Review of the Week: A Child's Mind at the Annoyance
A Chicago comedian often has to surrender to some degree of arrested adolescence. Inching toward 30 (and sometimes 40), they may still be working coffee-shop jobs or in temp drudgery, coming home to multiple roommates at day's end and spending evenings engaged in "play" at iO or the Playground. It's no wonder that George McAuliffe (Revolver, Sad on Vacation) tackles this theme, albeit loosely, in his new solo show, A Child's Mind, opening this Thursday at 8pm at the Annoyance Theatre.
First, two disclaimers. I'm a sucker for solo performance. I'm fascinated by the kind of scenework pioneered by comedians like Bob Newhart (partly in Chicago no less) and continued to this day by talented comedians like Steve Waltien, Abby McEnany and John Hartman among others. Secondly, last night's performance of A Child's Mind was a preview performance, so some aspects of the show may change between this review and opening night.
McAuliffe is very skilled at creating scenes that are grounded in reality. I loved him as a wise teenager to Dina Facklis's flustered mother in a scene from the iO sketch show DBaG. He also stood out as the weary patriarch at a Thanksgiving dinner in a particularly funny Close Quarters, a now-defunct improvised show at iO. Those grounded characters are alive and well in A Child's Mind, although McAuliffe uses his stage time to exhibit more vocal and physical prowess and also to let the screws in his characters come a little looser (no doubt at the urging of his director, the loopy and wonderful Emily Wilson). As Fuckleberry Sin, McAuliffe embodies a former child adult-film star going on auditions for legit film commerical work. Hilarious. In another, McAuliffe does the Boss proud as a Springsteen tribute artist. In his huskiest voice, he reworks the lyrics to The River into a twisted tale of a preschool romance.
A couple of interesting scenes happen almost entirely offstage. In the first, a tour of a dollhouse becomes a grown man's way to work through abandonment issues. "Sometimes I feel like the only thing I ever won was the race to my mother's egg," we hear. This too-brief scene could've used more flushing out. In another, a strip of yellow caution tape signals a crime scene and somewhere offstage we hear the cries of a frantic father pleading with cops after boozing in the 'burbs. The payoff is both far-fetched and terrific.
But in my favorite scene, McAuliffe plays a wedding guest with two left feet doing his best to fend of the advances of a would-be dance partner. The scene works because we all know the kinds of annoying people that populate family weddings and we're right there with his character as his patience dwindles. This is the George McAuliffe that both draws me in and cracks me up and this is the George McAuliffe you should keep your eye on.