In the intimate Artistic Home, the combined effect of designers James Treacy and Maggie Fullilove-Nugent’s slanted ramps, crisscrossing catwalks and gaudy nightclub lighting prompted my theatre companion to utter, “I feel like I’m about to see a concert performance of ‘Starlight Express.’” Two hours later, while I had certainly been taken on a fantastic ride of the imagination, I didn’t have anything much more insightful to add about John Guare’s 1977 “Landscape of the Body,” other than to echo lead characters Betty’s final words when she says “The mystery is always greater than the solution.” After all, by this point, Betty had left boring Maine for exciting New York City, adopted her sister Rosalie’s career in porn after losing her in a freak bicycling accident, become the mistress of a cross-dressing Cuban travel agent and found herself the lead suspect in the decapitation death of her teenage hustler son Bert. Told in flashback and through an audacious narrative structure incorporating legit musical comedy numbers, farcical bits worthy of Feydeau, domestic despair a la Strindberg, sappy sentimentality and everything in between, you might find another line in the play, “My life is a triumph of all the things I don’t know,” leaping out at you to help you unlock the key to enjoying “Landscape.” Quite appropriately then, director John Mossman’s engrossing and fluid production, populated with a tireless cast capable of the emotional extravagance necessary to pull off the play’s emotional extremes, is a triumph despite all the things you may not “know” by the end of the play. Thematically, the broad Guarean brushstrokes are recognizable. Pitched midway between his Off-Broadway, Obie-winning “The House of Blue Leaves” from 1971 and his Tony-winning, worldwide smash “Six Degrees of Separation” from 1990, “Landscape” refines ideas begun in “Blue Leaves” (obscurity versus celebrity, the dark side of the American dream) and indulges in an obsession with and celebration of the imagination, whose power and peril he would more accessibly explore in “Six Degrees.” But even if you don’t know Guare, as my companion hadn’t, you’re still likely to enjoy this Mad Hatter of a play for its sheer audacity. And especially with a production that smoothly rolls with Guare’s dramaturgical punches. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
The Artistic Home, 1420 W. Irving Park, (866) 811-4111. Thu 7:30pm/Fri – Sat 8pm/Sun 5pm. $18-$23. Through Apr 15.