Gunning for Laughs

The play's message, though it may be a stretch to call it such, is delivered by Malcolm, who turns out to have an off-the-cuff talent for armed robbery, believing even "murder can be friendly!" Like a pulp fiction prodigal son who starts out hopelessly astray only to finish with fame and recognition, Malcolm succeeds in a variety of surprising ways. He becomes a good criminal and a ruthless dealmaker, capable of sacrificing Gordon in order to satisfy his brother's main desire: to have the world -- or at least the city of Chicago -- hear about his skill as a criminal.

The production was designed using the premise that people like to sit on-stage and see the "magic" of the light board and musical cues, and as a result, all the technical elements in Media Darlings are naked to the audience. It works, with one of the most pleasing of the production elements being guitarist Rick Mantler, who's so happy while playing the show's '70s sitcom theme songs that the audience can't help but sing all that good stuff ("Good Times" and "Moving On Up" figuring in as favorites) right back at him.

Cleverness and the underdog theme aside, Media Darlings is never going to make the cut as high art. But it is a funny, well-crafted script. If brave new-play patrons can stand their feet sticking to the floor, Zocalo offers a refreshingly low-budget theater experience where -- bonus! -- audience members can drink $2 beers in their seats.

Media Darlings plays through June 2 at the Zocalo Theater, 5223 Feagan, 541-1242.

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