Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

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

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

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: The Addams Family/Mercury Theater

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(l-r) Brennan Dougherty, Amanda Hartley, Jeff Diebold, Karl Hamilton, Harter Clingman, Rebecca Prescott, Dara Cameron/Photo: Michael Brosilow.

Brennan Dougherty, Amanda Hartley, Jeff Diebold, Karl Hamilton, Harter Clingman, Rebecca Prescott, Dara Cameron/Photo: Brett Beiner.

RECOMMENDED

When a play bombs on Broadway after beginning its life in Chicago, one might not expect a terribly triumphant return to the Windy City for that show. However, the version of “The Addams Family” that is currently being produced at Mercury Theater Chicago has a drastically overhauled script and is, essentially, a new play. And that new script is an absolute delight.

With director L. Walter Stearns at the helm, this cast brilliantly brings to life the characters of Charles Addams’ cartoons with Karl Hamilton’s turn as Gomez carrying the show. He is not the kooky Gomez that John Astin once played on TV, nor the more dramatic Gomez of Raul Julia’s cinematic portrayals. He is, however, eccentric and appropriately dark. His timing is perfect and he seems to revel in his own odd behavior in a way that is empowering to both the rest of the cast and the audience as well. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Redlined/Chicago Slam Works

Performance, Performance Reviews, Recommended Performance No Comments »
(l to r) Dru Smith, J. Evelyn, Rashaad Hall/Photo: Andy Karol

Dru Smith, J. Evelyn, Rashaad Hall/Photo: Andy Karol

RECOMMENDED

Just a forewarning: if you are looking for the Chicago featured on marketing postcards and glossy travel guides, you will not find it at Chicago Slam Works’ “Redlined.” There will be no mention of Buckingham Fountain, Millennium Park or Navy Pier. There will be no pictures of sprawling skylines, no top-ten list of great bars or restaurants, and if you’re looking for Bulls, Bears, Sox or Cubbies pride, you will be sorely disappointed.

What will not disappoint however is this lyrically potent love letter to the muffled and hidden faces of this city. In this production they are given both a face and a voice through the ensemble cast of J. Evelyn, Rashaad Hall, Shelley Elaine Geiszler, Frankiem Mitchell, Dru Smith and Teagan Walsh-Davis. These actors are extremely aware of the great burden and blessing that task is, and so with passion and heart they deliver the stories of the city’s forgotten. These stories include those of police-inflicted violence on innocent black and brown bodies—a phenomenon not limited to Eric Garner and Michael Brown, our out-of-state fallen angels. In fact, we are told that Chicago has the highest rate of police homicide in the country. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Comedy Against Humanity/Under The Gun Theater

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

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 »

News: Chicago Dramatists Artistic Director Russ Tutterow Steps Down

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Russ Tutterow

Russ Tutterow

On February 3, Chicago Dramatists announced that long-time Artistic Director Russ Tutterow was stepping down. Tutterow has held the role for thirty years and helped shepherd hundreds of new works to the stage. He will be replaced, on an interim basis, by Meghan Beals, who previously served as the company’s Associate Artistic Director from 2010 to 2012.

Tutterow, who had been on medical leave since August of last year, will be moving into the role of Artistic Director Emeritus and will continue to work with the theater in a consultative capacity.

Chicago Dramatists is the only theater institution in the city dedicated solely to both the development and producing of new plays. Under Tutterow’s leadership, the company grew from a small cohort of playwrights in 1979 to a network of more than 150 today, with its Resident Playwright program providing a home for numerous Chicago playwrights.

Tutterow said in a prepared statement, “For more than three decades, Chicago Dramatists has been a place I call home and it will continue to be as I move into an emeritus role. As I pass the torch to Meghan, I’m excited about the direction our organization is taking in blending the traditions that made us successful with a pioneer approach that will take our work into the future.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Dividing the Estate/Raven Theatre

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Angela-Sandall-Kathryn-Acosta-Millie-Hurley-Spencer-JoAnn-Montemurro-marssie-Mencotti

(l to r) Angela Sandall, Kathryn Acosta, Millie Hurley-Spencer, JoAnn Montemurro, marssie Mencotti

 

RECOMMENDED

The hymn “Rock of Ages” echoes through the first half of Horton Foote’s domestic tragicomedy, but more apt theme music would be “Money (That’s What I Want).” The subject here is greed as it corrodes the ties that bind, reducing the once-grand Gordon clan of South Texas into a squabbling spectacle worthy of Jerry Springer.

The action takes place in 1987, during the Reagan era and a downturn in the Texas petro-economy. Three generations of Gordons have gathered at the handsome old manse, gorgeously executed by designer Jeffrey Kmiec. They include venerable matriarch Stella (marssie Mencotti); her three middle-aged children (Millie Hurley Spencer as the dutiful widow Lucille, Ron Wells as the dissipated Lewis and the ever-dependable JoAnn Montemurro as petty, aggrieved Mary Jo), Lucille’s boy, known only as Son (Tim Martin), who manages the estate; and Mary Jo’s down-on-his-luck realtor husband Bob (Jon Steinhagen) and their big-haired, spoiled daughters (Angela Sandall and Kathryn Acosta). Also in attendance are the family’s faithful but equally quarrelsome family retainers, including the doddering Doug, with eighty-seven years of service behind him, as well as Mildred (Shariba Rivers) and Cathleen (BrittneyLove Smith). Read the rest of this entry »

Sponsored: Steppenwolf Video of the Week (Airline Highway – Meet the REAL Francis)

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AIRLINE HIGHWAY’S playwright Lisa D’amour introduces her long-time friend and poet Danny Kerwick. Danny is the inspiration for the Character Francis, played by Gordon Joseph Weiss in Steppenwolf’s production. We thought it would be fun to sit down with all three and talk about this unique experience.

Steppenwolf’s AIRLINE HIGHWAY brings a party worth talking about to the stage. Set in New Orleans, this new world premiere production is a boisterous and moving ode to the outcasts who make life a little more interesting. Headed to Broadway in the Spring of 2015, now is your chance to see it here in Chicago first—on stage through February 14. Tickets start at just $20: learn more at http://www.steppenwolf.org/Plays-Events/productions/index.aspx?id=623
Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Art of Disappearing/16th Street Theater

Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
(l to r) Joan Kohn and Tom McElroy/Photo: Anthony Aicardi

Joan Kohn and Tom McElroy/Photo: Anthony Aicardi

RECOMMENDED

The angst of family life is well documented: The rough and tumble bemoaning of love from fathers to sons, and mothers to daughters. There is an element of need. There is also the factor of expectation. But it can also be the thing that tears us apart. Director Ann Filmer brings to life this inner familial turmoil with Stephanie Alison Walker’s strong and disturbing play “The Art of Disappearing,” premiering at the delightfully intimate 16th Street Theater.

In Walker’s very human play, Melissa (Amanda Powell) is called back into the family unit after two years of exile as her fiercely intelligent and proud mother Charlotte (a brave and beautiful performance by Joan Kohn) begins a tragic downfall into the pit of dementia. Melissa brings back-up in the form of her “fiancé” Jack (Andres Enriquez). There is invention in this brief reunion, which then devolves into anger, lies and regret. All of this is calmly handled by the well-intentioned, but ultimately emasculated Henry (Tom McElroy). Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Stardust/David Roussève/REALITY

Dance, Dance Previews, Recommended Dance Shows No Comments »
Photo: Yi Chun

Photo: Yi Chun

RECOMMENDED

In David Roussève’s tender new work, the fragmented, abbreviated language of texting becomes the building material of a story that is at once funny, sad and deeply humane. The hopes and frustrations of a young, unseen protagonist are splashed large on the back wall—emphasized with plentiful punctuation and emoticons—like a digital diary kept in Twitter. In the foreground, the ten members of REALITY give physical expression to his emotional life, dancing out the frustrations, drives, joys and fears of a black gay teenager navigating an inner-city world that is at once hostile and beautiful. Read the rest of this entry »

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