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

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 »

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

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

Review: The Second City’s Holidazed and Confused Revue/Second City

Christmas, Comedy, Holiday, Improv/Sketch Reviews, Improv/Sketch/Revues, Recommended Comedy Shows No Comments »
(l to r) John Thibodeaux, Lisa Beasley, Scott Morehead, Marlena Rodriguez, Alan Linic, Liz Reuss/Photo:Kirsten Miccoli

John Thibodeaux, Lisa Beasley, Scott Morehead, Marlena Rodriguez, Alan Linic, Liz Reuss/Photo:Kirsten Miccoli

RECOMMENDED

There’s an internal tension with the holiday season between what everyone is supposed to feel—joyous, thankful and free—and how everyone actually feels—miserable, stressed-out and massively in debt. Whether it’s binge-eating on seasonally appropriate chocolates, comparing holiday bonuses, fretting about the inevitable failure of New Year’s resolutions or questioning the very theological basis on which the whole “Christmas” thing is conceived, people deal with this tension in different ways. And most of those ways are not very healthy. If there is a thematic backbone to Second City’s “Holidazed and Confused,” these myriad splinterings of the holiday cheer façade is it. (The thematic backbone is distinct from the business-side backbone which is, quite simply: “Holidays + Comedy = $$$.”)

Performed in the intimate app-and-a-nightcap environs of the UP Comedy Club, “Holidazed and Confused” is the standard Second City cocktail of sketch, improv and music. The material is consistent overall even if the quality is not totally homogenous; there are equal parts surprise and obviousness mixed in with a whole lot of solid work. There are jokes about Ebola and Tinder and pumpkin spice lattes and even one about Ferguson (which… yeah) and there are some very charming bits of audience interaction. Which reminds me, if you are planning on giving someone you love a gift card this holiday season, do not tell them that. They will make fun of you. In song. And everyone will laugh. Because it will be very funny. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Panic on Cloud 9/Second City

Comedy, Improv/Sketch Reviews, Improv/Sketch/Revues, Recommended Comedy Shows No Comments »
(l to r) Chelsea Devantez, Paul Jurewicz, Emily Walker and Christine Tawfik

Chelsea Devantez, Paul Jurewicz, Emily Walker and Christine Tawfik/Photo: Todd Rosenberg

RECOMMENDED

As the title suggests, the writer/performers of this 103rd Second City Mainstage revue don’t just throw bits together based on recent headlines, they very carefully string them together to highlight the unending stream of media-enhanced panic that most Americans have been subjected to in recent memory. Gun violence, disappearing airplanes, Ebola, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, bullying, hacked cloud storage… the list goes on. And perhaps there is cause for panic when even comedy oases are intentionally reminding you about all the shit that’s going down around you.

Luckily, this collection of sketches, directed by Second City stalwart Ryan Bernier, is calibrated to induce fits of laughter rather than panic attacks. And while there are a few unfortunate misses, the cast spends the majority of this two-hour show delivering hilarious hit after hit, with a few surprisingly emotional moments woven in for good measure. It’s worth noting that though the sketches flow together nicely, each new scene has a different vibe to it and, more so than any Second City revue I can remember, you can begin to pick up on the influences of various cast members (assuming they’re writing the scenes they’re in). Read the rest of this entry »

Review: It’s Christmas Goddamnit!/The Annoyance Theatre

Christmas, Comedy, Holiday, Recommended Comedy Shows, Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
(l to r) Bridget Ballek, Ryan Ben, Rosie Moan, Lee Russell, Mantas Dumcius, Jo Scott, Kellen Terret, Jeffrey Murdoch/Review: Shannon Jenkins

Bridget Ballek, Ryan Ben, Rosie Moan, Lee Russell, Mantas Dumcius, Jo Scott, Kellen Terret, Jeffrey Murdoch/Review: Shannon Jenkins

RECOMMENDED

Christmas is fast approaching. For those unfamiliar with the season, in the world of “It’s Christmas Goddamnit!” it’s that merry time of year when even the kookiest of families gather together under a shared roof to enjoy a collective meal while emotionally tormenting each other, reveling in both their familial similarities and their personality differences. Director Charley Carroll, along with a solid group of writer/actors, has created a cast of characters with eccentricities and mannerisms that highlight each comedian’s specific comedic strengths. To be clear up front, it is very seldom that any of these characters feel like real people; emotional realism takes a clear backseat to setups and punchlines, both physical and verbal.

Patriarch Bill (Jimmy Pennington) is welcoming his three children home for the holidays, along with his wealthy but ornery brother Eli (a frank and cocksure Lee Russell). He’s also invited his new bride Bev (Rosie Moan) and her mentally unstable and socially awkward son Cory (a stoic Ryan Ben). It’s only been two years since Bill’s first wife—the mother of his children—passed away and he’s hesitant to tell his kids that he’s remarried. As it turns out, his hesitancy may be well-founded as his adult children—a perpetually single tae-bo instructor (Bridget Ballek), a perpetually unemployed manchild (Jeffrey Murdoch) and a perpetually condescending psychiatrist (Jo Scott, a standout, constantly seeming to barely conceal a ready-to-break-chaaracter grin)—are perhaps not quite ready to welcome a new stepmother. Read the rest of this entry »

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