Brian Regan is amazing. Unlike many comedians who use stand-up as a vehicle to get that first TV sitcom pilot, Regan has focused his career on exclusively performing stand-up, and people love him for it. He’s a favorite among other comedians and plays sold-out shows all over the country. He's known as a master at authentically connecting with his audiences, and this show proved that to once again be true. (In case you haven't figured it out yet, I'm a longtime fan.)
Watching “free[BOUND]” you’re compelled to think about the show’s title. What you might come up with is a vague understanding that being free and being bound/trapped are inextricably linked. In many ways, the Dance COLEctive bases its three-piece Winter Program, now playing at Stage 773, around the notion of limitations and how one thing affects the other.
Dance COLEctive artistic director Margi Cole opens with her latest, titled in orderly fashion. That the title may hint at some impending twist of disorderly conduct isn’t necessarily the case. In fact, the piece finds order in many aspects of its construction, save for the last scene in which the dancers flail themselves against a wall. For the most part, fashion stays evenly paced, finding dramatic moments throughout in the dancers' various interactions. One dancer’s movement impacts the other; a brush with a leg or an arm sparks a more energized, seemingly unsolicited series of encounters. An engaging work, fashion stands to be even more daring. In a piece that targets relationships as motive for movement (as noted by Cole), untapped conflict feels tucked under the rug.
Where Cole’s fashion is abstractly woven, Molly Shanahan’s Leaving and Wanting is much more to the point. A deeply genuine portrait of grief, Shanahan’s piece is a solo for Cole. In the midst of making the dance, Shanahan’s mother passed away. A mature adult pained by loss sways into an ostensibly childlike confusion. In swift and sedated motions, Cole controls her limbs and stretches beyond her reach, but to no avail. The loss is great, confusing. Cole is wonderfully moving in Shanahan’s portrayal, like watching a person who knows the limits, but can’t fully accept them.
The lone returning piece, Cole's 13, takes the COLEctive dancers on a ride through teenagedom, and fits well in the program considering it’s the most comedic of the three. Ending on a light note feels appropriate, though how light isn’t so clear. The dancers begin with a confessional: “Awkward moment number one: being mistaken for a boy when you’re actually a girl. Awkward moment number two: camel toe,” etc. These aren't just embarrassing moments, they’re emotional scars. In a mock spelling bee, the group plays up the clichés of their characters: the jock, the ditz, the kid who doesn’t care. They hit on the newfound freedoms and newfound limitations of young adulthood, both the good and the bad. In a way, you might say they’re free[BOUND].
An incurable, debilitating illness may not seem like much of a laughing matter, but Marc Jaffe and Eric Coble’s solo show Side Effects May Include is a hilarious look at how a stand-up comedian deals with his wife’s diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. Andrew J. Pond stars as Phil, as well as major figures in the comedian’s life, dealing with his wife’s increased sex drive (a side effect of her medication), a hormonal teenage daughter, and his own worries about what his wife’s diagnosis means for his future. Pond grew up in West Allis, Wisconsin, a small town about 20 minutes outside of Milwaukee, and got his first introduction to performance when he began playing the cello in fifth grade. He became interested in theater in high school, trading in music for acting, but when he enrolled at University of Wisconsin-Madison, financial matters prevented him from majoring in theater (he graduated with a degree in philosophy). After graduating, he had an internship at Flat Rock Playhouse in North Carolina before attending the Burt Reynolds Institute for Theater Training in Florida, then moved to Chicago for the theater opportunities and, of all reasons, the weather. Pond speaks to us about the pressures of doing a solo show, balancing the comedic and dramatic elements of the script, and what went into creating the script’s different characters.
Score: Alabama 42, Notre Dame 14. It’s good to be a ’Bama fan, though Margi Cole—a grad of the Alabama School of Fine Arts—isn’t much for football. Making a dance with football players, though? That’s an opportunity the Dance COLEctive artistic director, who brings her company's Winter Program to Stage 773 on Thursday, would relish.
Tony Award nominees Kate Baldwin and Bobby Steggert will join the previously announced Norbert Leo Butz in the musical adaptation of Big Fish, which will have a pre-Broadway tryout at the Oriental Theatre in April. Producers also announced dates and venue for the show's Broadway run, set to begin October 6 at the Neil Simon Theatre.
Big Fish, based on the Daniel Wallace novel and Tim Burton film, has a book by screenwriter John August and score by Andrew Lippa. Five-time Tony winner Susan Stroman is the director and choreographer. In addition to Butz as Edward Bloom, Baldwin as Sandra Bloom and Steggert as Will Bloom, the cast includes Krystal Joy Brown, Zachary Unger, and Tony nominee Brad Oscar. Ryan Andes, Ben Crawford, J. C. Montgomery, Kirsten Scott, Sarrah Strimel, Katie Thompson, Preston Truman Boyd, Alex Brightman, Bree Branker, Joshua Buscher, Robin Campbell, Bryn Dowling, Jason Lee Garrett, Leah Hoffman, Synthia Link, Angie Schworer, Lara Seibert, Tally Sessions, Cary Tedder and Ashley Yeater round out the ensemble.
Performances at the Oriental Theatre run April 2–May 5. Tickets go on sale to the general public February 4. See Broadway in Chicago for more information on the Chicago run.
Stephen Adly Guirgis's The Motherfucker with the Hat is currently lighting up Steppenwolf Theatre Company with its dynamic characters and electric dialogue. Gary Perez is a highlight as Julio, the cousin of lead character Jackie who finds himself in the middle of a lovers’ feud between Jackie and his drug-addicted girlfriend Veronica. Perez, a Harlem native who studied ballet at the High School of Performing Arts, didn’t start acting until he was 25, and has built up a storied career despite never studying theater. A cofounder of Latino-based theater company LAByrinth, Perez has gone on to work extensively on screen and stage, appearing on TV shows like The Sopranos and Oz while working at theaters across the country. Perez speaks to us about how his dance background has informed his acting, the biggest challenge of this role, and how Chicago theater compares to New York.
The long-expected news of an Off Broadway run for Ike Holter's Hit the Wall was finally made official this afternoon. Holter's rollicking play about the 1969 Stonewall riots, which was originally produced last winter by the Inconvenience as part of Steppenwolf's Garage Rep and which I named one of , will play New York's Barrow Street Theatre—within spitting distance of the actual Stonewall Inn—beginning February 19, with an opening date of March 10.
Director Eric Hoff will again helm the new production, and original cast members(Tano) and Rania Salem Manganaro (Peg) will reprise their roles. The rest of the New York cast includes Chicago actor Sean Allan Krill (A-Gay) along with Nick Bailey (Newbie), Jessica Dickey (Madeline), Ben Diskant (Cliff), Nathan Lee Graham (Carson), Matthew Greer (Cop), Gregory Haney (Mika) and Carolyn Michelle Smith (Roberta). Other Chicago artists involved include costume designer David Hyman and lighting designer Keith Parham. Scott Morfee, Jean Doumanian and Tom Wirtshafter are the lead producers.
Goodman Theatre associate producer Steve Scott will direct a one-time staged reading of 8, the play about California's Proposition 8 trial. The script, by Milk and J. Edgar screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, dramatizes the Federal District Court trial in Perry v. Schwarzenegger (now Hollingsworth v. Perry), which challenges the constitutionality of Prop 8, by which California voters in 2008 eliminated the then-existing right to same-sex marriage in that state.
The cast of the Goodman reading will be led by Jonathan Weir as U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker and Bret Tuomi and Patrick Clear as plaintiffs’ lead co-counsel, David Boies and Theodore B. Olson. The remainder of the cast, per a press release, includes:
Patrick Andrews (Ryan Kendall, Plaintiffs’ witness), Bill Bannon (Charles J. Cooper, Proponents’ attorney), Susan Monts-Bologna (Dr. Maggie Gallagher, marriage equality opponent), Janet Ulrich Brooks (broadcast journalist); Dan Cantor (Dr. Ilan Meyer, Plaintiffs’ witness) Joseph Foronda (Dr. Hak-shing William Tam, Prop. 8 proponent), Charlie Fox (Elliot Perry, son of Kris and Sandy), LaNisa Fredrick (Court Clerk), Larry Grimm (David Blankenhorn, Proponents’ witness), Fawzia Mirza (Dr. Nancy Cott, Plaintiffs’ witness), Patrick Sarb (Paul Katami, Plaintiff), Jake Schlossberg (Spencer Perry, son of Kris and Sandy), Kelli Simpkins (Kris Perry, Plaintiff), Ben Sprunger (Jeff Zarrilo, Plaintiff), Demetrios Troy (Dr. Gary Segura, Plaintiffs’ witness) and Karen Woditch (Sandy Stier, Plaintiff).
The roles of plaintiffs' witness Dr. Gregory Herek and Freedom to Marry founder Evan Wolfson are yet to be cast. The 7:30pm performance in the Goodman's Owen Theatre is free, but reservations are required; tickets can be reserved at GoodmanTheatre.org/8thePlay or by calling or visiting the Goodman's box office (170 N Dearborn St, 312-443-3800). A discussion with plaintiff Kris Perry and local marriage equality proponents will follow the performance.
Hollingsworth v. Perry is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which announced this morning that it will hear oral arguments in the case on Tuesday, March 26. A bill to achieve marriage equality in Illinois stalled in the General Assembly's lame-duck session last week after passing out of committee in the Senate; a rally at the Thompson Center drew more than 100 proponents on Saturday, according to reports. The issue is expected to be revisited early in the new assembly, which convenes later this week.
Sunday, January 13
EVIL is a promising duo with youthful energy, whose Sunday afternoon set offered a nice balance of one-off throwaway jokes and longer, more story-driven scenes. They peppered their set with a few recurring bits, like a series of sketches following David Crockman: Lawyer of the Wild Frontier, which were 95% theme song, 5% dialogue, (Crockman's familiar refrain was sung by EVIL's Amy Thompson, who was accompanied by a banjo player seated in the back corner of the stage for the entire show). The show was well-paced and cleverly written, with a strong dynamic between Thompson and her teammate Sam Roos, especially in the show's most prominent storyline, about a pair of rivals with too much in common. —Matt Byrne
I didn't know much about The Good & Crazy going in, but from what I could tell from footage of a promisingly experimental live show posted on local filmmaker and improvisor Jared Larson's Vimeo page, it was going to be weird. What The Good & Crazy ended up being was a self-referential, deconstructionist clusterfuck featuring Larson, as well as Ted Tremper, director of two excellent improvised webseries, Break-ups and Shrink, and Paul Jurewicz, another Chicago-based improv dude, whose appearance in Break-ups is a highlight of the series. Every aspect of Unnecessary Defiance: The Story of the South Boston Race Riots, the formal name for The Good & Crazy's show, from the transition music (several different cover versions of Outkast's "Hey Ya") to the props (in a scene featuring three cowboys drinking together, two drank from tin cups, one drank out of a DVD copy of Tin Cup), served the sort strident absurdism that comes from three very funny guys messing around onstage. —MB
With the same energy as the Beatles and Rolling Stones (but with slightly less crowd fanfare), sketch duo the Pop Tarts (in their words the offspring of Flight of the Conchords and Spice Girls) hit the stage in Union Jack frocks and go go boots for a night of musical parody. These ladies flexed competent comedic chops and exuberant energy as they bolted out 8 or 9 numbers in numerous musical styles. One suggestion is that they create a more flushed out backstory. I kept trying to imagine the ages of their characters and just couldn't place them. Are they meant to be twentysomethings, in their thirties, middle-aged? I kept racking my brain trying to figure their story out. Nevertheless, in both song and snappy dialogue, they gave me a few chuckles. —Jason A. Heidemann
Saturday, January 12
The Playground's Matt Barbera turned me onto The Business at last year's festival and sufficed to say this team of youngsters has no business being this good this soon. Their scenes have a well-rehearsed spit and polish that lots of groups simply can't claim. For example, they deftly created a movie set complete with director, actors and tech people and it was all in service of a blink-and-you'll-miss-it blackout scene. Their mastery of language is a sight to behold. In a sketch set at an Olive Garden, we see both English and Italian unravel right before our very eyes (with a prop-heavy twist that was simply exubuerant). In another scene, the quintet showcases their pop-culture savvy as a couple uses Netflix recommendations to decide which movie to stream. My favorite scene was a fast-paced, whip-smart game of patty-cake that left me breathless. A couple scenes disappointed, but overall this group killed. —JAH
The four members of Chicago's Phat Beethoven opened their showcase in a pile, sort of vertically spooning, one on top of the other. "We hope you brought your thinking caps because we were recently voted the most cerebral group in town!" they said, and then made a bunch of dick jokes. This funny-stupid opening scene set the tone for a series of bizarre, well written sketches that were perverse and dark without trying too hard. That weird darkness crept up on the audience in the show's early scenes, becoming more apparent as things progressed before completely eclipsing everything in the David Lynch-meets-Godzilla final scene. Phat Beethoven had one of the few sets I can recommend without reservation; they were hands down one of the strongest teams I've seen at the fest. —MB
I never know what tricks Tim Soszko and Micha Philbrook of the tim&micah project will have up their sleeves, but I'm rarely disappointed. Last night was a reprisal of their latest revue Quinary in which the duo is unabashedly self-referential and exuberantly meta. Looking like a couple of svelte, avante-garde spelunkers (these guys always wear their trademark black and at one point were outfitted with tiny lights so they could see in the dark) they read fan mail aloud, moved about the stage with mirror-image precision, perfectly acted out a scene with stitched together stock dialogue from every action, gangster and noir flick known to man and even performed their first interdimensional sketch. There's always a sketch or two that has me scratching my head, but these "purposely pretentious" absurdists are longtime Sketchfest favorites of mine and I suspect always will be. —JAH
Heavyweight is something like a retroactive supergroup, a team whose members performed together for years but have all separately achieved notoriety on their own. This year's iteration of Heavyweight featured Mark Raterman and Nick Vatterott (the team's other two members, Brady Novak and TJ Miller couldn't make it) performing the entire sold out show dressed as Southwest Airlines flight attendants, who were tasked with entertaining passengers with a "skit show." This clever conceit opened the door for some goofy throw away jokes, the duo poked fun at the jokey attendant banter that everyone who's flown Southwest has rolled their eyes at, and the sporadic blackouts between scenes were apparently caused by turbulence and in-flight power issues. The team settled into a rhythm early on, Raterman mostly played the straight man to Vatterott's unhinged parade of animated weirdos in an ultimately enjoyable collection of scenes. —MB
Kerpatty's Pat Dwyer and Erin Pallesen are well known in the city's sketch scene as talented physical comedians, but the most interesting aspects of the show were more intellectual. Like Heavyweight, some of the biggest laughs came from the team's tweaking of sketch conventions; their home-recorded a capella versions of overused pop nuggets like "Gangnam Style" and "Call Me Maybe" acted as interstitial music, to the delight of the audience. A mysterious box sat far stage left for the entire show, its mere presence torturing Erin Pallesen, who'd turned it down in favor of $300 in a game show sketch early on. Near the end of the set, Pallesen gave into temptation and opened the box, which emitted a strange glow, Pulp Fiction style. I was hoping there'd be some sort of payoff beyond that, perhaps the knowledge of the box's contents could have somehow effected the shows finale? Unfortunately, that wasn't the case, the nearly-there concept mirrored the enjoyable yet unmemorable showcase from a pair of undoubtedly talented performers. —MB
Showing promise at this year's Sketchfest was Drew's Tumbler, a trio of women who have the acting chops and right amount of nuttiness to be a force to reckon with in festival's to come, even if some scenes did fall completely flat or felt not fully flushed out at times. A morning talk show devoted to crafting made perfect fun of women's programming while another on health insurance was achingly dull. A sketch set at an improv class hit a bullseye in its parody of our local comedy scene even if it struggled to find an ending while another featuring conjoined twins was skillfully executed and delightfully ridiculous. In the tradition of highly physical comedians who excel at lowbrow concepts, these funny ladies are on a roll (just like their skates in the show opener). —JAH
Friday, January 11
Thursday, January 10
Cell Camp formed in 2006, when the founding members were tasked with producing a sketch show as their final project in the Second City Training Center's writing program. They've continued on since then, and with an interesting tonal approach of adding a layer of dark humor to the sort of accessible premises seen on SC's main stages. The group is at its best when things get pitch black; the most memorable scene of the show featured a grieving mother, played by Marla Depew, who accidentally exposes herself during her son's funeral, which offered an interesting take on the desexualized, comedic (partial) nudity that's usually left to the dudes during these sort of mainstream-friendly shows. The rest of the show was adequately performed and written, but doesn't quite hold up when considering it in context of Sketchfest as a whole. —MB
Looking over my notes after seeing Butch LaRue, I struggled with deciphering something I'd scribbled at some point during the show. I don't remember writing "a sketch team for the Wrigleyville crowd," but it sure is a apt description for the team's fratty, Family Guy style penchant for safe button pushing. Their apparent lack of preparation resulted in stilted acting and confusing scenes (one sketch ended with unemployed character getting busted by his wife for sleeping with his secretary?), as well as tech issues both backstage and in the booth. Over the last week, I've repeatedly found myself empathetically frustrated for anyone who attempts to use Stage 733's horrible wireless microphones, which have, without fail, cut out every single time they've been used in a show. In an especially egregious scenario this time around, a character was frozen in place for nearly 30 seconds while actors struggled backstage to make the mic work properly for an overhead announcement that would wrap up the scene. Sure, they could have rolled with it a bit more nimbly, but they shouldn't have had to. —MB
You either walked out of Two Bunnies Eating Flowers after the first ten minutes last night or you stayed for the entire performance and it maybe changed your life. How best to describe this trio of nutty absurdists and the ridiculous, explosive, shocking, confrontational, glitterbomb of a show they dropped on Sketchfest audiences last night? I don't even know where to begin. Two Bunnies Eating Flowers are comedy studies camrades Alex Hanpeter, Kyle Reinhard and Jude Tedmori and while I want to divulge every last detail of their expertly executed sketch revue Horses Aren't People, Fishes Aren't Dogs, I'm going to hold back in hopes they'll do a run here in Chicago this spring. Sufficed to say they are high energy, high integrity and 100% committed to their craft. Aside from cracking themselves up a couple times on stage, they were flawless. But if you must know what it is we lucky few witnessed last night at Stage 773's Cab theater, let's just say it was a fearless, bloody, full-frontal assualt on all senses that makes you want to leap out of your seat and start a revolution. I loved it hard. —JAH
I may or may not have witnessed a prank marriage last night. Wildcard's rocky set was intruded upon by reality twice during their 45 minute performance, once early on by a group of vocal, drunk idiots in the front row who had no idea that everyone's pretty tired of reading about hecklers at this point, and again when a wedding scene climaxed with a recently ordained ensemble member breaking character and informing members Rachel LaForce and Greg Worsley that they've been legally wedded in real life, repeating "this is not a joke." While I want to believe it was just a well executed piece of sketch comedy, the palpable tension onstage, the frustrated tears from LaForce and absence of the team from the lobby after the show had me wondering if I'd seen something genuinely fucked up, or was just played by a clever scene that was twice as well acted and conceived as anything else the team had performed up to that point. —MB
Sunday, January 6
There were some genuinely funny lines and screwball inventiveness present in Mick & Weege Hit the Movies, but at times it got buried in material that was flavorless or done to death (I'm getting tired of parodies of movie trailers). The very competent Sherra Lasley was joined by Chris Blake in a two-person show that was augmented by supporting players. In one smart scene, Blake is very funny as the family dog and in another, Blake and Lasley break into joyous song in the back of the cab. But too often it felt like characters were weird for no reason and while there were several funny and pointed jabs at the movies, this was mostly low-brow schtick. —JAH
In a very promising early scene from Acid Reflux, a game of Super Password becomes the device through which a mother and father accidentally reveal family secrets to their children including cringe-worthy sexual escapades and the fact that their daughter is adopted. I wish all scenes had been this good. Mostly, this young ensemble leaned too much on heavy-handed acting and over-the-top premises and often the comic payoff just wasn't there. But there were some bright spots. A sketch about a blind date included a funny jab at Roosevelt University and a scene in which a boyfriend is put off by the open displays of affection from his girlfriend's family has been done before (Cam's mother in Modern Family), but at least it was grounded in reality. —JAH
Show #83 at last night's festival was the strange and cerebral duo Ray Bradgary. Based on their love of high-minded premises and inventive props, I would drop them into the "ones to watch" category. It's not that I loved the show, but I do think if they keep honing their craft they might have something interesting on their hands in a year or two. An opening rap number about having an average penis size included funny lines like, "Girl I'll never hurt you unless you're really dry," and a relationship scene set on an El track was full of sharp social satire. Meanwhile, a swipe at the Koch brothers included a funny appearance from Obama impersonator Patrick Rowland and a very funny Rube Goldberg device, but was muddled in its political commentary. Ditto a scene set on a space station that was inventively choreographed, but contained little point beyond that. Still, these guys were never once boring. —JAH