By Cory Davis
While the central message of Refugee Theatre Project's Things to Ruin: The Songs of Joe Iconis at Exit Chicago was unclear at times, the production was energetic, sharp, and surprising. If you depend on a linear plot for a good time, then this cabaret-style production is not for you. If you are willing to forgo a cohesive through-line and embrace the episodic nature of the piece, then it is worth the $20 admission price to watch young Chicago talent tear up the stage with their insurmountable vocal and physical energy.
Stand-outs in this production include Jeff Meyer, Maisie Rose, Deanalis Resto, and Mike Evans. Both Maisie Rose and Deanalis Resto take their turns earnestly and well-deservingly stealing the show - Maisie in "Almost There" and Deanalis in "Honey." After a stream of impressive female vocals send us into the stratosphere, Mike Evans brings us back to earth with his Lou Reed-esque vocals in "The Guide to Success.” Meyer masters the art of the tortured soul motif by simultaneously playing it and making fun of it. His brooding spirit grounds the show, and his eyes convey a very specific story—that unfortunately gets lost at times due the show’s lack of a consistent theme or through-line. Iconis’ lyrics are typically clever and evocative, but there are a few duds—namely his choice to rhyme “arm” and “alarm” quite un-ironically. Overall, the production presented a pleasant mixture of hope and despair—both relevant in our current cultural moment-- performed by a top-notch Chicago cast.
Things to Ruin: The Songs of Joe Iconis is performed at Exit Chicago 1315 W. North Ave. Chicago. The production runs through June 18.
The Hawk was a common name for the cold, winter wind in Chicago, possibly even predating "the Windy City." Additionally, a hawk can see up to eight times more clearly than the human eye.