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Get Your Repressed Rage on With Rise of the Numberless

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There's a rock revolution going on, and should you choose to attend, you've automatically become an unwitting member of The Numberless.

Who are The Numberless, you ask? Why, they're the forgotten children who've been living underground out of sight from the government for the past five decades, and now they're gearing up to tell their story and rally support for a mass revolt.

You see, 50 years ago, in an effort to control overpopulation, Congress passed a law prohibiting families from having more than one child, and the child they did have was injected with an implant (or a "Number") to track them. Those families who did have more than one child would scuttle them away into an underground secret society called, appropriately enough, The Numberless. And today, they are ready to break above ground and tell their side of the story by means of a punk rock pageant play called Rise of the Numberless.

So that's the setup to The New Colony and Bailiwick Chicago's wildly inventive co-production staged in the appropriately industrial Collaboration Studio in the Flat Iron Arts Building. And you can clearly see the efforts of the two groups in action here: The New Colony specializes in creating uniquely subversive pieces concerning groups of misfits who come together for some sort of event or reunion (where things often don't go exactly as planned), and Bailiwick Chicago excels at producing a wide range of contemporary musicals with energy, resourcefulness and flair (Bailiwick's next production is the Chicago premiere of the hit rock musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, for example).

The result is a 90-minute head-banging rage punk fest, with moments of great originality, attitude and intensity.

Before you even enter the Flat Iron Art's building the tone is set. You are greeted by a Numberless who takes you to the cloaked venue. You get the impression that at any moment the entire affair could get raided, as The Numberless are drawing great attention these days due to a series of events that are played out for us during the concert.

Then the rock show starts. As expected, it's loud, raw and angry (Chris Gingrich, Julie B. Nichols and Andrew Hobgood [who also directs the show] created the original score). But it's also unexpectedly sophisticated. Drawing from other iconic rock musicals, Numberless has the tribal cry of Hair with the dark undercut of Hedwig. And no need to bring earplugs, as they're complimentary.

But, with all this energy spent in making you feel like you're actually entering this underworld, you can't help but thinking: if the goal is to spread the truth about The Numberless without being detected by a government that's already on high alert, perhaps a decibel-breaking rock show isn't the most logical way to go about it? And the talented ensemble cast (with standout performances from Harmony France, Ryan Lanning and Steven Perkins) seems a little too clean-cut for having lived underground their whole lives. Shouldn't they be pale and dirty or something? I mean, one guy's wearing crisp white khakis for goodness sake.

Ah, details. But no matter. The show is entertaining from beginning to end -- at least what I saw of the end. Without giving too much away, we were ushered from our seats before the show's conclusion, much to our confusion and disorientation. But, I'm assuming that's the point. It's one of many bold choices in this rule-breaking show.

"Rise of the Numberless" plays through May 26 at the Flat Iron Arts Building, 1579 N. Milwaukee Avenue. More info here.