Review of the Week: Side Hustle at Donny's Skybox
Side Hustle’s Brett Schneider and Michael Levine have been friends since age five. They started performing together as students at their Oakland, California high school, where they were co-class presidents. They studied similar curricula at prestigious universities (theater and philosophy at Northwestern for Schneider, theater and psychology at Sarah Lawrence for Levine) and met up in Chicago after graduation. Their two-year stint as sketch duo Side Hustle (including two runs at Gorilla Tango) now includes a six-week run every Thursday at Donny’s Skybox.
Wearing almost-identical outfits (black Adidas windbreakers with red trim, blue jeans, black sneakers), Schneider and Levine, both 26, introduced themselves and quickly established their differing points of view. Levine: “There’s nowhere I’d rather be;” Schneider: “I’d rather be having sex than doing this show.” Henceforth Levine played serious characters (brooding and eye-rolling, peeved and grief-stricken), while Schneider mugged for the imaginary camera.
The off-stage friendship parlays into an inherently watchable show (the 15-person audience in a 80ish seat theater added to the informality, though these guys could fill every seat on their home turf). Schneider has 10 years experience as a professional magician (including a 2011 Jeff Award nomination in Artistic Specialization for his work with Strawdog), and he and Levine pull off a deceptively simple set of scripted scenes (just five of them, a number that exudes quiet confidence). Not a word is spoken in the first, and the last is a world within a world within a world of sexual role-play, with three separate safe words (“pretzel,” “boondoggle,” and “Iliad”). Midway through, a bit you’ve seen other places already—sportscasters analyzing a non-sport—is saved by a second of Woody Allen absurdism and breaking the fourth wall. But the gem is when Levine, as a jilted comedian at Wackies, explains the props he would have brought if his wife hadn’t locked him out (these include a “toothbrush brush, for when your toothbrush gets dirty”).
Side Hustle with Community Service runs Thursdays at 10:30pm through September 29 at Donny’s Skybox, 1616 N Wells Ave, $12.