Colburn’s fascination with small-town midwestern life reminds me of another Writers’ favorite, Brett Neveu. Stuart Carden, associate artistic director at Writers’, says Colburn’s ‘writing has the ability to be both innocent and explore ideas of innocence with a kind of nostalgia for small-town America. But there’s also a tinge of perversity and disillusionment and cruelty.’
This year, rather than waiting for a big institution to give him its stamp of approval, Colburn is embracing the small — resulting in six full productions in 2010 by three storefront theaters, including the entire three-show season of the five-year-old Right Brain Project.
…what we’ve seen so far from the prolific young writer (six plays produced by three companies in 2010 alone) shows such an aversion to cliché that we’re eager to see what shape Ghostbox, a Halloween spooker, and Halfshut, a meditation on ‘the anticlimax that is your twenties,’ end up taking.
…an intellectual, probing writer whose plays often explore questions of faith.
—Centerstage’s Don’t Give That Beast a Name review
Colburn clearly possesses a sensibility that fits right into the American grain, following in the paths of both Tennessee Williams and William Inge in his exploration of sex, love and repression, while bringing his own distinctive perspective to the conundrum.
Few playwrights are as willing to weave issues of faith and religion into their work as Colburn, and I like the way he treats it not as a singular subject matter but something that informs the way we view ourselves and the world around us.
…there’s no doubt that Colburn can weave a strange tale.
—Performink’s Hesperia review
About Randall’s Plays
Don’t Give That Beast a Name
(Co-written with Bob Fisher)
[Colburn]has the starker sensibility of the two, but his more earnest voice and co-author/director Fisher’s pulp-noir-horror tastes actually work together better than might be expected…a lot of satisfying theatrical meat on this rough beast’s bones.
…an Appalachian Gothic twofer from a pair of Chicago’s freshest, strangest playwrights.
Colburn and Fisher’s script lovingly creates real people who are warm, human, and, while frail and sometimes humorous, never a mockery.
…deliver[s] the weird and wonderful…imaginative characters and situations.
…a lovely, sad examination of two kinds of Christianity…one of the best things I’ve seen this year…smart, layered, complex, honest.
The Improv Play
Colburn doesn’t gloat or mope over their thwarted ambitions. Instead, he paints a funny, poignant group portrait of people beginning to realize that their dreams won’t come true.
Colburn has pinpointed a struggle that will connect with any young artist…Both improvised and scripted, Colburn’s exhilarating play doesn’t sacrifice emotion for energy.
A darker, more insular picture of the Chicago comedy scene than we’re accustomed to seeing […] Plenty of laugh-out-loud Chicago references balance the critical narrative, and the production includes scripted and unscripted scenes, with some stand-up thrown in the mix. For a cryptic look inside local comedy factions, Improv is original and perceptive.
…the play tends to tantalize by introducing intriguing threads that then drop out of the narrative. But that’s true of actual improv as well, and even the skeletal sketches that Colburn provides for the minor characters allow for moments of honesty and wit.
…a realistic portrayal to the plight of a Chicago actor. Sometimes, it can be funny. Sometimes, it can be dramatic. It’s rewarding. It’s demeaning. It pays nothing. It’s the price of happiness. For actors, The Improv Play is a virtual boot camp to toughen you up for the long haul. For the audience, it’s a reminder of what each of these sixteen people gave up to entertain you for a couple of hours.
…alternately smoldering and God-fearing…
Colburn is careful not to take sides, allowing the collision between his worldly and naive characters to unfold with a blend of wistfulness and hard truth.
—Chicago Reader (2012)
…playwright Randall Colburn [offers] an intimate, insightful, achingly sad portrait of two people desperate to regain their innocence.
—Chicago Reader (2010)
Colburn’s nuanced, nonjudgmental view of sex and Christianity remains as refreshing as it was 18 months ago, but his interim revisions and Stuart Carden’s ideally cast production have deepened the admirable, multifaceted uncertainties in his script.
—Time Out Chicago (2012)
…the nuance and lack of judgment he brings to subjects such as born-again Christianity and his deft way with dialogue are impressive.
—Time Out Chicago (2010)
…has the marks of a writer gifted in dialogue and able to see intense depths in characters all too often played as stereotypes.
Playwright Randall Colburn penned a ‘Touched By An Angel” charmer with underlying real humanity.
Colburn’s nonjudgmental approach is extremely refreshing.
‘Hesperia’ ultimately defies expectations, as well as the opening night audience’s cynicism about small-town simpletons or its sniggering about carnal shenanigans among the rubes.
—Chicago Stage Style
Colburn’s is a mature drama asking serious questions, refusing to take sides or traffic in easy answers.
Colburn manages to take this potentially sordid tale (which could go either the Judd Apatow Comedy of Awkward or the Maudlin Moralizing of a Lifetime Movie) and avoids both the easy comedy and the easy answers.
Colburn has a razor-sharp eye for the details of human behavior, and it’s a joy to see moment after moment that’s funny, moving, and painfully recognizable.
Randall Colburn [offers] up some interesting musings on what happens to those who buy into the American Dream and the underbelly of that dream.
Verse Chorus Verse
The show […] has a heart clearly in rock: the business, the musicians’ way of life. But the story probes dark corners […] Mr. Colburn’s spot-on references — to Pearl Jam but also to Alice in Chains, Bad Brains, the Melvins — lend wattage to the compellingly serrated fuzz tone.
[T]his masterful and timely work asks what happens when Generation X, the group most identified with dangerous and rebellious youth culture, gets older. […] Colburn lays out his plot with skill, and creates multi-layered characters.
If you’re worried that this gets into same territory as Nick Broomfield’s sensationalist 1998 documentary, “Kurt and Courtney,” fear not. As the story unfolds it’s clear that Colburn’s real fascination isn’t with rock martyr Cobain, but with how we re-enact traumas as a way of dealing with them. […] [I]t’s an honest and affecting attempt to wrestle with our need to find personal salvation through public idols.
[A] smart, creepy, affecting script.
[B]oth the work and production show sophistication, even with its characters’ simplistic pre-occupation with fame.
Tympanic’s production of Randall Colburn’s play “Verse Chorus Verse” exemplifies the same spirit [as Nirvana’s work].
Colburn, a young playwright who is garnering local attention, says he uses the idea of the ‘ghostbox,’ or a modified transistor radio said to pick up supernatural voices, as a way of exploring ‘the distance between two people, not to mention the distance between man and God.’
Colburn has created an onomatopoeia of vision and sound that projects a stark and frozen hell.
[Colburn] limns the work with hair-raising slivers of dialogue, sentences that initially sound innocuous but when contemplated, have the power to frighten.
It’s more like ‘performance art’ than a ‘play.’ It’s abstract and thought-provoking.
[A] surprising, challenging play, remarkable in part simply for lasting longer and censoring less than you’re certain they will.
The complexities of sex and identity in the modern age are dramatized with some frequency, but rarely with such intelligence, maturity, and fearless willingness to investigate consequences without sensationalizing.