I was in a fraternity in college. Ok, so it was a music fraternity. Still, there were rituals and secret knocks and creeds and things we had to memorize — and even a small degree of hazing for the pledges. And after the first month as a new member, I quietly left a meeting, went back to my dorm and typed up my resignation letter. The fraternity life — even as informal and respectful as this particular fraternity’s was — just wasn’t for me. The entire concept of frat life seemed so ridiculous — that I was paying dues to hang out with people who were determined to be my friends, some of whom you couldn’t actually pay me to be friends with. And then there was the singing. Oh, the constant singing.
Playwright Evan Linder has based Frat on his fraternity life experiences at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. This atmospheric, promenade-staging, which is a commercial remount of of the New Colony’s 2009 production, offers a high degree of authenticity. It’s fast and frenetic and, at times, shockingly funny as we observe the inner workings of this ridiculous campus subculture, the fictitious “Theta Pi Psi” fraternity, from the our now jaded adult perspectives.
But what it lacks is a clear sense of focus. The scenes, which take you to various areas of The Apartment Lounge as we observe the frat from the outside perspective of the eager pledges as well as the dark inner workings (such as the uncomfortably callous way pledges are voted into the brotherhood), are clever, cutting and quick-witted, but the thing takes a long time to get to the point.
It wasn’t until two-thirds into this 90-minute show where it shifted from merely highlighting the ironies and dangers of a frat’s hierarchically driven society to developing some sort of internal conflict we could latch onto. And by that point, it was too late and I didn’t really care. But, still, the show is a good time, if a tad obnoxious (be prepared for lots of yelling of the word “faggot”). The cast, consisting mostly of New Colony members, seems to be having a great time (however, when not in a scene, they might want to consider not texting on their phones). Perhaps offering free beer to audience members in red plastic cups would help things?
“Frat” plays through October 22 at The Apartment Lounge in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. More info here >