Paloma Nozicka and Adam Brown in Jackalope Theatre's production of "Long Way Go Down."

Paloma Nozicka and Adam Brown in Jackalope Theatre's production of "Long Way Go Down." ( / December 4, 2012)

"Long Way Go Down"

Set in a dusty Arizona town not far from the Mexican border, "Long Way Go Down" (from Jackalope Theatre at the Viaduct) unfolds much like a human chess game. Strategy is all-important, and the traps are many.

A long-haul truck driver (Tim Miller, grizzled and enigmatic) pads his wallet by smuggling illegal immigrants into the U.S. He is a coyote, in the parlance, and as unsentimental as they come. Business is business, which means a bloody and brutal endgame for those who employ his services but find themselves unable to pay the bill.

Such is the troubling circumstance at the heart of this play by Zayd Dohrn. A very pretty, very unpredictable young woman (Paloma Nozicka) sits huddled in the corner of a ramshackle, half-built office space. She has been left as collateral while her talkative, savvy and fully Americanized companion (a wily and hugely charismatic Daniel Martinez) attempts to figure a way out of this jam. The truck driver's idiot son (Adam Brown) stands guard and attempts to make a connection with these two Mexicans who owe his father a thousand bucks, or else. It is a brutish story, but one with emotional stakes that feel real and rooted in truth.

Dohrn, who teaches writing at Northwestern University (and is the son of 1960s radical Bill Ayers), is developing a series for HBO, and you can see why his style would be a good match for the cable network; he creates fully formed characters and sustains a palpable tension between them as alliances shift depending on the moment. The dangerous hustler embodied by Martinez (under Kaiser Zaki Ahmed's smart direction) is exactly the kind of magnetic antihero who could carry a TV series — or another play.

Through Dec. 22 at the Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N. Western Ave. Tickets are $15 at 773-340-2543 or jackalopetheatre.org

"Foreverendia"

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl, long a staple of indie movies, has apparently found her way into the world of theater. How generous is your tolerance for this trope? Of the quirky, devil-may-care gal who exists only to teach "broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures" (in the words of film critic Nathan Rabin, who coined the term)? Is it two-plus-hours generous? Because that's what you're in for.

"Foreverendia," by Brian Tuttle, centers on three kids (the ringleader being the aforementioned dream girl) who spend the bulk of the play manufacturing a land of make-believe (Foreverendia) that becomes a welcome distraction from their difficult home lives, which are revealed in clunky bits and pieces. If playing make-believe is one of the immense joys of childhood, it must be said that watching adult actors portray children playing make-believe is something else entirely. You ever get stuck listening to someone describe their dreams? That's the general feeling here.

It is only much later (too late, really, for the purposes of the story) that we meet these children as grown-ups, now scarred by a terrible mistake that occurred during one of their play sessions.

That said, I liked some of Tuttle's witty flourishes as the kids establish the rules of their new country: "The tourism brochures have stop signs on them." "Rule number eleventeen: There is no such thing as time."

And my favorite: When a little girl asks if she should bring any supplies, she is informed: "If you have an army or a political system, that would be good."

Through Dec. 23 at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave. Tickets are $16-$24 at 773-935-6875 or blackshipco.org

nmetz@tribune.com

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