Kelsey is a Chicago based producer, actor, writer, critic, and mixologist. An alum of Black Box Acting’s ACADEMY Program, Kelsey curates “The Newness,” a monthly salon of new work. They also work closely with Trans Voices Cabaret Chicago as well as Chicago Theatre Access Auditions. Follow them on Insta! @playsandpours, @kelseylooks
Pictured (l-r): Gabrielle Gulledge, Reginald Robinson, and Rusty Schwimmer. Photo by Bill Richert.
By Kelsey McGrath
When I was initially offered the opportunity to review The Agency Theater Collective’s HELLCAB, I agreed under the (false) expectation that I’d be sitting through some B-List horror film-like play where the cab comes alive and eats everyone. *Cue fire and brimstone* But that’s a different Hellcab. This one begins with a an older woman scurrying outside to brush off and heat up her cab. She thaws out her cupped hands with a few exhales of hot breath. Her thermos is in the passenger seat. A chalk map of Chicago is drawn on the floor and a single lamppost is lit upstage left. It’s days before Christmas. The cab driver begins her day.
I have to preface this review: my day job is driving for Uber. So, this was too familiar a scene (although I couldn’t imagine driving around the city without a GPS). The story of HELLCAB is simple; the audience remains with the cab driver while her back seats are transient. We’re offered snippets of riders’ lives and stories as they drift in and out of her cab. We see her response. In this production, Rusty Schwimmer does a heart-achingly beautiful job of anchoring her surroundings and experience. Her reactions are genuine and she is moved by the people she meets, if only for a ride. The characters that float in and out of her cab run the gamut of experience and unearth varying levels of personal information. The actors inhabiting these roles deserve similar accolades; an overwhelming honesty was present throughout the cast that made these characters real.
This show makes me think of those folks that we meet that exist on our periphery and our exchanges with them. Why not reveal a secret to a stranger if they’re willing to listen? It echoes the transience of human relationships and calls to attention the complexity of experience each individual holds within them. This show also highlights the necessary compassion and generosity we need to exist today. Not just during the holidays, but every day.
This is one of the first shows I’ve reviewed where I didn’t write down notes; I was too enraptured. From the set, to the directing, to the acting, there exists a profound simplicity and surrender to the storytelling. The Agency Theatre Collective’s HELLCAB gives itself over to a fundamental purpose of art: connecting to others through shared humanity.
HELLCAB runs through December 17th. For more information visit wearetheagency.org.