Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: Second City’s Improv All-Stars/The Second City

Comedy, Improv/Sketch Reviews, Improv/Sketch/Revues, Recommended Comedy Shows No Comments »
(left to right) Adam Peacock, Ryan Archibald, Brooke Breit, Kevin Sciretta Second City Improv All-Stars . © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2015

Adam Peacock, Ryan Archibald, Brooke Breit, Kevin Sciretta/Photo: Todd Rosenberg

RECOMMENDED

Still going strong after more than three years, this sixty-minute showcase of Second City’s improvisational skill, with an on-stage cast of five that rotates through almost twenty listed cast members, manages a healthy mix of audience-pleasing quick laughs and more in-depth improvisational games. Director Mick Napier has allowed for plenty of audience suggestions (who laughs more than the person whose suggestion was taken?) with quick, clearly explained improv games while still letting his performers take a few scenes to expand on lengthier scenes with more character development.

On the Monday night I attended, the UP Comedy Club was nearly full and nearly every game, from the stalwart “freeze” to more elaborate games involving telling a story from multiple character perspectives and styles, landed. But the darker moments stood out—“Reunions are about going to be with the people who are supposed to make you happy but they don’t.”/”I thought that’s what Facebook was?”—demonstrating that this cast knows what’s funny is not always happy. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Ithamar Has Nothing to Say/Second City

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Ithamar Second City_00027

Ithamar Enriquez

RECOMMENDED

While watching Second City alum Ithamar Enriquez, I couldn’t help but think of “Geri’s Game,” the Pixar short film wherein an elderly man plays an increasingly erratic and high-stakes game of chess against a vicious opponent that turns out to be none other than himself. “Ithamar Has Nothing to Say” is not just a solo performance. It’s also a silent one. Billed as a modern update of the silent masters, Enriquez has sculpted, along with director Frank Caeti, an ode to vaudeville that also celebrates the “Yes And” brand of comedy touted by Enriquez’s alma mater.

Anyone accustomed to sketch or standup may take a little while to adjust to “Ithamar Has Nothing to Say.” The show’s first ten minutes demonstrate Enriquez’s physical dexterity, as he hops all over the stage, seemingly against his will. Transitions between sketches can sometimes be abrupt, though Enriquez keeps the energy going through each. The show uses a good deal of music across a broad genre spectrum, whether it be for the purposes of clever sendup—a The Who-themed spot is particularly hysterical—or to cue the audience into a cultural reference a la Enriquez’s string of handsy movie parodies. Read the rest of this entry »

Funny Future: Looking For the Next Kevin Hart at the Break Out Comedy Festival

Comedy, Festivals, Improv/Sketch Reviews, Improv/Sketch/Revues, Recommended Comedy Shows, Stand-Up No Comments »
Dominizuelan

Dominizuelan

By Loy Webb

When I was younger, my two sisters and I shared a room. One of our many Saturday rituals was flipping through magazines to find pictures to decorate our walls. Most of the pictures consisted of our favorite members of an R&B boy band called B2K (pretty hot in the early 2000s).

But my younger sister, I kid you not, cut out a picture of Kevin Hart and put it on the wall. She was in elementary school at the time mind you, and nobody knew who he was. He hadn’t had a major movie, a comedy special, let alone the title he has today as one of the world’s top comedians.

And if you walk into our house today, on that wall, between the old pictures of Kanye West, Destiny’s Child, Usher and Jamie Foxx, is a picture of a young Kevin Hart with a blurb on the side that reads “up and coming comedian/actor.”

I remember asking my sister why she put that picture up. She shrugged and said she thought he was cute. But maybe, just maybe, she saw his star potential. I know that’s pretty deep for an elementary school kid, but hey, a child shall lead them right?

Watching the two-day “Break Out Comedy Festival” presented by NBC Universal and Second City this weekend, I felt like my younger sister. I was not just bearing witness to the next generation of comedic talent, but the next generation of comedic stars with futures filled with blinding brightness. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Antic’s Roadshow with Devon Myers/MCL Chicago

Comedy, Improv/Sketch Reviews, Musicals, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
Steven Lyons/Photo: Tiela Halpin Photography

Steven Lyons/Photo: Tiela Halpin Photography

Chicago, as you may be aware, is the center of the universe when it comes to improvised sketch comedy. Stages are filled nightly by young comedians who are trying really hard to break into the upper echelons of the comedy field. Sadly, for the cast of “Antic’s Roadshow with Devon Myers,” trying really hard isn’t enough to make a performance worth watching.

The premise of the partly scripted performance is that an aging D-list celebrity, Devon Myers (Steven Lyons), has been tapped to host a PBS-like program conceived by Preston Antic (Scott Allen Curry). The program resembles what “Antiques Roadshow” would be like were it held on the Island of Misfit Toys. The show’s focus is primarily on the appraisers, rather than the items brought in by the studio audience. Each performer introduces themselves in a pre-written song which details exactly how messed up they are. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Soul Brother, Where Art Thou?/Second City e.t.c.

Comedy, Improv/Sketch Reviews, Improv/Sketch/Revues, Recommended Comedy Shows 1 Comment »
(l to r) Lisa Beasley, Tim Ryder, Carisa Barreca, Rashawn Nadine Scott, Eddie Mujica and Scott Morehead/Photo: Todd Rosenberg

Lisa Beasley, Tim Ryder, Carisa Barreca, Rashawn Nadine Scott, Eddie Mujica and Scott Morehead/Photo: Todd Rosenberg

RECOMMENDED

Satire works best when it has enough of a bite that even those laughing can feel the teeth marks. Too gentle and the jokes just feel safe and congratulatory for those in agreement, but too much and it’s hard to keep laughing. This narrow playing space is what keeps a lot of sketch stuck in the relative safety of an inoffensive nonsense land (where, to be fair, some of the funniest concepts and characters live and flourish—not everything needs to have a point). Still, Chicago audiences are lucky that the cast members of “Soul Brother, Where Art Thou?”—a slow build of a revue that starts out a bit flat and rises to some impressive peaks—know exactly when and how to push things for the sake of comedy serving as a message delivery system.

To be clear, “Soul Brother” nails some easy targets (and nails them well): the NFL’s record (or lack thereof) of supporting their players, Scientology, the George Lucas museum. But it also delves into much headier territory with equally funny aplomb: remembering 9/11, the dark underbelly of the sex trade, words white people can say that black people can’t, laws based on religious beliefs. And, surprisingly, there’s even a wordless sketch that hits many of the same emotional high-points as the legendary intro to “Up,” delivering more of a gut-punch than a punchline. Across the board, this is very smart, intentional writing. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: AWK Presents… The Yuk Yuk Hour/The Annoyance Theatre

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AWKPosterFinal(RGBforPosting)Some people, when moved to frenetic laughter, are prone to requiring so much air to replace the air lost due to their audible guffaws that they suck in through their noses, creating a snorting sound that usually does little to stifle their laughter and is often a source of enjoyment to all who surround. Everyone has experienced this. Some lady behind me was snorting during this show, and I laughed, because she was having a great time. It was funny to hear her snort. Unfortunately, this woman’s snorting might have been the high mark of laughter throughout the show.

“AWK Presents… The Yuk Yuk Hour” is a collection of sketches that range in value from intriguing concepts with loads of potential to semi-disastrous recycled drivel. Sometimes, shows are just flat-out terrible and you walk away feeling fine because, hey, you can’t win ‘em all. This show was somehow more frustrating because the concepts had some legs, at times long, toned legs with supple quads and sculpted calves. You root for the sketch to pan out because the concepts are worthy of great writing and acting. The letdown is then perhaps greater when, out of maybe twenty sketches, only three end up providing genuine laughter. Back into your corduroy jeans, svelte gams. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Slamazons!/The Annoyance Theatre

Comedy, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »

Slamazons

By no coincidence whatsoever, my saddest, oldest, drunkest (SOD) friend is a big fan of pro wrestling, so a trip to the Annoyance to see some ladies go at it seemed like just the ticket. Directed by Jillian Mueller, “Slamazons!” tells the tale of a women’s wrestling league, complete with a real wrestling ring in the middle of the theater. Most of the action takes place in the ring, including wrestling matches, tryouts and all the drama innate to the world of wrestling. The protagonist is Major-ette, a not-quite ex-marine who has turned to the world of wrestling because she couldn’t ejaculate into a cup, the final step of boot camp. It seems ridiculous—you would think that they kicked her out just because of the patriarchally dominated military industrial complex’s archaic means of weeding out women—but I have it on good word from former marines that yes, the last step of boot camp is spurting one off into a cup. No janks, no tanks. Read the rest of this entry »

An Invitation to Drama and Drinks: Sixty Years Ago, Chicago’s Compass Reinvented Comedy

Comedy, Profiles 1 Comment »
 David Shepherd, Barbara Harris and Andrew Duncan, Circa 1955

David Shepherd, Barbara Harris and Andrew Duncan, circa 1955

By Hugh Iglarsh

Two great experiments mark the mid-century history of the University of Chicago. The one everybody knows about was the first sustained nuclear reaction, which occurred in a crude little ziggurat of graphite and uranium under Stagg Field and produced, among other things, the apocalyptic paranoia of the Cold War. The second, which occurred sixty years ago this July in a tavern (long since razed) on East 55th Street, was David Shepherd’s and Paul Sills’ Compass, the first modern improvisational theater. This path-breaking cabaret act was, among other things, an attack on the Cold War cultural atmosphere, attempting to break through the paralyzing conformity via a new-old art form that was spontaneous, playful, self-reflexive, participatory … and very, very funny, to boot.

Pregnant with its own contradictions, the Chicago Compass experienced only middling commercial success and lasted but eighteen months, despite developing and launching an array of talent that included Elaine May, Mike Nichols, Shelley Berman, Severn Darden and Barbara Harris. It is now best known as the precursor of Second City, which offers a commercialized brand of the original Compass vision.

But what Second City popularized, the Compass actually invented. And now the story of that period of intense creative ferment is told in Mark Siska’s recently released documentary, “Compass Cabaret 55.” Created in the Compass spirit of low budgets and DIY ingenuity, Siska’s film is a fascinating backward look at what might almost be described as an alternative cultural history, one focused not on stars, spectacles and marketing, but rather intellect, community and imagination.  Read the rest of this entry »

Review: DRINK! The Sketch Comedy Drinking Game—Chicago Edition/Corn Productions

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Drink! 3

At the beginning of “DRINK! The Sketch Comedy Drinking Game—Chicago Edition,” the performers set a couple of stringent ground rules: you must drink, no puking (complete with directional info on where you can puke) and don’t be an asshole. These set the tone for a show that is as serious as the disclaimers. Corn Productions isn’t trying to go over your head with much in this show. They may, however, try to go through your liver and into your blood stream (biological process not fact-checked) with an impressive number of scenes that call for a drink per mention of a specific phrase or sound. Full participation in the games could potentially lead to a broken rule, but at no point does the cast allude to disapproval of more boozing. So, follow the rules, or at least puke in one of the designated toilets.

The show starts with an opening song and dance that I can’t remember because, well, I played the fucking game. The first actual sketch is some of the cast’s strongest material with impressions of Jason Sudeikis, Kathy Griffin and Mike Ditka—all of whom are trying to make it onto David Hasselhoff’s “Baywatch—Chicago!” Kallie Rolison’s Kathy Griffin is as on-point as Nifer Honeycutt’s Ditka is utterly ridiculous. No judgement; Ditka pops up a couple times throughout the show, gorging a hot dog drawn from his shorts and expertly hawking his special Ditka wine (“Wine is like a beer made out of grapes”). Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Comedy Against Humanity/Under The Gun Theater

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Greg Callozzo, Sam Howard and Mollie Rehner/Photo: Kevin Mullaney

Greg Callozzo, Sam Howard and Mollie Rehner/Photo: Kevin Mullaney

The show’s setup is simple: the Card Czar (director Angie McMahon, also acting as emcee) reads a Cards Against Humanity prompt and if an audience member—all given three response cards upon entering the theater—thinks one of their cards is the best answer to that prompt they hold up their hand and are brought up on stage to read the card to the audience. There are two teams and each team gives a series of scenes based on either (or both) cards. Whichever team gets the most points wins. Fun stuff, right?

The “Comedy Against Humanity” website clearly states that “Audience members who show up drunk or otherwise intoxicated will be refused entry and their tickets will not be refunded.” A valid restriction for a rowdy improv show in Wrigleyville. Who wants belligerent audience members ruining a show? But Friday night the biggest interrupting force was one of the performers. She consistently talked over the emcee, yelled at the audience and even called a “time-out” mid-scene to awkwardly threaten another cast member for a perceived slight. Properly managed, this kind of acting out could potentially enhance the comedy, especially for a show like this, but here it just felt unnecessarily aggressive, with McMahon frequently shouting down spats so the show could move on. Read the rest of this entry »

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