`True + False' blurs distinction

By Nina Metz
Special to the Tribune

January 26, 2007

In the theater, all lies are true, and all truths are lies.

For the literal-minded playgoer, the premise behind Big Picture Group's "True + False" (at the Viaduct) might seem pointless. A cast of six performs two monologues apiece--one based on reality, the other fiction--and then asks, can you tell which is which?

More importantly, does it matter? I would argue "no." And yet artistic director Roger Bechtel and his ensemble of actor-writers have come up with something entertaining enough to transcend its rickety proposition.

Autobiographical in nature, the monologues span the gamut. Each is accompanied by video installations and live feed cameras that send images to 16 TV monitors clustered on stage, and the company's multimedia focus is a nice complement to the fractured material.

From Allan Aquino-Quiaoit, we get a back story on his Filipino surname ("500 years of rebellion" are summed up in that name, which may or may not be based on the sounds of warring birds).

Jeremy Schaefer playfully details the self-perpetuated myths on his MySpace page: "It's all a lie, but it's my lie." (He describes the networking site as a convenient way to eliminate "the middle man out of socializing," then adds dryly, "I am the middle man.")

The strongest work comes from the women. Erin Liston spins divergent tales of childhood trauma that are both quite good: one about the murder of a teenage girl; the other about the day she learned the truth about Santa--an exceptionally funny piece staged wittily with freeze-frame images of Liston's look of shock and horror.

Who knows if Stacie Beth Green truly has a genius younger brother who is currently serving his second tour of duty in Iraq? She delivers the monologue with authority and an emotional truth that renders the question moot.

She also performs a droll re-enactment of the worst phone call ever to a bank's customer service line: "Little did I know speaking to a person could be more frustrating than waiting to speak to a person."

The audience is asked to vote true or false at the end of each monologue (these portions feel too classroom-ish and kill the momentum), and the vote is more gimmick than anything else. We're never told which stories are fiction--we're never let in on the game.

But good stories are good stories, regardless of veritas. Maybe that is the bottom line Bechtel was exploring all along.

Through Sunday at the Viaduct Theater, 3111 N. Western Ave. Tickets are $10-$15 at 773-539-7335.