Even with Chicago blowing the Midwest premiere of British playwright Dennis Kelly’s play a strong wind of topicality—within a week an anti-war parade marched down Michigan Avenue and the U.S. Attorney General was in town to announce the bust of an insidious global child pornography ring—“Osama the Hero, ” a play that tries to do for the war on terror what Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” did for McCarthyism, is a disappointing affair whose title ends up being more provocative than its contents. This is surely a missed opportunity by Kelly, whose story has explosive potential for the stage: Gary, a working-class British lad, makes an intellectually rational case for Osama bin Laden as a “living hero” for a school writing project. As such, he gets his teeth bashed in with a hammer by a pair of emotionally deprived teenage siblings whose father went to jail for maiming a pedophile. The misfire is in Kelly’s writing and structure, with the controversial violence at its center—otherwise executed with chilling stage precision by director Krissy Vanderwarker for Dog & Pony Theatre—sandwiched between two segments whose meandering monologues lessen the visceral impact of the little drama there is. Neither the production, however, nor the actors are to blame. Grant Sabin’s arresting and industrial scenic design, complete with a bank of fifteen video monitors that reinforces the play’s indictment of the media and its role in creating a global climate of terror, evokes the grimy and seedy housing projects of Britain’s lower classes. And the cast, particularly the excellent Jarrett Sleeper in the role of the sympathetic free-thinker who becomes society’s scapegoat for being an outsider, and an intense performance by David Dieterich Gray as one of the fanatic siblings, do the best they can with Kelly’s verbose monologues that provide them with more opportunities for passionate storytelling than for powerful acting. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport, (312)902-1500. Thu-Sat 8pm/Sun 3pm. $15. Through April 8.