The Chicago Park District's Theater on the Lake has a stunning setting overlooking Lake Michigan, but the horns and engines of cars on Lake Shore Drive did take some of the subtlety from the intrigue and stratagems in Bill Jepsen's funny and moving new play, Cadillac, a Chicago Dramatists production, finishing its second run last week. Perhaps these blaring and froggy sounds made the appropriate ambiance for a story about used cars, the people who want them and the salespeople who desperately need the people who want them.
The comparisons to Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross can't be helped, but make no mistake, this is a very different kind of play. Jepsen writes with humor, heart and humanity. Who are we responsible for? What do we owe? are two of the important questions the play chews on. "This is my day!" proclaims the 60-year old printer who refuses to back down to a lesser car, to a lesser reward after a long life of denial and saving and sacrifice. The line resonates for every character.
Jepsen creates full and complicated people - like the optimistic lot veteran, Art, played with a lot of affection by Rob Riley, who describes his job as "helping people" and thrives on the relationship he forges with his customers. The villainous new shark-punk, played by Ian Forester may be less fully drawn, but he is no less interesting to watch as he plots the downfall of his nemesis. Actor Craig Spidle plays finance manager Howard, the heart of the show, whose crisis of conscience put me on the edge of my seat. As I was appreciating one of his rare and powerful smiles I realized these characters were entirely compelling, despite their flaws and perhaps even because they are nowhere as loveable as they hope their salesmen demeanors will appear.
I can't wait to see what Jepsen creates next. More here.