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: 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: ComedySportz/ComedySportz Theatre

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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

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(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: 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: Bawdy Bedtime Stories/Plan 9 Burlesque

Comedy, Recommended Comedy Shows, Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
Hot Tawdry/Photo: Jason Brown

Hot Tawdry/Photo: Jason Brown

RECOMMENDED

From my experience, burlesque shows tend to be under-rehearsed and badly scripted variety shows that can be fun, but seldom rise to the level of theater. With their current production of “Bawdy Bedtime Stories,” Plan 9 Burlesque rises above that description. You see, they’ve added a script. They’ve clearly rehearsed all the moments within it. And the product comes out enjoyable, funny and something more than the sum of its (lovely) parts.

At the production’s core is a storyline about Aly Oops (Alyson Grauer) discovering a book in the dressing room after one of Plan 9’s other shows. Instead of joining her cast mates at a bar across the street, she reads the fairy tales contained within, and they come alive on the stage around her. Many of the tales lead directly into stripping/dancing sets, but not all do. Others lead to very funny sketches that flesh out the concept nicely and result in many of the night’s heartiest laughs. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Trigger Happy/The Annoyance Theatre

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(l to r) Danny Catlow, Alison Banowski, Tim Lamphier, CJ Tour, Tyler Davis, Ryan Asher

Danny Catlow, Alison Banowsky, Tim Lamphier, CJ Tuor, Tyler Davis, Ryan Asher

RECOMMENDED

There are a number of well-recognized long-form improvisation structures. A good number of those were developed here in Chicago. When a theater company claims to have created a new style of long-form improv, in the land that gave the world “The Harold,” it is bold, indeed. What could this new style bring to the table that makes it novel and interesting?

Well, “Trigger Happy” puts forth a new style that is based on what director Mick Napier calls “a show that, although completely improvised and funny, still provides for the audience the look and feel of a staged production.” Since an improv show is different each time it is performed, and performers have on and off nights, I cannot really tell you if you’ll see a show of the same caliber as the one that I did on the night I attended (it was good—not side-splittingly funny, but still enjoyable and worth attending). What I can more fairly review is the structure of this new style and whether it appears to have staying power. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Messing with a Friend/The Annoyance Theatre

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MWF__SusanMick

Susan Messing and Mick Napier

RECOMMENDED

“Sorry I’m dressed like an S&M nanny,” Susan Messing announces in her smokily enticing voice as she takes the stage. She’s introducing the weekly improv show in which she and a fellow improviser (the titular “friend”—a new person each week) “fuck around for a while” on a set consisting of a door and two chairs. It’s been running late on Thursday nights for almost a decade now, originally at the old Annoyance space on Broadway and now in their new space on Belmont. And she’s still as fresh and foul-mouthed as ever, tapping into her own darkly funny psyche with a rambling set that gets better the darker and later it goes. Read the rest of this entry »

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