In a crowded holiday theater season, I finally made time for the gritty dark comedy Hellcab. I highly recommend you do the same. Free of the clichéd sentiment and saccharine sweet schmaltz that plague many a holiday showcase, playwright Will Kern drew from his own personal experiences as a former cab driver to create this startling, hilarious and, at times, poignant journey of a Chicago cabbie and the cornucopia of people who cross his path. This urban seasonal tale, set in a single 12 hour shift, will appeal to anyone who has ever had the unique shared experience of hailing a cab on a cold and blustery Chicago winter’s day. The red hot laughs abound and are more than enough to melt any polar vortex cold mother nature could toss our way. Directed by Eric Burgher, the cast includes 33 diverse actors in roles that last just a few minutes. Each making their mark on the audience and in the life of the cabbie with just a few lines of biting dialog. First produced as a late-night show in 1992, Hellcab has been part of the Chicago holiday landscape ever since. For the fourth consecutive year, Profiles remounts this brisk, 90 minute, innovative play as counter-programming for the holidays.
Set on Christmas Eve 1992 in various neighborhoods around the Windy City, Chicago newcomer Zlatomir Moldovanski (doppelganger for The New Girl’s Jake Johnson, also a Chicago bred actor) plays the dogged cab driver at the center of the action. A solid comedian himself, Moldovanski works best here as an anchor, grounding the surreal antics and over the top characters that fortuitously surround him. What a collection it is. His fares include a trio of food stamp trading Goth club kid drug addicts, a couple of condescending lawyers, a born-again religious couple on their way to early morning church services, a bi-racial couple rushing to the hospital to have their baby, a high-strung contract lawyer who insists the cab driver “call me daddy,” squabbling adult siblings at the end of their tether, Cubs fans taunting tourists, gang bangers, an amorous couple whose foreplay literally begins in the back seat, a racist business owner, the drama filled lesbian couple, an old woman suffering from dementia, a drunk, and (on a serious note) a recent rape victim.“I drive a cab for Satan, a Hellcab” Moldovanski laments. This teams outlandish and outrageous characters, some played to the hilt for legitimate laughs, others for emotional pathos, included Cristiana Barbatelli, Bobby Bowman, Hannah Brown, Ben Burke, Irene Currie, Alex Dauphin, Patrick Deal, Jeff Dolecek, Richard Esteras, Brianne Duncan Fiore, Will J. Green, Rasell Holt, Logan Hulick, Grant Johnson, Liz Krane, Josephine Longo, Sean Magill, Edward Mawere, Liliana Mitchell, Brian Nelson, Tim Newell, Sissy Anne Quaranta, Taylor Raye, Akua Sarhene, Danny Schaefer, Judi Schindler, Josh Segovia, Londen Shannon, Terence Sims, George Stalling, Paige Taylor and Elise Zell. Ending hopeful, the final rider in the cab is picking up food for a party and wishes the exasperated cabbie a Merry Christmas.
Katie-Bell Springmann grungy set design impresses. The cab is a real car shell, with the top sawed off so the captivated audience misses nothing. The dilapidated automobile, peeling paint, snow & graffiti covered corners, and a failing heat system, very much a reality of the urban jungle that is Chicago. Raquel Adorno’s real world costumes resonate as well. When a character only has three to five minutes of stage time, the clothes absolutely aid in making an impression and in getting the characters message across. Clair Chrzan’s lighting also impresses. I am a little surprised it has taken me this long to discover the warped gem that is Hellcab. Tenacious, gritty, affecting and surprisingly real, Hellcab is a holiday treat to be enjoyed by an adult audience. Like an egg nog laced with rum and Ecstasy, this is not a treat for the kiddos. Set aside your Christmas shopping and forget about familial obligations for a night. Just treat yourself to the twisted ride and side-splitting antics that is Hellcab.
Profiles Theatre Hellcab is now playing through January 10, 2016