Never Been to Paris at Chicago Center for the Performing Arts: Live review
Somehow Sean Flannery is still alive. Call it the luck of the Irish. In his new solo show, Never Been to Paris (which enjoyed a brief run at the Lincoln Lodge last fall and opened again Friday 4 at the Chicago Center for the Performing Arts), the Cleveland-born comic uses cartoons, illustrations and PowerPoint, to recall a series of misadventures that includes 12 near-death experiences, 25 job firings and come again one-liners like, "I don't know if you've ever almost killed 18 people..."
Flannery's story is very much about family. His first generation Irish-Catholic menagerie includes a handful of fresh off the boat racist uncles, a social worker dad who body slams his children and five younger siblings, many of whom have gotten into plenty of trouble of their own. At the center of the storm is Flannery, an imbibing imp who gladly swaps job opportunities for nights at the bar, gets knocked unconscious at the mall from sucking on a 75-volt battery and mistakes 9/11 for a DePaul University bomb threat. As an audience, we wait for the come to Jesus moment, the third act realization that living for the moment has its consequences. The hook in Paris is that one can self-reflect or one can order another round. Flannery happily chooses the latter.
A lot of the material in Paris was workshopped in shorter sets at various venues around town in '09 and '10. It makes more sense in the context of a larger story and gets a lively boost from the multimedia portion of the show. In one narrative, for example, Flannery recounts driving his car off an interstate in Cleveland, steering it down an embankment and then managing to weave back into traffic on the next highway, thus avoiding death. A series of cartoon drawings of his panicked passengers nicely augments this yarn and it's nice that Flannery chooses this route over one-liners.
Flannery showcases a wealth of material and the show is a bit all over the place at times. Paris could easily be about family, or drinking or near-death experiences or jobs or Cleveland. If Flannery chooses to narrow his subject matter, he'd end up with not one, but six potential shows on his hands which he could tour on well into middle age. The Q&A with the comedian after the show proved that what's in Paris is just the tip of the iceberg.
As I lapped up the remains of my one vodka tonic it occured to me that I could never be Sean Flannery. I don't have the cajones to blow off cancer, walk off a three-story roof or sneak into a Huey Lewis concert. That's just fine. He can live the adventures and we can laugh about them together after the fact.