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BWW Review: BLACK BOX PAC STAGES ERIC BOGOSIAN'S LUSTROUSLY POIGNANT TWO-ACT PLAY 1+1' at Black Box PAC

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The production runs at the Englewood theater now through Dec. 5.

BWW Review: BLACK BOX PAC STAGES ERIC BOGOSIAN'S LUSTROUSLY POIGNANT TWO-ACT PLAY 1+1'  at Black Box PAC

It all starts when girl meets boy.

Her innocent, wide eyes peer toward the object of her affection. Then, if she's bold enough, she musters up the courage to strike up a conversation. The typical shallow banter about home cities and piqued curiosity about native accents turn to innocent flirtations with plenty of smiles, hair tossing and laughing.

The exchange is like an invigorating game of ping-pong. And I do emphasize game. The conversational flow is organic - intoxicating - and you never seem to run out of things to say. Your chemistry is irresistible and inevitable. She'd be an idiot to drop the ball on this one. Or would she?

While this scenario may look and sound like an everyday tableau of two people falling in love, in actor and playwright Eric Bogosian's poignant two-act play "1+1" - the script of which he gave to the Black Box Performing Arts Center to stage in support of Save Our Stages and directed by Matt Okin - it's an evil trap in which the young woman, Brianne (Katie North) unwittingly assumes the role of the gullible raven taking the bait of insincere flattery from the sycophantic fox that is Phil (Daniel Yaiullo).

A restaurant waitress starving for love and hungry for opportunity outside the pad and apron, Brianne is putty in Phil's hands when he learns - apart from her obvious attraction to him - her need of a professional headshot and a career in the entertainment business. (The tall, dark and handsome Phil happens to be a photographer). After doling over his business card, Phil continues to win Brianne's trust with sweet nothings, feeding her every line under the sun from her photographs being one in a million to comparing her to Marilyn Monroe). Meanwhile, Brianne's genuinely caring but enabling boss at the restaurant Carl (Michael Gardiner) is in love with her, but Brianne is seeking to use her good looks in search of greener pastures outside the hospitality industry and into the Hollywood spotlight.

BWW Review: BLACK BOX PAC STAGES ERIC BOGOSIAN'S LUSTROUSLY POIGNANT TWO-ACT PLAY 1+1'  at Black Box PAC

Soon, Phil embroils Brianne into the world of internet porn, and before making a fortune off her body - like the manipulative narcissistic sociopath he is - drops the love bomb and gets the pretty, unworldly Brianne hooked on hard drugs. "Money is good. Money is very good," a drunken Phil muses to Brianne as he pours the champagne. "I love money. I love it ... almost as much as I love you."

After Phil vanishes from Brianne's life after the yearlong relationship goes awry, exploited Brianne is left picking up the pieces as she realizes that Phil, once considered the man of her dreams, gave her attention and hope for a future just as quickly as he took it from her. Heartbroken, reeling and stripped of her self-esteem as she's left in the dust filling her newfound gaping void with a worsening drug problem, a disgruntled Brianne gets her chance to confront her abuser five years later. Now a married man in the corporate world and an expectant father, Phil again attempts to use money - this time to sweep his past and Brianne under the rug and wash his hands clean of having taken advantage of her. "Life is so weird," she says at one point. For any woman mistreated by a man after falling victim to what turned out a sick game, the past is never past. And no amount of money will ever compensate for the life he destroyed. One plus one never equaled two after all.

"Though the piece seems to be about internet porn and one victim in particular, what I wanted to get at was a deeper examination of responsibility when two people share blame over bad actions," Bogosian told the Black Box PAC in an email. "I don't have an answer to the questions I pose; I make plays about what I don't understand."

What Bogosian does want for the audience, however, is for them to see themselves in the characters.

"What I want is for the audience to ponder this particular set of circumstances through the eyes of the three characters. Each is 'guilty,' but in different ways. I want the audience to be intrigued and drawn in by what they see onstage. Characters are not real people; they are the way we imagine ourselves and in that way 'work out' thinking about ourselves. If I can tap into that dynamic, I've succeeded."

For the women who once found themselves in similar situations or are currently in one, "1+1" will bring tears to their eyes and a strong sense of empathy for Brianne as they share her anger look backing at a time when they too were lonely and lacking and fell into the slippery slope of a life-ravaging relationship that could have been averted had she chosen not to see past the red flags and allow her baseless feelings to triumph over reason. While Brianne's emotions and her hankering for fortune and fame may have gotten the best of her, "1+1," a lustrous work of art, is a cautionary tale that gracefully exhibits the gravity of life and the power of conscience.

See "1+1" at the Black Box PAC in Englewood by visiting BlackBoxPAC.com.

Photo Credit: Amy Lebovics


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