I'm sure we've all encountered a hellacious cab experience or three -- the driver who used the drive from Andersonville to Boystown as an opportunity to issue a sermon about how all gays are going to hell and then proceeded to creepily hit on me; the cabbie who literally fell asleep at a stop light; the jerk that refused to take our credit card and my partner ended up in jail for an evening after refusing to pay cash. (These are all true stories, btw.)
However, I figure for every bizarre cab ride I've had, cab drivers have around a dozen or so fares a day that could surpass even my most colorful tale. And I'm sure they thank their lucky stars for the half-inch thick glass the separates them from the backseat crazy.
Former taxi driver Will Kern dipped into his experiences to pen Hellcab in the early '90s, where it was produced by Ivanhoe Theatre and ran for a record-breaking 10 years. Now, in an ambitious 20th anniversary production produced by Profiles Theatre and directed by Darrell W. Cox, Hellcab's showing us that its wheels are still very much on fire.
Hellcab, which follows a lonely, kind-hearted-but-unavoidably-thick-skinned driver (played by the impish Konstantin Khrustov) on a particularly eventful Christmas Eve, is usually staged with an ensemble of six players rotating the colorful fares. In this only-in-Chicago remount, Cox has cast an ensamble of 34 players to hail the Hellcab. Each actor in this 70-minute play gets, maybe, two to five minutes of stage time, and each fearlessly sinks their teeth into their moments to create a series of uniquely memorable vignettes. There's the paranoid drug addict, the horned up couple leaving the holiday party, the woman in labor and her high-strung husband, the sad woman harboring a dark secret, the bickering sisters and a fired up drag queen -- you name it.
Our driver suffers through the awkward and insanity with anger, weary good humor, a touch of fear and a dangerous dose of empathy. As played by Khrustov, we get the sense he's hanging on by a thread -- while it's a paycheck, is it worth feeling like a slave-come-therapist? People hop in, unload their baggage, and hop back out, with the occasional "thank you" to smooth the transition.
But, in an unexpected yet satisfying conclusion, the spirit of the impending holiday shines through -- a faint and fleeting flicker, sure, but the glow is there. In fact, this proved one of the most heartfelt holiday plays I've seen in some time. Simple, sweet and a little sad.
"Hellcab" plays through December 23 at Profiles Theatre's Main Stage. More info here.