Reviews of the Week: Been There, Still There and Pinque Pony
At Donny's Skybox this week and next, we have two excellent new shows. Seen together, they make for a terrific night of theater, although I don't imagine there will be much actual crossover between the two audiences. In Been There, Still There, real-life couple and Mainstage alumni Nancy McCabe-Kelly and Bruce Jarchow play a husband and wife who leave the comforts of Old Town for a weekend in the hinterlands of Wisconsin, reluctant guests at a wedding they'd rather not attend. In Pinque Pony another real-life couple, Andy Eninger (head of the Second City writing program) and John Loos, put their strange heads together and produce an hour's worth of memorable material that ping-pongs effortlessly between satire and silliness. Go see both shows before they close next weekend.
As I made my own road trip out of Chicago last week for a family obligation (individual reviews of both shows were meant to be posted a week ago, but were delayed until now due to a death in my family), Been There, Still There resonated particularly. Time marches on in life and Been There, Still There is very much about two lives at a crossroads. As McCabe-Kelly and Jarchow's affable and fumbling husband and wife roar down familiar North Avenue towards the Kennedy, it becomes a trip down memory lane full of pre-Flat Top Grill and Potbelly's remembrances of the 'hood. "When the Ale House turns into a Verizon," quips Jarchow, "we're out of here."
McCabe-Kelly and Jarchow are still terrific. Their object work, especially in loading up the car, is sharp as ever, and both are particularly funny when jumping into the role of small town radio jockeys. As they talk about trout festivals and public stonings with gee whiz affectations, it showcases the rural-phobia that pervades most Chicagoans. But this is a show about nostalgia and the way in which we admire the past with lopsided affection. It's a piece about desiring the road less traveled, even as we remain determined to stay on course. "Are we lost," McCabe-Kelly asks? "No," says Jarchow, "I just don't know where I am." His statement is a metaphor for the passing of time. How do we arrive suddenly at 40, 50 or 60? How does time pass so quickly? When do we lead the lives we want versus the ones we're supposed to?
In this era, in which fans and devotees love to reminisce about the good old days of Second City, we might wonder what would happen if celebrated alumni got together and created a new show. Been There, Still There might be the only answer we get. When Second City opens the Up Comedy Club in December, it would be wise to offer this satisfying piece of Heartland humor a remount.
Pinque Pony is a much different experience, but a no less enjoyable one. Unlike Been There's single narrative, it's a loose collection of scenes that satisfy one after the other. In the first sketch, Eninger and Loos use Grindr, an iPhone app that connects guys, to poke fun at the false faces gay men wear to attract a mate. They take aim at gay culture again in a sketch in which they role play a threesome using a puppet dressed as a cop. In a scene that's almost tear-inducing, Eninger's single guy prepares for a night of romance with 80s anthems like "Almost Paradise" and "Let's Hear it for the Boy" playing in the background. As rejection looms in the distance, Enginger fills the scene with pathos and heart. Eninger has been writing and performing sketch comedy for many years, but just when you think he'll overshadow his other half, Loos suprises with his own moments of comic prowess whether it's as a stoic dad receiving bad news or as one half of a vaudevillian couple. Both of these talented fellas make Pinque Pony totally gaydar worthy.