On Jan 14, The Side Project Theatre packed a tiny area of tightly-placed folding chairs full of people, all anticipating the opening of Daniel Caffrey’s play, “Little Triggers.” Sitting at the top of a black-painted and elevated wooden platform, I noticed most eyes facing toward the bedroom-sized stage. The music grew quiet, the lights went dim, and my imagination ran wild wondering just how this play would incorporate both puppets and live characters in such a space.
The main character, a young assistant office manager is working late on a wintry Christmas Eve in the city some- where. His name is Martin, (played by Kevin Lambert) and he is busy distracting himself with mundane office tasks such as shredding paper, paper basketball waste disposal and scary movies. Martin’s boss Mr. Bahnson (played by Rob Grabowski) enters the picture briefly bringing Christmas gifts, champagne and an overbearing yet hospitable presence to the eerily empty atmosphere of the office space. We learn that the rather ominous looking (and acting!) copier machine is on the blitz and that a repair man is en route to hopefully remedy the situation. The wait leaves a hapless Martin once again to his lonesome and restless self. Perhaps more importantly and sweetly adding to the mounting tension, Martin is left to question where his life is headed; a stable yet predictable path concerning shredding paper, endless phone correspondence, and otherwise mundane office operations.
“Little Triggers” carries notes of Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” in the way unexpected visitations transpire in order to affect positive change in a protagonist’s life. In this case, our office grunt hero is introduced to reflecting a bit more on notions of personal perception of self and who he is at heart. So as not to give too much away, I would like to focus a bit on one of the motivating visitors to Martin’s bubble of office safety.
Our repair guy, “Man in Coveralls” (played by Neal Starbird,) who does a convincing job of portraying a drug-crazed, in-your-face, creepy machine mechanic. Here, a nice contrast exists between the mad-eyed intensity of Starbird’s character and the more conservative stylings of Martin’s character.
The tension escalates as the evening progresses and Martin is forced to share an office space with a madman, who seems hell bent on seemingly destroying the copier machine and making Martin see something about himself that he has ignored for quite some time. Or rather, something which came from himself and is locked away in a desk drawer, out of sight and out of mind, until its rightful owner once again chooses to acknowledge it.
Eventually, Martin is lead on a path to self recovery/discovery and all I can say is that not only are madcap characters involved and unleashed in this process, but also fantastical creatures and very imaginative puppetry. Special mention must go to the set, costume, sound and lighting design artists involved in this unique production, but also to the pup- pet team as all of them did a professional and creative job at making the story come alive in a fun way. I was delighted at the unexpected surprises that appeared at random in this production, and can honestly say that the director, Allison Shoemaker, must be proud of this small, yet powerful play. The Ruckus is an inexpensive Rogers Park theatre company put on by people who really love their work. Oh, and they sell popcorn and beverages for cheap too, which is nice.
“Little Triggers” at the Ruckus runs until Feb. 12, 2012. Tickets can be purchased online at www.ruckustheater.org or call (773) 769-7257. The Side Project Theatre is located near the Jarvis red line stop at 1439 W. Jarvis Avenue in Chicago.