Tag Archives: plays set in the Midwest

Rantoul and Die by Mark Roberts (2010): an analysis for production

Debbie:  Gary, you are a powerful, charismatic man. And I was seduced by you. We had a whirlwind affair, and we cared for each other. But…

Gary: What?

Debbie: You and me ain’t built for the long-haul. You and me are both volatile, selfish people.

Gary:    We are a good match.

Debbie: We are a lit match on dry leaves. And I’ve caused too many fires as it is.

The fated “romance” of Debbie and Gary is a catalyst, but not the central story of the play. However the above is one of the tamer examples of the hyperbolic dialogue in the white trash soap opera of Rantoul and Die. It is even more ironic when it is known that audiences hear this dialogue uttered between middle-aged factory workers and Dairy Queen employees with “heavy Midwestern accents.” The result is 2 hour, often shocking, vulgarity ridden, snort-inducing free-for-all that tells us everyone, regardless of demographic, has been damaged by the selfish delusions of what defines a life worth living.

For my wider audience: The setting, Rantoul, IL is a city in West Central Illinois that was anchored in, and prospered and grew, since the 1930’s by the presence of Chanute Air Force Base. The closing of the base in 1993, and the further indignities of the Great Recession have left the town, like many others in our nation a shell of their former glories. The title is a convergence the name of this town and the manufacturing process of “tool and die making” in which trained machinists create the basic components used in myriad manufacturing processes. This skilled and well-paid occupation provided a dignified life for the “makers” and their families for generations. In the play, 4 actors portray, satirize and lament the current state of affairs reflected in the oft-recurring tragic economic cycle. Now they are left to watch an endless stream of reality shows and soap operas that twist a knife in human vulnerability.

Snort-inducing: Comedy that forces a guttural noise from the nostrils despite the intellect telling you, “I shouldn’t laugh at this.” This play is full of it. It is therefore not surprising that the playwright is the writer and executive producer of TV’s Two and a Half Men. Please recall that in the midst of the sitcom’s tremendous success, one of the “two men” was fired and forced into rehab and the “half-man” found religion and publically distanced himself from the program and its content. Know then that the playwright and self-same purveyor of prurient interest here frees himself of the censors of primetime television. The gloves are off! The opening monologue segues from coitus to fellatio in 2 and a half minutes. I’m saddened to say that I can’t think of theatre within 80 miles that might feel safe putting this on their stage.

Production requirements:

Cast: 2 men / 2 women (late 30s-50s)

Set: Single interior: the living room of a “small run-down house in Rantoul, IL”

Costumes: Distressed contemporary with pieces of at least 1 Dairy Queen uniform

Royalties: $80/performance

Censorial concerns: Most everything line of dialogue.

Provenance:

Playwright:

  • Born in Urbana, IL about ten miles from Rantoul
  • Writer and executive producer of TV’s Two and a Half Men and Mike & Molly
  • 4 plays, professionally produced in major cities
  • http://www.aoiagency.com/mark-roberts/

Play:

  • Los Angeles, 2009
    • “An original and devastatingly funny new play…blunt, raw and reckless.” —Hollywood Reporter
  • Chicago, 2011
    • Jeff Recommended
    • Chicago Magazine’s THE FIVE
    • Chicago Now’s  “must see”
    • CBS Chicago’s “Best things to do”
    • WBEZ’s Critics Pick
    • Four Stars from Chicago Theater Style
    • Highly recommended by Catey Sullivan (Examiner/Chicago Theater Blog)
  • New York (Off-Broadway), 2013
    • “The audaciously crude and equally entertaining dark comedy.” —New York Daily News

Recommendation: STRONG with sadness. Somebody do this play. I will travel to see it, pay full price for tickets, and promote its attendance on this blog and with other social media at my disposal.

www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=4131

Available for lending from University Library at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, IL