Allan shines in one-man ‘Squirrel’ romp at Greenhouse

By PHILIP POTEMPA
Of Notoriety


Commanding an audience’s attention for 90 minutes as a solo performer, delivering a tale of the danger of squirrels, family dysfunction and a failed marriage, is not an easy accomplishment.

Actor Will Allan does it all.

He has to, since he is the star of the one-man show “Circumference of a Squirrel,” enjoying its Chicago premiere at Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. in Chicago, playing until Feb. 12.

This final production of Greenhouse Theater Center’s Solo Celebration! Series is the funny and frantic 90-minute, no intermission, well-written work of John Walch, with the words brought to life by actor Allan and smartly directed by Artistic Director Jacob Harvey.

The simple yet satisfying set design by Grant Sabin consists of little more than a suspended inner tube which descends when needed (and is then quickly whisked away), a mounted telephone, a tangled mess of tree branches along with a lone Lifesaver as the only necessary portable prop.

Chester, the character played by Allan, has carried an apprehension of squirrels, which borders on a curious fascination, ever since his own father instilled his own cautionary reasons for an intense hatred for squirrels, the result of an early mishap.

While seated on a park bench on a university campus, Chester shares an uncanny moment with a squirrel, engaged with a tug-of-war while attempting to salvage a discarded half eaten bagel. This squirrely scene launches Chester into a reflection of his own roller coaster life to revisit why his own marriage faced rough waters, partly based in his father’s lack of acceptance of others.

Allan, whose capable talent I’ve been reviewing and enjoying for years, has given audiences other memorable characterizations in recent bows, such as at Victory Gardens Theater in “The Whale” in 2013, Steppenwolf’s “Good People” in 2012 and “Animal Farm” in 2014.

But for this one-man performance, he demonstrates his keen craft to all-new levels by easily transforming from his character of Chester and melding seamlessly to emerge, just moments later, as other key identities such as his strained father or his passive and protective mother. His best of the best moment is when he skillfully toggles an intricate twosome conversation, as evidenced in a scene requiring him to engage in a hotel room uneasy flirtatious exchange between himself and his Jewish girlfriend, who refuses to settle for weak explanations.

The production team duo completing this strangely entertaining, and also message-filled one-man manifesto, consists of Erik Barry with lighting design as a key component to transport audiences paired with Jeffrey Levin‘s wonderful sound design.

After 90 minutes with Allan in Walch’s world, hearing a squirrel’s chatter from a tree brings about implications of a creature capable of so much more than just storing away nuts for winter.

Performances are 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $34 – $48. FYI: (773) 404-7336 or www.greenhousetheater.org

  • Philip Potempa is a 25-year veteran journalist and published author. He can be reached at philip@ofnotoriety.com.