REVIEW: 'Miles Away' at the Side Project ★★

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"Miles Away" at the Side Project

"Miles Away" at the Side Project (Side Project / August 13, 2014)

Dysfunction and desolation in a rundown motel room — sounds like something by Sam Shepard. But the best this play can muster is Sam Shepard-light, with its story of a comely pool hustler (Isabel Ellison), barely of the age of consent, and the not-so-bright control freak (Josh Odor) who is in charge of their business, such as it is. If only even half of it felt credible in director Scott Weinstein's production. It is a problem of performances that push too hard, and a script by Christine Whitley that pushes even harder.

They are tied together, this pair, by fear, inertia, masochism, the occasional sexual urge and a fundamental lack of imagination, but rarely does their interaction fully resemble the push-pull of a soured human relationship. Slammed-doors does not a subtext make.

Things perk up considerably when a third player finally enters the dynamic — a naive prepster (Dan Wilson) who intends to fund their scams — and Ellison morphs from a childish malcontent into a seasoned and cagey reader of people, sizing up this J. Crew catalog of a man who seems too good to be true. The play feels alive for the first time. Suddenly this young woman has dimension. And agency. She's actively thinking, not just reacting. And you're not sure how any of this is going to go down.

People are like this — very savvy in one area of their lives, absolutely terrible in others. The contrast, in Ellison's hands, is wittily and sharply wrought, which is the best thing I can say about an otherwise uninvolving production.

Through Aug. 31 at The Side Project, 1439 W. Jarvis Ave.; tickets are $20 at 773-340-0140 or thesideproject.net

nmetz@tribune.com

Twitter @NinaMetzNews

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