Someday, one hopes, the House Theatre will embrace a less-is-more philosophy—and when that happens, watch out. Until then, audiences will have to accept this company for what it is: A creative, hugely ambitious ensemble that aggravates as often as it charms. That being said, “The Boy Detective Fails”—by Chicago novelist Joe Meno, adapting the story from his forthcoming novel of the same name—has a lot going for it. A great little filmed prologue (narrated by NPR’s Carl Kassell, the voice-of-God on “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!”) is succinct and clever, telling the story of the boy detective, Billy Argo (think Encyclopedia Brown), his sister, Caroline (think Nancy Drew), and their pal Fenton, who together solve crimes big and small in their leafy suburb. Billy goes off to college. Left alone at home with a baffling case of depression, Caroline commits suicide. Traumatized by her death, Billy is institutionalized for an extended period. He is finally released—aged thirty, but still in spirit, name and argyle sweater, the boy detective—which is where the play picks up. Billy the man-child resolves to find out why his sister killed herself. If only the performances on stage had the snap and pacing of the film. Instead, the production, initially plaintive and funny and knowing, takes a long, circuitous, patience-testing route to its climax, and the mystery of Caroline’s death—a major point of the story—is never clearly explained. The House has done well to embrace Meno—they share similar sensibilities and an affinity for pop-culture touchstones. Meno, in particular, is a writer with a lot of heart. In director Nathan Allen, he has found a cheerleader with the vision to stage the story’s abstract, melancholic nuances and surreal whimsy. As a playwright, though, Meno has always been in need of an unsparing editor. He doesn’t have one here, but that’s no surprise. (Nina Metz)
This production is now closed.