Is there any other theater director who frequents Chicago with as wild a sense of the bizarre as JoAnne Akalaitis? She goes for the weird and the intellectual all in one bite, like the filmmaker Lars von Trier, or the artist Matthew Barney. And she has one hell of a wicked sense of humor. In her version of “Quartet”—the hour-long condensation of “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” from German playwright Heiner Muller, now in a spectacularly unusual Court Theatre production at the MCA—the entire scheming affair between the Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil spews forth in a place that looks a lot like Motel 6. Well, why not? With its puky pink walls and ugly floral bedspreads, the room is at once bland and skeezy. It is a perfectly generic setting that reveals a whole world of unexplained details: a stuffed coyote peeking out from the bathroom door; mattresses flipped upside down; a mini-fridge filled with something red—entrails maybe? Who knows what’s going on half the time. Who cares? It’s just nutty, or more accurately, a metaphorical “Do not disturb” sign that’s been ripped off the door and torn to shreds. Two actors play all the roles—Karen Kandel (angular and snarly under that shaved head) and Steven Rishard (with his Mandy Patinkin looks and a big, cutting voice that slashes through the air)—and they chew away at each other like rats trapped in a box. “Shall we continue to play?” asks an out-of-breath Valmont as the bossa nova kicks in near the end, and all you can think is: Yes! And so they do, dressed in ruffled period clothes and powdered wigs for the story’s final knife twisting scene. White flakes putter down inside the motel room, a haunting snow-globe affect repeated in the mirrored closet doors. After all that madness, this one soundless moment is truly disarming. (Nina Metz)
Court Theatre’s “Quartet” plays at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 East Chicago, (312)280-2660, through February 27.