to make in order to get there feel as likely as an NYC subway commute with no delays.

Dutch Masters

Jackalope Theatre at Broadway Armory Park (5917 N Broadway). By Greg Keller. Directed by Wardell Julius Clark.

Cast: Patrick Agada (Eric), Sam Boeck (Steve).

Designers: Ryan Emens (scenic), Simean Carpenter (lighting), Christine Pascual (costumes), Steve Labedz (sound), Nova Grayson Casillo (props), Rachel Flesher (intimacy and violence).

Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes; no intermission. Through April 6. Tickets ($5–$30) at jackalopetheatre.org.

Photographs by Joel Maisonet.


Thanks for being an early Storefront Rebellion paid subscriber!

If someone forwarded you this email, and you’d like to support independent, ad-free coverage of Chicago theater, you can sign up as a subscriber right now for 20% off the regular price.

Send your feedback and tips to kris@krisvire.com.