105 Proof, Or, The Killing Of Mack “The Silencer” Klein by Transatlantic Love Affair, performing in the Illusion Theatre

Amber Bjork, Emily Dussault, Allison Witham, Nick Wolf, Derek Lee Miller in 105 Proof. Photo by Lauren B Photography.

Amber Bjork, Emily Dussault, Allison Witham, Nick Wolf, Derek Lee Miller in 105 Proof. Photo by Lauren B Photography.

No doubt about it, Transatlantic Love Affair knows how to spin a ripping good yarn. Their newest effort 105 Proof or, The Killing of Mack “the Silencer” Klein is testament to their storytelling skill. Eight barefooted actors with no props and no set, fill the broad expanse of the Illusion Theatre stage with precisely timed actions and telling dialogue for a fun evening’s entertainment.

We have seen prohibition era mobster stories many times before but TLA veers away from most of the time-worn clichés. In their version, a Chicago gang moves in on a family-operated distillery in southern Illinois. The mob sweeps the eldest son, Jonathan (played by Nick Wolf), into its violent trade. The all too willing hick kid in the Windy City is taught table manners and dress codes by those who own a piece of turf while his mother (Amber Bjork) and grandfather (Eric Marinus) and younger brother (Nick Saxton) struggle back home, buoyed by the profits of their backyard still.

The whole cast plays multiple roles which they switch between with impressive alacrity. Guided by director and creator Diogo Lopes, each human character has a signature gesture and the audience knows immediately who they are playing at any given moment. A fine example of this is when the mobster boss (Allison Witham), snaps open his Zippo lighter, and with slack-jawed insolence lights a cigarette. It’s a memorable moment of silent mime. The next Witham makes the same move we know she has switched from playing a naive side-kick to once again being a gangland demi-boss.

The technical ability doesn’t end with human characterizations. The cast also makes cars, an entire general store, distillery equipment, and an elevator –-to name only a few objects—appear on stage. Formed before our eyes by the cast members’ agile bodies they dissolve as soon as the next scene begins. With no set pieces to move on and off stage the play continues on in a rapid-fire pace, smooth as well-aged whiskey.

Roughly half-way through, the action does slow for a torch song ably sung by Emily Dussault. It’s a nice touch. Musicians, Dustin Tessler, on guitar, and Adam J. Patterson, on drums, add a layer of musical and sound accompaniment. Heather Bunch rounds out the cast playing a believable small-town widow and an equally plausible Chicago bookkeeper.

If the show has a flaw it is not in the performance, but in the story itself. The perfectly timed choreography, the slick acting, the surprising innovations of scale-shifting from human-sized cars to small, hand-sized autos all work handsomely in the service of a play that is somewhat lacking depth.

One could wish for the hero to have a moment of indecision before jumping into the world of the mob, and a second thought about the path he is speeding down when tragedy visits his home town. But not every crime story needs to be fraught with interior doubt; Macbeth this not. In the end, there is a satisfying twist to the story that wraps up the play nicely for an evening of enjoyable entertainment.

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