Posh: The characters in Laura Wade’s play, now receiving its U.S. premiere at Steep Theatre, are so revolting they should cause you to run screaming from the theater; and yet this is a production everyone should see. A group of elite English college students gathers in the private room of a small-town pub for the annual meeting of the Riot Club. The club’s organizing principle, if there is one, is that members should demonstrate their superiority by wreaking the maximum destruction on every environment. One thinks that the first rule of the Riot Club should be that nobody talks about the Riot Club, but in fact they talk about it constantly (in lieu of any actual conversation) until they’ve whipped themselves into a completely pointless frenzy. Wade has created as savage a portrait of the English upper crust as The Ruling Class, without a drop of the charm Peter O’Toole brought to that earlier yowl against the toffs.
So why see it? Because under Jonathan Berry’s direction, we’re introduced to an extraordinary company of young actors, as unforgettable and full of promise as the ones who appeared in TimeLine’s The History Boys (another English school play, as it happens). If you want to see the future of Chicago theater in [violent] action, sinking its teeth into powerful writing and conjuring up an alien world until you can almost taste it, you want to see Posh. Through February 27: get tickets now, as the theater is minute and mine will not be the only rave.
The Consultant: Unfortunately Heidi Schreck’s play lacks sufficient heft to be an appropriate farewell to the Signal Ensemble, which ends its distinguished 13-year run after this show. But Ronan Marra’s direction gets everything there is to get from the slight script, which lands a stunningly awkward graduate student (Ariel Begley, effervescent in her character’s determined wrongness) in the office of an advertising firm circling the drain. She’s supposed to coach one employee through his presentation stage fright but ends up instead as the office confidante. If it weren’t for the title you wouldn’t think this was her play, but it’s not anyone else’s play either: not the employee being coached (Ben Chang, who manages to turn a caricature into a person), though he has central-character potential; not the lovesick receptionist or the vapid middle manager she fancies. Everyone deserves better material, including the audience. Through February 20.