The Santaland Diaries at Theater Wit
By Zach Freeman
As any denizen of the theater who’s been in this town for any amount of time knows, Chicago DOES theater. With more than 250 active theater companies and a constantly growing number of venues, if you can’t find a good show to attend on any given night, you’re just doing it wrong. And this holiday season Chicago is really throwing down the gauntlet of performance options with more than forty (yes, you read that right) holiday shows. And yes, almost all of them are Christmas-related. In fact, there are almost a dozen versions of “A Christmas Carol” alone.
But Chicago is a diverse city and our theater companies reflect that. We’re not talking about several dozen versions of the same old stuff, we’re talking about more than forty completely different takes on the holiday season. It’s a lot for any one person to take in, so we thought we’d help you determine which show (or shows) you should be seeing over the next month or so to get yourself into the appropriate holiday mood (whatever that means for you).
We can’t list them all, but here are twenty to get you started. Here we go… Read the rest of this entry »
Noah Ginex and Jameson (host of Snorf!)/Photo: Greg Inda
By Zach Freeman
Noah Ginex loves puppets. To paraphrase the great poet Fifty Cent, he loves them like a fat kid loves cake. So it makes sense that for almost twenty years now, Ginex has been all about puppeteering, creating puppets on commission and working with the Jeff Award-nominated puppet company that bears his name (The Noah Ginex Puppet Company) to bring live puppet shows to Chicago.
And though Ginex, who has studied with The Jim Henson Company and coordinated the puppets for the Barenaked Ladies video “Pollywog in a Bog,” loves all kinds of puppet shows, earnest, heartfelt puppet characters are where his heart lies. And his latest creation, a monthly variety show called “Snorf!” that plays in the afternoon at The Playground Theater every fourth Saturday of the month (with dates adjusted in November and December for the holidays), features just those kinds of puppets.
“I wanted to create an actual kid’s show that was smart and sincere and completely genuine,” says Ginex. Sporting an (intentionally) nonsensical acronym (SNORF stands for the Saturday afterNoon mOnster and piggie comedy-vaRiety show! (the F is silent)), it seems like that’s what this latest show is doing. I sat down with Ginex and “Snorf!” director Erica Reid (who is also a producer and writer on “Snorf!”) to talk about their monthly show. Read the rest of this entry »
(l to r) Alex Goodrich, Dara Cameron, Renee Matthews, Tim Kazurinsky/Photo: Dan Rest
Talk about high-concept. If you can’t gather what this show is about based on the title… what kind of a dumb schmuck are you? Based on the popular website OldJewsTellingJokes.com (guess what’s on the website), the original production of “Old Jews Telling Jokes” just closed in the middle of last month after running for almost a year and a half Off-Broadway before opening in Chicago at the Royal George Theatre with plans to run through mid-February of next year. And this goyim loves it.
Though the concept and presentation are blatantly Jewish (even the program looks like a deli menu while the logo is a monstrous pastrami sandwich with a gherkin perched on top of it) the main conceit here is just to throw out as many jokes as possible (along with a few song-and-dance numbers and some brief monologues) and keep the laughs coming. Stripped down, this show really isn’t much more than a long series of jokes: puns, one-liners, anecdotes and stories. Read the rest of this entry »
Brianna Baker and Shad Kunkle/Photo by Samual Roberson
As a sketch toward the end of this gentle send-up of Chicago makes clear (with a self-referential punchline), Second City has been making audiences laugh (and casting directors take note) since 1959. And “What the Tour Guide Didn’t Tell You” is not so much a standalone revue as it is a “best-of” collection of sketches about Chicago from the last five decades or so of revues—which means they have a lot of material to choose from.
References are made to both the current and previous mayors (the former gets some quick sketches while the latter gets an entire song), potholes on Lake Shore Drive, Wrigleyville, da Bears and da Bean, among other Chicago notables. Still, the focus is always more on comedy than Chicago and even non-Chicagoans should have no trouble following along with the cracks and one-liners. They might even learn a thing or two about Chicago that the tour guide may, in fact, have neglected to mention; the out-of-towners I went with asked me afterward, “So, Lincoln Park is a snooty neighborhood?” Point made, Second City. Read the rest of this entry »
By, Joshua C. Robinson
Switch Committee—David Schwartzbaum, Ryan Nallen, Alan Linic, Dave Karasik and Collin Dahlgren, best friends and iO Chicago graduates—perform their own version of the venerated improv form, the living room, by starting with an honest conversation that organically evolves into a scene, leading audience members to call them a Cook County Social Club. Switch Committee recently secured a Thursday night show at iO with an open run, and have been performing with their friends Lethal Action Force Saturdays at midnight. After they opened for L.A.F., Newcity caught up with the boys of Switch Committee for a late-night interview.
Watching you guys it’s evident that you have incredible group mind, could you speak to that?
Ryan: I think it’s because we’re all friends, we’re all best friends. We’re around each other all the time.
Dave Karasik: A lot of what you see on stage is exactly us, just hanging out. It feels like it’s just a fun conversation in a living room, just messing around.
Collin: We’ve had times where there are five-person piles, and there’s no show, it’s just us having fun. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Todd Rosenberg
There is a sketch early on in the second act of “A Clown Car Named Desire” that starts out seeming like your standard hipster-mocking (and let’s be honest, who doesn’t enjoy a good hipster-mocking?), but then it ever-so-slowly and subtly morphs into what has to be one of the funniest sketches the e.t.c. stage has hosted in its illustrious history (“Clown Car” marks the stage’s thirty-seventh revue).
It takes place in an American Apparel, where two employees (Mike Kosinski and Brooke Breit) indifferently greet a customer (Chris Witaske) only to discover that he also works at American Apparel. The trio then begin an epic marathon of idle one-upmanship and “top that,” while languidly pacing the stage, attempting to look unimpressed with each other and using as little energy as possible to speak (Breit declares her hate for a four-legged adversary in one breath: “ifuckenhatethatgoat”). At one point Witaske, sporting a fanny pack and colorful tights, declares “I’m exactly where I want to be for a thirty-five-year old man.” And we believe it. Both for Witaske and for his character. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Todd Rosenberg
The pre-show music for Lyric Opera shows don’t typically include selections from Deltron 3030. And you can’t usually order mixed drinks with clever names like The Boozy Baritone or The Icy Maestro from the comfort of your seat (on the stage). And, most notably, it’s certainly not common practice for an usher to say, “Welcome to Second City” as you walk down the aisles of the expansive Civic Opera House to find your seat.
That’s because this isn’t a Lyric Opera show. Not exactly. It’s “The Second City Guide to the Opera,” a month-long run of an opera-themed Second City revue based on the sold-out one-night show of the same name that played the Civic Opera House in January, announcing the unlikely pairing of two very different Chicago stalwarts: the Lyric Opera of Chicago and Second City. And though this reincarnation doesn’t feature special celebrity guest artists Patrick Stewart and Renée Fleming, it’s still a unique experience. Read the rest of this entry »
By Johnny Oleksinski
Photo: Todd Rosenberg
Right away I knew something was up at the Civic Opera House on January 5. The lights dimmed and the familiar, soothing British brogue of Lyric Opera principal conductor Sir Andrew Davis boomed its usual, prerecorded message prohibiting the use of cellphones in the Ardis Krainik Theatre. So far, so good. Then Davis announced that a vehicle with the license plate “FLEMING DIVA 1″ was blocking Wacker Drive. Wait, what? Moments later, the sprightly omnipresent voice informed us that a wealthy patron’s mink coat checked in the lobby was still alive. Huh? No, this was not opening night of “La bohème” or “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” or even the closing of “Don Pasquale”; this was “The Second City Guide to the Opera,” another exciting product of the fledgling Lyric Unlimited program. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Clayton Hauck
Second City’s Dalmatian-free one hundred first revue, “Let Them Eat Chaos,” hits the hyperactivity of its titular chaos squarely on the head, but, for all its unneeded projections, “Band of Brothers”-style trench scenes and deviations into the creation of the Panama Canal, the show misses the underlying joy of frenzy. Easily among the most distinctive and likable casts of the past several Mainstage revues, their efforts are appealing but ultimately only somewhat funny. Read the rest of this entry »
By Jenny Yoon
It’s a breezy, idyllic summer night in Roscoe Village. The sleepy, family-oriented neighborhood that houses pretty moms in yoga pants has fallen silent by 8pm on a Monday. It’s hard to imagine walking into an establishment in this neighborhood that doesn’t have a kid’s menu. Just north of the Paulina Brown Line station, however, exists a strip mall, barren except for a lone storefront: The Pleasure Chest. Its floor-to-ceiling glass windows aren’t modest, and they expose red-drenched walls displaying dildos and vibrators to anyone who passes by. My companions and I tiptoe to the back of the shop, late and bashful, feelings that turn into mortification at the realization that the last open seats are in the front row. Read the rest of this entry »