“CAM BABY” Review- Chicago’s Chimera Ensemble in a very smart production

Nora Hunt, Arif Yampolsky, Norma Chacon and Murphy Mayer in Chimera Ensemble's "CAMBABY" by Jessica Moss
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Chicago-based theatre company Chimera Ensemble has launched their second season with a darkly humorous play about loyalties in the world of social media, insecurities about body image in the wake of selfies, the possibilities for true love in “hooking up”, and the meaning of privacy in the age of digital Millenial relationships. CAM BABY by Jessica Moss, awarded “Best Play” in workshop last year at the Toronto Fringe Festival, will run through March 4th in the Vault Theater at Collaboraction Studios in the Flat Iron Arts Building, 1579 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago.

Tightly directed by Jesse Roth, the play stars Nora Hunt as Clara, new to the world of romance and blogging, who has a virtually unknown number of unknown virtual roommates, and Arif Yampolsky as Tim, who becomes Clara’s friend and boyfriend. She is perpetually furious with the universal patriarchy; he gives a stunningly human portrayal of a fully realized man. The live-in triumvirate of disposable moral fiber includes Norma Chacon as Clara’s sexually self-bartered roommate Natalie; Murphy Mayer, as the perenially protesting but rudderless Joseph; and Nico Fernandez as the feckless corrupt Matabang, played with fascinating smarmy knowingness.

Christopher Donaldson and Nora Hunt in Chimera Ensemble’s “CAMBABY” at Collaboraction Studios, Chicago

Clara and Tim bond over the innocent pleasures of YouTube videos and mutual angst while her roommates share the couples sex life by way of subterfuge. Matabang, who conceives as himself as a combination corporate titan/union steward, has used Joseph to set up a hidden camera in Clara’s room, and is taping the trysts between Clara and Tim. The tapes are supposed to be available only to the “CAMBABY” community but ultimately are “shared” to everybody on the premises as well as posted on the Web. Ironically, Clara has already “opened the door” to Tim’s most tender secrets in her blog, “Not Cute/Can’t Date”; sheltered by a welter of self-pity about not being pretty enough to snare a man, she exposes her man.

Along comes Ezra, played with spooky exactitude as a robotic/autism spectrum video troller by Christopher Donaldson– the ultimate voyeur- he ups the ante, exposing the exposed. In a really clever and very well-pitched series of “reveals”, we come to understand the multiple levels of betrayal that have gone on inside these people’s heads, lives, devices, the shared premises.

In a modern day all-too-Americanized version of a bedroom farce, lives are stripped raw and Clara must address the issues facing all those who come of age in this Twittering era: How do you decide whom to trust? What can we expect in the way of confidentiality when our telephones “share” contacts and nothing is ever really deleted? This humanizing look at  technology begs the question: What does it mean to truly know someone in an age of reality shows, surveillance, and self-promotion?

This is a very very smart play portrayed by each and every character with spot-on intensity. They are all exposed, all riven to the heart, all made to disclose. The dialogue is rapid and many layered, the language a ferociously funny meld of pseudo/psycho/meme/babble.

A sampling of lines:

– “He’s just a thing”.

– “Santa isn’t Jesus”.

– “My Facebook page is an event”.

– “If I was with her, I’d be the way I’m supposed to be”.

– “I don’t even know if he has a brain”.

– “He was secretly a terrible person”.

– “I wonder what it’s like to feel things”.

– “She is off-brand”.

Nico Fernandez as Matabang and Murphy Mayer as Joseph in Jessica Moss’ play “CAMBABY”

Not one of the characters fails to deliver the goods: all of them are willing to sell themselves and each other, but in the end, they are all desperate to buy back their humanity. At 90 well-paced minutes, the play is a must-see.

Kudos to the design and production team which includes Rachael Koplin (Stage Manager), David Lovejoy (Production Manager), Joy Ahn (Scenic Designer), Morgan Lake (Sound Designer), Cassandra Bowers (Costume Designer), Murphy Mayer (Assistant Director), Nicole Fabbri (Properties Designer), Vada Briceño (lighting Designer), and R&D Choreography (Violence and Intimacy Designer).

For information and tickets, go to www.chimeraensemble.com

All photos by Tori Howard



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