Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: Brahman/i: A One-Hijra Stand-Up Comedy Show/About Face Theatre and Silk Road Rising

Recommended Shows, Stand-Up, Theater, Theater Reviews 1 Comment »
Fawzia Mirza and Damian Conrad/Photo: Michael Brosilow

Fawzia Mirza and Damian Conrad/Photo: Michael Brosilow

RECOMMENDED

This gal’s got some real balls. Is that too blue for you? Sorry, I just couldn’t resist such a nice opening. Oh, she’s got one of those too.

Lest you think I’m being too irreverent, be advised that the protagonist of “Brahman/i: A One-Hijra Stand-Up Comedy Show” is frequently in your face about the uncommonly dual genitalia s/he possesses. Portrayed by actress Fawzia Mirza in a commanding and at times fierce near-solo turn in About Face Theatre/Silk Road Rising’s downtown production, the titular character delights—like any good comedian—in confronting the audience. If you’re squeamish about anatomy or gender designations, be forewarned. And if you’re British, be prepared to bear the brunt of an increasingly fiery assault on your imperial history that surpasses even the abuse heaped upon Brahman/i’s sidekick, a hapless but sympathetic (and sympathizing) bass player who commits no less a sin than daring to sit, uncommitted, partly in the dark and partly in the spotlight reserved for the star.

It’s Brahman/i who really straddles the line between dark and light, and so many other borders as well—at times making a case for understanding and tolerance, and at other times venting with a self-assured righteousness befitting one named after supreme, infinite reality. Also like the Hindu concept of Brahman, our hero in this play escapes gender classification. S/he flirts with such designation—and with some of the audience as well—but don’t expect any easy answers. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Depraved New World/Second City

Comedy, Improv/Sketch Reviews, Improv/Sketch/Revues, Recommended Comedy Shows No Comments »

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John Hartman, Chelsea Devantez, Emily Walker, Tawny Newsome, Steve Waltien/Photo: Todd Rosenberg

John Hartman, Chelsea Devantez, Emily Walker, Tawny Newsome, Steve Waltien/Photo: Todd Rosenberg

Though you can almost always count on Second City revues to deliver plenty of laughs, thematic consistency isn’t quite as reliable. “Depraved New World”—the 102nd revue to grace the main stage—manages both without short-changing either. And that consistent theme isn’t depravity—though there’s enough of that sprinkled throughout to justify the title. It’s a bit deeper than that. Under the direction of Mick Napier, the cast members of “Depraved New World” (who are also the writers) explore the internal struggle we all go through regarding our own insecurities, shortcomings and frustrations.

This concept is introduced in a song that finds various characters being confronted by their inner voices berating them for telling a stupid joke or asking a stupid question or just not making good enough brownies: in short, for being human. “Does everyone feel this way?” wonders one character after receiving an upbraiding by a nagging inner voice. And the unspoken answer is, “Of course.” Not feeling up to snuff is a universal theme that is instantly relatable to all. It also provides plenty of fodder for laughs. Read the rest of this entry »

Geeking Out: Chicago Nerd Comedy Festival Enters its Second Year

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Plan 9 Burlesque

Plan 9 Burlesque

By Raymond Rehayem

Back in the cathode ray days of my pre-HD childhood, when my father bemoaned my obscure taste in comic books (“What are the X-Men? Why can’t you like something popular like Spider-Man, so I can buy you something?!?”) it wasn’t just uncool to have geeky tastes, it was downright inconvenient. Miss an issue of mutant boarding school mayhem and you had better pedal your ten-speed to your only local comic shop (if you were in so fortunate a locale) and pray on the way that there will be a bagged back issue to fill the gaps in your knowledge of Homo Superior developments.

It’s a vastly altered reality in which the Chicago Nerd Comedy Festival (aka Nerdfest) gears up for its second annual undertaking this month at Stage 773. I credit the MP3 for making handheld gadgetry irresistible and CGI for making big screen superheroes passable. Regardless, nowadays there’s nothing mysterious about an old Green Lantern t-shirt. It’s quite the opposite.

“Nerd is kinda norm now,” opines Nerdfest co-creator Katie Johnston-Smith. A self-identified nerd who temporarily abandoned the fold due to middle school mockery, she confesses to a concern that returning to nerd-dom around the time it rose in stature may make her “a poseur.” But Johnston-Smith’s enthusiasm for geek culture proves the authenticity of her allegiance. Following last year’s inaugural success, the festival’s committee came up with a free monthly night of fan fiction readings to sustain and build interest leading up to this year’s Nerdfest. Johnston-Smith and co-founder Fin Coe curate and host “Hey, I’m A Big Fan: A Night Of Fan Fiction Readings” every third Wednesday at Stage 773, for which participants specifically write new material. Much, though not all, of the fan fiction is erotic in nature. Despite seemingly intense prospects like “a very graphic sexual version” of the sitcom “Full House,” Johnston-Smith describes the ongoing monthly series as “low stakes and chill.” A selection of the best “Hey, I’m A Big Fan” readings—as chosen by the festival committee and the fanbase—opens the festival on Wednesday. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Planetary Defense Force in: Crisis on Planet Earth/The Public House Theatre

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TPDF Press Pic“The Planetary Defense Force in: Crisis on Planet Earth!” provides the slimmest of sci-fi narrative trappings within which to showcase an evening of the casually costumed cast challenging select audience members. The challenge is a modified version of dodgeball. Rounds of this tournament are presented as a series of missions the Defense Force mounts against an evil cadre of interstellar schemers. Among the schemers: an affected and comically caped Brit and the timeless scourge known throughout the galaxy as an attorney. The Planetary Defense Force team members play on the side of the audience participants, and rules change as the matches roll on. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Period Piece/The Playground Theater

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IMG_1_Press OptionFive or ten minutes into “Period Piece,” I had nearly resigned myself to a show with little but its heart in the right place. Then, quite noticeably and suddenly, everything else clicked into place and I was off on a spirited, intelligent and emotionally true journey through time on a rather red river of hilarity.

Our hero Tammy DuPont has placed about as many pharmacological, intellectual and emotional dams between her and her monthly magic as playwrights Jenni Lamb and Lisa Linke have placed slang menstruation terms into this frequently uproarious script. A disastrous pitch to her longtime client from Forever Feminine hygiene products, the resultant falling out with her business partner and a surprise visit from her Aunt Flo (oh, that bothersome flow) conspire to force high-powered ad-exec Tammy to rethink her bitter, dismissive attitude about her period. The catalyst for this change of heart is a family heirloom gifted by Aunt Flo: a magical sanitary napkin belt which thrusts Tammy back and forth through time. On several stops through both world and DuPont family history (which generally intersect) Tammy confronts ridiculous, debunked “expertise” on women’s health, sexist doctrine on a woman’s place and her own unresolved feelings of personal loss and shame which are increasingly revealed to be the source of her views on menstruation. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Cupid Has a Heart On: A Musical Guide to Relationships/The Cupid Players at Stage 773

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High-Res CUPID Photo“You don’t have to be smart to laugh at farts,” Louis C.K. sagely explained in one of his many oft-quoted interviews, “But you have to be stupid not to.” The ensemble of “Cupid Has a Heart On”—which has been consistently running for more than a decade (making it the longest-running sketch comedy show in Chicago history)—would certainly agree. But while most of the humor in here is decidedly lowbrow (one memorable punchline is literally “poop poop poop poop”), it’s also consistently laugh-out-loud funny. If you measure the success of a comedy show by setting up some kind of hits-to-misses ratio, rest assured that “Cupid’s” arrows solidly hit their marks much more often than not. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Oregon Tail Burlesque: You Have Died of Sexy/Gorilla Tango Burlesque

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Photo: Braden Nesin

Photo: Braden Nesin

One of the earliest educational video games—“The Oregon Trail”—crosses paths with one of the earliest forms of entertainment—nearly naked ladies shaking it—in Gorilla Tango Burlesque’s latest collision of geek culture and burlesque. An enjoyable show and possibly a wish fulfilled for gaming nostalgists, “The Oregon Tail Burlesque: You Have Died of Sexy” may be about the most unlikely such mash-up you’re going to see—and it has a lot of potential. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Dead Broads Yapping/The Public House Theatre

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dead broads yapping picRECOMMENDED

I would never wish ill upon great women of history Joan of Arc, Amelia Earhart and America’s beloved Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Nonetheless, I am glad they all died so I could enjoy their comedic gifts as presented from beyond the grave in “Dead Broads Yapping.”

Staged as a talk show from the afterlife, the evening’s hour provides the talented trio of Courtney Crary (the martyr), Caroline Nash (the aviatrix) and Marie Maloney (the First Lady) in a setting, à la “The View,” in which to dish and riff on current events and historical happenings as well as chat it up with other legends.

The show’s “producer” and our twenty-sixth president Theodore Roosevelt introduces the ladies and interjects throughout with frequently ribald asides. Taking breaks from the winning interplay between them, Teddy and the three Dead Broads each get a solo segment. The most successful of these, featuring fashion commentary from Jackie, uncoincidentally mirrors most closely the known interests and personality of the deceased dame it spotlights. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Option Up!/Stage 773

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OptionUp

Photo: Rob Smith

A casual setting and an enthusiastic pair of hosts don’t quite add up to what “Option Up!” is striving for, but it’s early going and there’s much promise in this new monthly event at Stage 773. Host Christopher Pazdernik and his comic foil, the versatile pianist Aaron Benham, present performers from current Chicago stage productions in a setting akin to a late-night talk show. Pazdernik riffs freely on theater happenings past and present and demonstrates a near-encyclopedic knowledge of musicals while Benham interjects with the occasional quip or anecdote. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Bye Bye Liver: The Chicago Drinking Play/The Public House Theatre

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Photo: Patrick Lothian

Photo: Patrick Lothian

RECOMMENDED

Before this hour of booze-soaked sketch comedy even starts, the audience spends plenty of time drinking in the lobby. And again in their seats after the house opens. And don’t worry, there are plenty of waitstaff dashing around throughout the show ready to serve you more shots, cocktails and buckets of beer. Unsurprisingly, there’s a telling scent of alcohol in the air as the show starts, with an emcee (Josh Dunkin, charming and smarmy in equal measure) who broadly states, “I’m assuming everybody here enjoys drinking… otherwise you’re in the wrong show!”

What follows is a cocktail of comedy scenework and interactive drinking games (name that tune, anyone?). The bits are laugh-out-loud funny (particularly a lengthy one between Sherra Lasley and Mike Barton that showcases the effects of various alcohols on a three-year-anniversary date) and the audience participation is engaging and just rowdy enough to remind you that most of the audience is buzzed, if not downright drunk (there’s a reason everyone in the cast is miked). Keyboardist Tilliski Ramey provides a skillfully comedic soundtrack throughout. Read the rest of this entry »