Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: #TBT/Under The Gun Theater

Comedy, Performance, Performance Reviews, Recommended Comedy Shows, Recommended Performance No Comments »
Angie McMahon

Angie McMahon

RECOMMENDED

I’ve never been one to keep a consistent journal, but judging by the expressive content of the readings at Under The Gun Theater’s new monthly show “#TBT,” my infrequent entries are far too dry and logistical. A bit of background for the unfamiliar (read: old): #TBT (Throwback Thursday) is a Twitter/Instagram (and even Facebook, though their hashtag game is pretty weak) hashtag people use to post a photo or memory from their past. Every second Thursday at Under The Gun, “#TBT” provides a stage for ensemble members to read their early writing (mostly journals and letters) in all of their embarrassingly inelegant glory. And it is the perfect combination of all three: embarrassing, inelegant and glorious. It’s also sometimes moving.

The night I attended, a dozen readers braved the stage, clutching old diaries, personal letters and short stories. While the fiction readings delivered laughs through their overly ambitious prose—Allison Keller’s eighth-grade opus “The Homeless Child” described a color as “a deep planetarium purple”—the angsty and adamant pinings from young diaries make this a truly captivating show. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: A Night of Whodunnit/Under The Gun Theater

Comedy, Improv/Sketch Reviews, Improv/Sketch/Revues No Comments »
interrogating-the-maths-teacher

Alex Wiseman, Matt Pina and Matt Fox

Under The Gun Theater is rife with catchy concepts. Their “Comedy Against Humanity” show was so popular that—despite an informal agreement—Cards Against Humanity objected, forcing the show to close just as it was really taking off. Walking into the theater Thursday night for “A Night of Whodunnit,” I noticed Cards Against Humanity packs for sale at the bar. A sign of no hard feelings, perhaps? Or a reminder that this is a theater that knows (and has proven) that they can deliver on concept work?

“Whodunnit” is actually a double-header, consisting of “One Story Told Week by Week” (a parody of the oh-so-popular NPR podcast “Serial”) and “The Improvised Adventures of Sherlock Holmes & Dr. Watson” (self-explanatory), in that order. The sources may differ but the theme is the same. To quote R. Kelly: “There’s a mystery going on and I’m gonna solve it.” Both shows last thirty minutes with a ten-minute intermission in between. Read the rest of this entry »

Dark Humor: The Ups and Downs, and Downs, of a Chicago Comedian’s Struggle

-News etc., Comedy, Profiles, Stand-Up No Comments »
Photo: Elle Metz

Photo: Elle Metz

By Elle Metz

On a bright stage in a dark room at The Annoyance Theatre in Lakeview, two men, bouncing slightly on their toes, peer into the audience. Seventeen people—mostly young and casually dressed—gaze back. One woman sips a light beer. A goateed man sits up straight in his chair. The two performers, Derek Shoemaker and Blair Britt, ask for a suggestion to start their improvisation.

“Cadaver,” someone calls out. Shoemaker and Britt immediately step back to the middle of the stage, facing each other like sparring partners.

Shoemaker has a round face framed by a dark brown buzz cut and perpetual two-day scruff. Tonight he wears maroon slacks, a short-sleeved, blue-and-white-checked button up and red Vans sneakers—a typical performance uniform for him.

In this first scene, Shoemaker plays a police detective and Britt a medical examiner. They’re trying to solve a difficult murder case. Shifting their weight forward and back, the men discuss the case and gesture toward an imaginary body lying on a morgue table in front of them. Britt rants that he can’t find anything wrong with the body. A knowing look crosses Shoemaker’s face.

“We know about your gift,” Shoemaker says. “We know that you can touch bodies…”

“No, I’m not doing that again, alright,” Britt replies. “I’m not!” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Ready for Hillary: The Musical/The Public House Theatre

Comedy, Musicals, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »

Ready for Hillary Press 1

The premise of The Public House Theatre’s “Ready for Hillary: The Musical” is simple, if wacky: On the eve of the 2016 presidential election, candidates Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren and Chris Christie, along with their spouses, attend a sleepover party at vice-presidential candidate Ted Cruz’s home. Singing and shenanigans ensue.

If you go into this show expecting biting political satire, a dissection of electoral politics or any critique of the policy positions of the individual candidates, you might want to re-watch old episodes of “The Daily Show” instead of heading to “Ready for Hillary.” If you want to see a show that takes the personalities of prominent political figures, blows them out to over-the-top proportions and sets them to music, this is your show. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: We Gotta Bingo/Chicago Theater Works

Comedy, New Companies, Theater, Theater Reviews, World Premiere No Comments »
Photo: Dan Rest

Photo: Dan Rest

With the rowdy interactive dinner theater show “We Gotta Bingo,” Chicago Theater Works throws itself into the Belmont theater district with gusto, launching a new space (near Stage 773 and Theater Wit) and a new show in that space at the same time. The space is charmingly retro and worn in, done up for “Bingo” as German brewpub “Der Brew-Ha-Ha,” a fictional venue not unlike Lincoln Square’s Chicago Brauhaus. As you enter to grab your table for the evening, a polka band is churning out pop covers and a menagerie of overly exuberant caricatures are making the rounds glad-handing their hearts out. As one cast member-in-character informed me: “There’s a lot going on!!!” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: VAMP: A Music Comedy Drinking Show/MCL Chicago

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

Michael Shepherd Jordan and Alex Garday

RECOMMENDED

Walking into the MCL Chicago space for “VAMP: A Music Comedy Drinking Show” is like walking into a raucous house party that’s just getting started. A four-piece band (Doc McCullough & The Vampers) plays frenetic jams while audience members mill around chatting and sipping from their various BYOB selections. And once the show gets started, under the direction of endearingly wry host Keenan Camp, it’s not that different from a house party itself. In fact, “VAMP,” as a whole, feels like a loosely organized, low-pressure showcase by a group of popular, talented, semi-intoxicated improvisers in a friend’s basement, with all the pros and cons associated with that scenario. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Buzzed Broadway/MCL Chicago

Comedy, Improv/Sketch Reviews, Improv/Sketch/Revues, Musicals No Comments »
Steven Lyons and Alexander Smith Photo: Heather Scholl Photography

Steven Lyons and Alexander Smith/Photo: Heather Scholl Photography

Improv is a skill. Being able to successfully improvise a storyline to music while drinking is an even greater skill. That’s the challenge the cast of “Buzzed Broadway” takes on during each performance at MCL Chicago.

Watching “Buzzed Broadway” is kind of like watching a group of drunk musical theater students at a party: it might be funny if you’re participating—and drinking along with the cast is encouraged—but if you’re sober, you’ll notice that the story doesn’t always make sense and the singing isn’t always in key. Still, it’s good for a few laughs here and there. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: ComedySportz/ComedySportz Theatre

Comedy, Improv/Sketch Reviews, Improv/Sketch/Revues, Recommended Comedy Shows No Comments »
ComedySportz-20

Meg Grunewald (referee) and player Alex Garday (in red)/Photo: James Rand

RECOMMENDED

A brand since 1984, in Chicago since 1987 and in their current digs on Belmont since 2007, ComedySportz has clearly hit on a winning formula, proudly maintaining the title of longest-running short-form-improv comedy show in Chicago and extending that run every week. And short form it is, with quick, fast-paced games (most familiar to anyone with a little exposure to improv) making up the majority of the ninety-minute running time, which plays out as a competition between a blue home team (the Chicago Bosses) and a red visiting team (the Lyle Lovetts on the night I attended).

The lovely hardwood stage looks like a cross between a locker room, a performance space and a basketball court, with each team of three jerseyed players given a bench and a television screen to track their ongoing score. Points are awarded based on the success of improv games and there’s an announcer, a referee, an Applause-o-meter and… much like the show itself, which spends a solid ten minutes on introductory information, I’ve already used up a good deal of real estate explaining the premise. Suffice it to say that there is improv, there is competition and there is comedy. Read the rest of this entry »

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

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

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