Big-box bluesKerry Reidon June 24, 2022 at 2:57 pm

On the wall of the big-box retail warehouse that forms the setting for Eboni Booth’s Paris, now in a midwest premiere at Steep Theatre under Jonathan Berry’s direction, there’s a sign reading: NOBODY CARES. WORK HARDER. It’s a stark enunciation of the realities of late-stage capitalism and consumerism.

Paris
Through 7/23: Thu-Sat 7:30 PM, Sun 3 PM; audio description and touch tour Sun 6/26, open captioning Sun 7/3; Steep Theatre, 1044 W. Berwyn, 773-649-3186, steeptheatre.com, free, but reservations required

The title refers not to the City of Lights, but to the sad little Vermont burg where Emmie (Amber Sallis) has returned in 1995 after a year of college in Washington, D.C. Though she grew up in Paris, nobody seems to believe her—which seems to be a racial microaggression (Emmie is Black). The Emmie we first meet seems pretty introverted (for reasons we come to understand). Manager Gar (Terence Sims), who is also Black, isn’t surprised that she couldn’t get hired to work the register at another store in town. He gives her a chance (and a choice of name tags between “Emmie” and her actual full name, “Emmani”), but there’s not much to celebrate this season. Not even for Gar, who has found his own enterprising way to supplement his wages.

Emmie’s coworkers, including alcoholic middle-aged former nurse Wendy (Lynda Shadrake), who’s married to the town traffic cop, Dev (Alex Gillmor); bitter single mother of four Maxine (Michaela Petro, in fine tear-your-head-off-if-you-look-at-her-wrong mode); and wannabe rapper kid Logan (Alex Levy) bounce off each other like rats in a cage. Sometimes they’re kind, sometimes they’re cruel. But mostly, just exhausted and beaten down by the grind, they share illicit shots of booze on the clock and gossip to pass the time. (Eleanor Kahn’s set makes a virtue of the still-raw Steep space.) The appearance of the fearsome Carlisle (Josh Odor), with whom Gar has made his extracurricular arrangements, adds an element of danger that’s left dangling at the end of the play. But what comes across clearly in this work—the first live production from Steep since 2020, and the first in their new space on Berwyn—is that Booth is a fierce and funny writer to watch.

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