Strawdog rocks the Phone Book, plus the return of Red Noses
Last night I fulfilled a dream I didn't even know I had until it was happening in front of me: I watched veteran actor Mike Nussbaum bark George Michael lyrics into a banana.
The event was Strawdog Theatre Company's benefit performance of The Phone Book, a variety show in which an all-star cast offered up idiosyncratic takes on a telephonic theme. One of the highlights was a parodic re-enactment of how Strawdog's supposed production of the David Mamet hit American Buffalo "moved" to Steppenwolf. Nussbaum, 86, who originated the role of Teach in Buffalo's 1974 debut, reprised it, while Fran Guinan took on his current role of Don in Steppenwolf's actual revival. Strawdog's self-deprecating gag was a nod to its penchant, as in last year's production of Red Noses, to swap out script elements it definitely hasn't obtained rights for, like specified songs, for the company's own choices. In Buffalo's famous telephone scene, Strawdog doesn't have rights to the script's phone numbers, and then the phone company pulls the plug—thus, Nussbaum screaming "You gotta have faith-uh-faith-uh-faith-AHH" into fruit.
It was a perfect set-up for the evening's big news: Strawdog artistic director Nic Dimond announced that Red Noses (TOC's number-three choice on our 2009 theater top ten) will become the twentysomething company's first-ever remount this summer, first hitting Theater on the Lake July 14–18 before a four-week July–August reprise at Strawdog's Lakeview home.
Other highlights of the evening included Tribune luminary Rick Kogan, who riffed on the directory theme to note two of the phone numbers he still recalls in this age of cell phones and speed dial: those of his father, Herman Kogan, and Studs Terkel, which he eloquently spun into an indictment of the Iraq War. Improv giants TJ Jagodowski and Dave Pasquesi built an on-the-spot novella about wannabe barrel builders from a Yellow Pages ad; a short film featured Strawdog's Anderson Lawfer delivering prank calls with SNL vet Nora Dunn, resplendent in a white bathrobe and Mexican wrestler's mask; 500 Clown's Molly Brennan and John Fournier declared that their love was coming to town to kick our ass. Hosts Michaela Petro and Carmine Grisolia, with house band Seeking Wonderland (led by Misha Fiksel), ably steered one of the most chaotic yet cohesive live variety shows in recent memory. Strawdog's next production, Kimberly Senior's revival of Uncle Vanya, starts performances February 20.