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Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts Entertainment Chicago Illinois
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Set entirely in a yellow cab.
Saturday May 05, 2001.     By Lila Stromer
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

Famous Door Theatre Company at the Theatre Building
Tickets: (773) 327-5252

Set in Chicago at Christmastime, the entire set is one quarter of the hood of a yellow cab with its front and back seats and steering wheel. Placed appropriately on the windowless windshield is an orange parking ticket. Playing during pre-show is hard edged urban music, switching constantly as on a radio. It bypasses anything classical or soft rock.

Hellcab is 70 minutes of vignettes based on real life events. The play is a study about modern city life and the people we meet for a brief moment but who touch us long afterwards. Six actors play approximately 25 roles, while the seventh actor, the cabbie, is the guiding character for the audience. Each vignette is brief, lasting as long as some real life cab rides.

The cabbie, played touchingly by craggy-faced Richard Cotovsky, endures everything from a proselytizing couple on their way to church to a fare that might be death to him. While there are too many characters to go into detail in this article (and wanting to keep some suspense to make the readers go see this play) there are some that are not easily forgotten. There is the pregnant woman and her husband who, in passing, tell him about the cabbie who was shot in the face. This comes back to haunt him as he picks up a gang member having an argument with his girlfriend, and the non-existent fare at a burnt out building on the south side. There is also the mysterious man whose face is covered up. The quietness of the scene is resounding as the fare leans forward to the cabbie, who cowers in fear.

Played opposite this are the fares who lighten the evening, such as the sisters who bicker the entire ride, or the couple who is on sexual overdrive. The most touching fare is an architect who opens up to the cabbie about this being the first Christmas without his mother. It is the first time all evening that the cabbie reciprocates and opens up to someone. There is just enough lightness to keep the dark humor from becoming too heavy.

Richard Cotovsky plays the cabbie with a heart larger than he admits; he tries to do the right thing while trying to not get involved. The juxtaposition of caring for some of his fares while just trying to make money is played superbly when he picks up a rape victim. Ironically, she is the one who gives him one of the biggest tips all evening, just for listening to her. The guilt of wanting to be nice while needing to make a fare tears at him, and the audience.

Tim Beamish, Mary Booker, Lawrence Grimm, Kimberly Ford, Jennifer Kern and William L. Johnson work very well as an ensemble. They each play a range of characters and it is admirable that they can switch costumes and emotions so easily. Outstanding among them, however, is William L. Johnson whose physical and vocal changes are striking. He plays everything from an inner city gang member to the very urbane and dignified architect. As the cabbie, Richard Cotovsky is sad, touching and streetsmart. His hard-edged face is a capable of displaying every emotion possible. It isn't easy performing in a production that involves almost no movement and make it engrossing. He makes a difficult role heartwarming, frightening and funny.

This production and cast are very strong. As this play has been running for over 3 years, there have quite a number of cast changes and each time apparently there is also a change of directors. An earlier review by a different critic stated that one of the directors used this vehicle as if it was written for Second City. I congratulate Dan Rivkin, the current director, for adding such depth, warmth and meaning to this production. I couldn't imagine it without the heart that he has given to this production.

Hellcab runs Fridays and Saturdays 10:00 PM and Sundays at 8:00 PM at the Ivanhoe Theater, 750 W. Wellington. Box office: (312) 975-7171. Parking is $5.00, tickets are $10 or $13.

For more information on Hellcab and Will Kern, check out