Route 66’s ‘On an Average Day’ Brings the House Down at Chicago’s Victory Gardens

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No votes yet Comedy/Tragedy Rating: 4.5/5.0
Play Rating: 4.5/5.0

CHICAGO – Chicago theatre often surprises its audiences in the notorious fizzling summer months by providing us what I like to call “Christmas in July”. In this case, though, it’s August and Santa has hopped onto Route 66. He has carried with him in his sack an unparalleled gift from Chicago’s newest theatre company.

Stef Tovar – a Jeff Award-winning actor and American Theater Company ensemble member – recently launched the aptly named Route 66 Theatre Company. It’s an artistic development hoping to cultivate stories that link both the cultures and communities of Los Angeles and Chicago.

Luckily for Chicagoans, the Chicago-based Tovar has decided to mount the company’s first theatrical endeavor at Chicago’s very own Victory Gardens Theater.

Co-produced with the Vs. Theatre Company in Los Angeles, “On an Average Day” tells the bleak and often-darkly comedic story of two long-estranged brothers torn apart by the kind of emotionally distressful past only parents can provide.

Stef Tovar (Jack) and Johnny Clark (Robert) star in On an Average Day at the Victory Gardens Greenhouse Theater
Stef Tovar (Jack) and Johnny Clark (Robert) star in “On an Average Day” at the Victory Gardens Greenhouse Theater.
Photo credit: Route 66 Theatre Company

John Kolvenbach (celebrated in Chicago for penning the Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s “Love Song”), masterfully allows the relationship between Robert (Johnny Clark) and Jack (Stef Tovar) to slowly reveal the secrecy and desperation that drenches it.

While the tension that Kolvenbach manifests is almost unyielding, he shows his true proficiency in acutely knowing the exact dramatic beats to reel back in. The dialogue is unapologetically real. Its rapidity and diction reflect those of an actual conversation transpiring between two individuals as opposed to a theatrical one.

This yields a result that’s absolutely searing.

The performances by both Clark and Tovar are arguably two of the best Chicago has witnessed all year. These are performers who view and treat acting as a true craft. Being able to watch their work up close is as hypnotizing and surreal as experiencing a glass blower create his sculptures from mere sand.

Stef Tovar (Jack) and Johnny Clark (Robert) star in On an Average Day at the Victory Gardens Greenhouse Theater
Stef Tovar (Jack) and Johnny Clark (Robert) star in “On an Average Day” at the Victory Gardens Greenhouse Theater.
Photo credit: Route 66 Theatre Company

Living as a hermit in the dilapidated family home, Clark’s deranged Robert soars in his simultaneous pathology and desperation. Robert’s tumultuous and possibly narcotic-driven past remains for the most part unknown to us. We meet the half-starved, mentally unbalanced young man who finds himself on trial for a vicious crime.

Clark skillfully plays Robert with unsettling yet enigmatic accuracy. He raises his vocal octave and adds quirks (or really ticks) to the character that viscerally unveil the decrepit state he’s in. These also impel the audience to wonder whether he will in fact snap in the very theatre.

Clark miraculously pays attention to every last detail of Robert from the way he scratches his beard to the way he throws back a can of beer.

Tovar performs the topically controlled family man Jack. He’s Robert’s older sibling and he’s simultaneously reserved and ready to crack. Tovar is a whiz at revealing the meaty yet unanswered space between every one of Kolvenbach’s lines. He succeeds at captivating his audience.

The chemistry that these actors have created between the two brothers proffers such an authenticity that it almost makes you feel like a peeping Tom looking into another family’s kitchen windows.

Jack returns to visit Robert in his pathetic state in hopes to reach a grisly conclusion. The reunion, though, results in the often edge-of-your-seat discussion of their familial histories. The writing and acting cohesively work to grab you – and hold you – at almost every moment of the work.

StarMore theater reviews from critic Alissa Norby.
StarMore theater reviews from our other critics.

Though reflective of the validity of the writing, the directing might benefit from some added variation in movement. It’s often what the artists don’t reveal that makes “On an Average Day” so mesmeric. The piece climaxes in a stage combat scene so frighteningly real that it puts most Hollywood movies to shame.

This is storytelling at its finest.

Indeed, the entire work takes place in just one conversation between two men (and quite a few beers) in a run-down kitchen. The fact that this angle is so ostensibly minute – coupled with its ability to provide one of the most gripping dramas in recent memory – makes you truly believe that big things really do come in small packages. You won’t want to miss this one.

“On an Average Day” runs through Sept. 6, 2008 at the Victory Gardens Theater at 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. in Chicago. The show runs Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 5:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets cost $25. To purchase tickets and for more information, visit here or call 773-871-3000.

For a complete listing of all shows and reviews in Chicago, visit our partner For half-price Chicago theater tickets, visit our partner Goldstar. staff writer Alissa Norby

Staff Writer

© 2008 Alissa Norby,

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Victory Gardens Now I see,

Victory Gardens Now I see, when I am not happy, I should drink with a friend.

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