“The Attemptors” is the new one from The House and it seems to be a bit of a departure for those sly storytellers. On the one hand, it displays the childlike delight in telling tall tales that has always characterized the best of The House. On the other, this fifth-season closer admirably abstains from phantasmagorical narrative and sleight-of-hand staging to concentrate on character. That character, as imagined by playwright Shawn Pfautsch and director Marika Mashburn, is Danny Hackles, a socially inept, un-fabulous, solipsistic, overachieving 17-year-old with abandonment issues. In other words he is your typical teenager. And “The Attemptors’” boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl story would have been agreeable and charming at best, formulaic and unenlightening at worst, if not for its dialogue, as well as the presence of actor Chris Matthews in the title role. Indeed, from the euphonious character names—Wayne Vane; Nola Charley; Sam Sommers—to the cliché-ridden, popular song-lyric seeping-dialogue that characterizes Hackles’ argot, Pfautsch’s writing has a visceral theatricality that never lets up. Smarty pants prolix? Yep. Self-consciously ingratiating at times? Absolutely. But also fun, fast and rhapsodically well-realized by Matthews, an actor of limitless energy who clearly relishes the opportunity to let it rip. I enjoyed the confidence with which “The Attemptors” wore its sentimental heart on sleeve, even if it could have benefited from a little more Housian wistfulness. Then again, Pfautsch is at his best when dramatizing teenage awkwardness instead of teenage angst. It’s a small cavil for this entertaining and unassuming play with a bold performance at its heart. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
At the Building Stage, 412 N. Carpenter, (773)251-2195.
This production will run at the the Theater on the Lake, 2401 N. Lake Shore Drive, (312)742-7994, Jul 23 through Jul 27.