Two novelists, married, agree to read each other’s journals when they learn one is terminally ill. Expected complications ensue. Such is the theatrically rich premise for Steven Dietz’s “Fiction,” in its Chicago premiere via Remy Bumppo Theatre. Truth is explored in several layers in Dietz’s witty script—between lovers, spouses, writers, audiences and subjects—with pain often the price of honesty. Dietz takes a morally detached stance, preferring to let the revelations unfold through present-tense flashbacks, leaving much of the interpretation to the actors themselves. The problem is, Dietz has created a bunch of barely likeable characters, self-professed snobs who “hate all the same things” and, in doing so, keeps the audience at an emotional distance uncharacteristic of the subject matter. David Darlow, as Michael Waterman, manages to transcend his character, conveying the blend of sorrow and weariness in his eyes that do not exist on the page. Annabel Armour, as the terminally ill Linda Waterman, delivers a solid if less nuanced performance, while Linda Gillum does the best she can with Abby Drake, a key player in the narrative whose character can generously be described as a cipher. Director Nick Sandy does a fine job of keeping the flashbacks and the assorted monologues clearly understandable (no mean feat), while Linda Buchanan’s simple but effective set allows for the same. Michael Waterman starts out a literary elitist, disdaining writers who craft popular novels; yet his eventual capitulation seems to cause little pain. So too, Dietz’s play, which aspires to finding greater truths about the practice of deception, while raising interesting questions about the fictions of each character’s life story, connects to the head but not the heart, ending up as just another perfectly pleasant night of theater. (Brian Hieggelke)
At the Victory Gardens Greenhouse, 2257 N. Lincoln, (773)871-3000. This production is now closed.