Silencio, a site-specific, limited-project company, has a handle on something. In Chicago, where most theater is antithetical to site specificity and unaware of the impact architecture has on art—not even to bring up geographical context—to mount site-specific work is aesthetically radical even if the politics of the work are not.
“Home Invasion” by Christopher Chen, directed by Sammy Zeisel, is not a socially conscious play, although the dialogue of Caleb Fullen as a detective (and then something else) and Ella Pennington as a murder victim’s sister (and then something else) would have you think so. The tactics between the pair swirl like Swiss Army tools in a blender, first derailing, then undercutting, then slicing forward into an interrogation. There may be some broader meaning about power and gender, but ultimately they’re subservient to the genre: sci-fi psycho spiritual Pinter play.
Zeisel’s direction keeps the performers constrained, tight through conversations that less-manicured directors would let fly off the handle, a crucial decision in such intimate space. Pressure mounts and holds, even through the excessive exposition, which is the biggest hole in an otherwise divinely immersive piece of theater. Chen’s writing is barbed, clever and deconstructive when it’s great, and arrogantly distrustful of the audience’s intelligence when it’s not. Chen drags us into perceptual experiments that, although interesting, play like a Wikipedia entry. The last fifth of this play elucidates nothing that needed elucidation, undercutting the inconceivable notion of what Chen is attempting to communicate and disavowing the audience’s faculties.
The cast (Ann James rounds out the trio) and Zeisel work wonders for the first two acts. In the third, they lean too far into Chen’s decision, instead of offering any pushback. While the production is sold out for the remainder of its run, this play feels like a heralding of a company, cast and crew to watch. (Persephone Jones)
Silencio Theatre, various locations, silenciochicago.com, $10. Through February 19.