One-Act Wonder: Catch the end of “Paint & Ink” at the EP Theater

Amid a row of unlit houses standing on an alley sandwiched between 18th and 19th Streets on South Halsted Street, one house with bright, shining Christmas lights adorning the back gate stood out, begging passersby to take a look inside. Up the back porch and through a red door is EP Theater, an independently run theater company founded by Jason Ewers and Garrett Prejean. Twenty minutes before the show was slated to begin, Ewers mixed cocktail drinks for the older audience members and happily chatted with some of them. Ewers handed out “anti-program” programs and told everyone to “feel at home.” Imagine yourself at a holiday party with a handful of your closest friends, socializing–this is exactly the atmosphere that the EP Theater radiates. The theater is an intimate, cozy venue, so much so that it is almost hard to believe that a building of this size houses an actual theater. The room has seating for about forty, give or take a few chairs. There is no “elevated” stage–instead, actors perform in a blackbox theater in which the walls are fittingly painted black. And the actors are close enough to the audience that a few times during the show, one crowd member thought he was going to touch her.

The EP Theater Company has been up and running since 2004, promoting the work of local Chicago playwrights. Its latest show is the “Paint & Ink One Act Festival.” This five-week festival that began the weekend of September 22 attempts to bridge the gap between visual art and performance art by having a group of Chicago playwrights interpret works of visual art. The art–”Derailed” by Sydia Reyes, “The Apology” by Scott Ashley, “A Delicate Balance” by Diana Solfis, and “Bird Inside” by Robert Burridge–is a mix of paintings on canvases and standing “sculptures.” Each artwork provided inspiration for plays from all over the dramatic spectrum. As people walked back and forth in front of the artworks, strategically placed around the back room of the theater, it was clear that no one knew what stories would unfold in the theater. The one act plays ranged from a lighthearted story about an engaged couple getting their portrait painted and almost breaking up, (“The Bird Inside,” written by Shawn Pfautsch, who also founded the House Theatre of Chicago) to a bizarre, mind-boggling one-act that involved the voices inside the head of a maniacal craftsman and a man in a brilliantly designed silver robot-like costume (“Raw Material,” written by Aaron Carter). In addition, Clint Sheffer’s “Heft” taught the audience a valuable lesson about never starting deadly bar fights in the South Loop, and Isaac Holter’s “Jungle” told a story about desperation and the twisted relationship between a high school student and her guidance counselor. Each of these plays required no more than three actors–one actress in “Raw Material” played three different female characters–truly showcasing the actors’ and actresses’ compelling efforts and interesting interpretations of the dramatic works. Although the one act plays were imaginative, it was difficult to focus at times because the audience could hear the traffic from outside. The noise was a little distracting since it reminded everyone that this was a theater in someone’s home, but the sounds of the outside world died down as the night progressed and the intensity of the plays drowned out any other distractions of the evening.

EP Theater, 1820 S Halsted St. Through October 21. Friday-Saturday, 8pm; Sunday, 7pm. (312)-850-4299. www.eptheater.com