There's something about Mary's
A new LGBT variety show gets cookin' at Hamburger Mary's upstairs space.
Exactly what kind of treasures would one expect to find in the attic of Mary, the busty burger-slinger whose wink and smile adorn the awning at Hamburger Mary’s in Andersonville? A cache of bad wigs? The rotting corpse of Mary’s nemesis, the Hamburglar? Actually, there’s a bounty of music and live theater to be found there as of late, courtesy of twin brothers and co-owners Ashley and Brandon Wright.
“[We] live in Andersonville,” Ashley says, “and when we opened there really wasn’t anything like this for the gay community.”
The brothers, who painted and decorated the attic all on their own, see the space as a multipurpose venue that will reflect the diversity of their neighborhood. “We want to include the entire community,” Ashley says, “and provide a space where our entertainers aren’t necessarily gay and lesbian.”
The Attic’s latest offering is Terrible Muriel and Friends, a new variety show created by queer improvisers Tim Paul, Duncan Teater and Mike Kosinski (and joined each week by sound technician Roxanne “Rox in the Box” Tisbert). Muriel is unique because it invites a variety of both straight and gay performers to share the stage. At a recent show Paul and Teater (Kosinski is performing on a cruise ship with Second City) improvised an interactive game show with the audience, cabaret duo Guilty Pleasures belted out a few numbers and ukulele player Tamara Nolte sang about hysterectomies. It ended with a recurring segment in which Paul and Teater improvised a scene from Steel Magnolias.
It all goes back, way back to Paul’s teenage years in the Boston Area, where he discovered the Aussie film Muriel’s Wedding, about an ugly duckling’s quest for love. “I love Muriel’s Wedding and the line, ‘You’re terrible, Muriel,’?” he says. “I was 15 and I identified with Toni Collette’s character. I was fat, I was closeted, I was depressed. It was great. I made all my friends watch it.”
After forming Terrible Muriel, the trio struck improv gold twice this year. The first time was at the Spot, in Uptown, where they were shocked by the response generated by an impromptu performance .
“We didn’t rehearse, we had no director, and—no joke—for weeks afterwards we’d be in the most remote places and people would say to us, ‘Saw your show Terrible Muriel, it was great,’?” Paul says.
Next, the group appeared at Mary’s Attic in July, where it was featured as part of The Ville, a weekly soap opera that incorporates the real-life escapades of Andersonville residents. It attracted the attention of Ashley, and the group (sans Kosinski) began previewing it in August.
But unlike shows at venues like iO, Second City or the Annoyance, where a set of ground rules exist, Terrible Muriel’s format is anything goes.
“People who have performed with us have been excited because the rules of what you can do on any particular stage in Chicago get set pretty quickly, and we don’t have any rules,” Teater says. “As much as our show is a variety show, it’s also a show about a variety show. We have a lot of outside-the-frame humor, and that excites us.”
It helps, too, that the group is among the few comedy troupes actively engaging queer audiences. But whereas GayCo (to which Paul and Teater both belong) is sketch comedy written by and for LGBT audiences, Terrible Muriel reflects queer sensibilities while maintaining its broad appeal.
“I don’t want to say that [queers] are all alike, but I do think it’s inevitable that we’re going to have an appreciation for something that doesn’t have a home,” Teater says. “You can’t run away from the fact that we have antennae sensitized toward stuff that maybe somebody else wouldn’t appreciate. We’re here to share that.”
Terrible Muriel and Friends plays at Mary’s Attic.