Archive for the tag “Second City”

Butt Trash

WHAT: Butt Trash
WHEN: Sundays at 8pm, March 24 – April 28
WHERE: Chemically Imbalanced Comedy (1422 W. Irving Park Rd.)
RUNTIME: 1 hour, with an approximately 5-minute intermission
WHO: Fanny and Dumpster, Chemically Imbalanced Comedy
PRICE: $10

OUR RATING: Do It!

Lakeview’s Chemically Imbalanced Comedy has a ton of shows going on right now, so Storefront City headed over to see one of their newer improv comedy shows, Butt Trash, featuring female improv comedy groups Fanny and Dumpster.

Adam: Our night began with Fanny, a group of women providing excruciatingly hilarious character acting, positively accurate group dynamics and strong comedy that seemed reminiscent of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia; I was most certainly bursting with laughter at these girls.

Made up of Blair Beeken, Claire Mulaney, Sarah Shook and Lily Sullivan, Fanny managed to take the annoyingly complicated suggestion of ‘municipal’ and turn it into a full-fledged ridiculous drama, replete with underage alcohol supply, sexual tension, eating disorders and the most broken social group I’ve seen presented on stage (and that’s a good thing).

What I like most about Fanny is their unashamed comedic antics. Leave your prudishness at home and wallow in the clever skits they produce, otherwise you’ll end up shocked and unamused. Standing out for me were performances by Claire Mulaney, who perfected the awkward overly long-dwelling on a subject that somehow makes it irresistibly funny, and Lily Sullivan, who managed to drop us right in the middle of the most timidly approachable subjects while remaining absolutely straight-faced.

Stream of consciousness and delightfully wonderful improv, Fanny are masters of their art and should be seen at all costs.

(cicomedy.com)

(cicomedy.com)

Alicia: After the briefest of intermissions came the next quartet, Dumpster, whose motto is “the Devil never closes a door without opening a dumpster.” Composed of cast members Jill Fenstermaker, Ellen Haeg, Molly Hall and Amy Speckien, the ladies in this group have credentials ranging from stints at iO Theater, The Gift Theatre, and plenty of other shows at CIC.

While not as successful as their predecessors from Fanny, Dumpster began and ended their show with a group scene, with different characters and combinations in between. The two weakest aspects of the performance was the group’s inability to stay on topic with the audience suggestion (merely using the subject to initiate the first scene, and then never referring to it again), and the constant rotation of changing characters that was hard to follow and which felt like somewhat of a letdown after Fanny’s consistent character profiles.

Yet, Dumpster’s focus on neuroses, family dynamics and a healthy variety of character acting led to fast-paced fun that definitely kept the audience at the edge of their seats wondering what might come next. With a suggestion of “toaster,” this dynamic quartet presented scenes anywhere from neurotic housewives reading romance novels and discussing their feminine problems, to an all-out family war at the dinner table sparked by a little bit of sibling rivalry. With Dumpster, you’re never sure what’s lurking around the next corner, or in the next garbage bin.

bt6

Final Thoughts: Chemically Imbalanced Comedy is producing new comedy at highly affordable prices. Easily accessible and rarely frequented, you are almost definitely guaranteed a seat and plenty of laughs at this independent and developing venue.

The La Ronde Project

WHAT: The La Ronde Project (La Ronde, The Blue Room, Fucking Men)
WHEN: March 10 – April 14, 2013 (Schedule)
WHERE: Stage 773 (1225 W. Belmont)
RUNTIME: Approximately 2 hours per show
WHO: Street Tempo Theatre
PRICE: $28 per play, or $60 for all three

OUR RATING: Do It!

Storefront City experienced a whirlwind day of theatre with Street Tempo Theatre’s La Ronde Project, a new three-play repertory presenting Arthur Schnitzler’s controversial 1903 erotic drama (La Ronde) along with other pieces it inspired: The Blue Room by David Hare and Fucking Men by Joe DiPietro. The repertory is also accompanied by an Improvised Musical Le Ronde that we unfortunately were unable to catch, but judging by director John Hildreth’s Second City credentials is sure to be hilarious. Controversial, witty and totally sexual, The La Ronde Project is sure to raise eyebrows.

La Ronde by Arthur Schnitzler (script available here)

Lauren Bourke and Dan Planz (Photo by Brian Work)

Lauren Bourke and Dan Planz (Photo by Brian Work)

Arthur Schnitzler’s dizzyingly erotic play, first privately published in German in 1900 (he thought the subject matter would cause uproar – it wasn’t premiered until 1920) is a commentary on both sexual morals and class struggle at the turn of the 20th century. A set of ten dialogues, before and after sexual encounters, the play toys with idea of sexuality being an equalizer, as well as a method of control, carefully buried beneath the pomp of lovely Vienna.

With transitions that allow for but one character to progress in the circle of sex (the “ronde” itself), director Tim Curtis moves us between the worlds of soldiers and prostitutes, maids and masters, as well as actresses and aristocrats, for good measure. The whole scope of Viennese society is captured in vivid detail, especially through the use of period set pieces, as well as costumes from the talented Laura Wilson.

Ultimately, some of the more subtle aspects might be lost in the century that has passed since Schnitzler penned this promiscuous little piece, but it remains nonetheless a compelling example of expert storytelling.

The Blue Room by David Hare (script available here)

Arielle Kresich and Matt Gall (Photo by Brian Work)

Arielle Kresich and Matt Gall (Photo by Brian Work)

Updated for the modern day, The Blue Room tells the same scandalous tales as La Ronde, but with the astounding directorial touch of Brian Posen and Cody Spellman, you are truly watching a unique piece of theatre outstandingly different from its predecessor. This production also focuses on the difference between the sexes and their (and our) perception of sexual excitement, lust and libido in a modern world that is not always what it seems.

The cast is complete with characters from the 1990s (a cab driver, au pier, and politician put in an appearance). Although we are led through similar scenes as the original, one feels the raw energy more so, as well as the disturbing nature of gender relations that still seems to cling to society, even after one hundred years of progress. The actors are on top form from beginning to end and every second in between, even acting like fiends during transitions and when ‘off-stage.’ Remarkable in both its staging and sensitivity, the exemplary direction of The Blue Room makes it a pleasure to watch.

Fucking Men by Joe DiPietro

Tyler Vaughn and Jaume Wojciechowski (Photo by Brian Work)

Tyler Vaughn and Jaume Wojciechowski (Photo by Brian Work)

This very recent play (premiered 2009) deals with La Ronde’s subject matter, but placing the story entirely within the framework of the ups and downs of gay male life in the United States. By examining relationships, lust and the need to connect in a world which still does not fully accept homosexuality, DiPietro creates a work that shows this and more through powerful dialogue, humor and dramatic poise.

The play knits together a portrait of life between the sheets and within a world that has literal dangerous consequences, and which is complete with arguments for and against monogamy, extreme secrecy and the longing to be fully liberated from oppressive circumstances. Directed by Scott Olsen with particularly strong and provocative staging, and with impressive character acting from Jack Bourgeois (Sammy) and well-rounded performances from Scott Olson (Director/Donald), Street Tempo offers a fierce take on this contemporary work.

(streettempotheatre.com)

Final Thoughts: Once again, quality work has been presented at Stage 773, proving that this venue is perhaps the best in the city for both fringe and mainstream theatre that is readily accessible to everyone. With The La Ronde Project, Street Tempo continues to showcase work that has never, or rarely, been seen in Chicago and puts a fresh spin on old classics. We encourage you to see at least one of these daring and completely amourous productions, as it will give you a taste of the massive scope of this huge project. If you do want to see them all, there is a discount on bulk tickets, so make sure you ask about it at the box office or online.

The Paper Machete

WHAT: The Paper Machete (Variety Show)
WHEN: Every Saturday from 3pm
WHERE: The Green Mill (4802 N. Broadway Ave.)

OUR RATING:
Do It!–Our experience
Chance It!–Possible future performances

(thepapermacheteshow.com)

(thepapermacheteshow.com)

The Paper Machete is a town crier for the modern age, providing audiences with amusing, serious and diverse entertainment covering pop culture, current events and a good dose of musical interlude. Originally launched in 2010, and created and hosted by writer Christopher Piatt, The Paper Machete tickles nearly every fancy, and allows one to experience the iconic cocktail lounge The Green Mill (of Prohibition fame) in the same manner as generations past: with a complete variety show.

Creator and Host Christopher Priatt (thepapermacheteshow.com)

Christopher Priatt (thepapermacheteshow.com)

Every Saturday afternoon at 3pm, this “live magazine” offers patrons a chance to connect with stars from the likes of iO, The Second City, the Neo-Futurists and beyond. Named best comedy variety show of 2011 by the Chicago Reader, the show encompasses an array of performances that are sure not to disappoint regulars and newcomers alike.

(greenmilljazz.com)

(greenmilljazz.com)

This past Saturday, Storefront City had a chance to visit this historic location and listen along to this rapid-fire magazine of popular thought. Our afternoon began with a rather serious interlude into environmental protection by Rachael Mason of iO. What appeared at first to be a paean for environmental action, soon showed its true colours as an amusing reflection on her childhood poetry for Earth Day, that brought up important and pertinent issues related to the recent Hurricane Sandy and its effects on her family. Masterfully blending humor and reality, Mason kept our attention and made us appreciate the awesome destructive power of nature, and man’s influence on it.

The Green Mill (courtesy of Tom Gill)

The Green Mill (courtesy of Tom Gill)

In keeping with this serious nature, Lisa Buscani of the Neo-Futurists’ investigation into the sordid world of Sandusky, from the perspective of another inmate at the same prison, provided a reflective moment to appreciate the situation of those who are behind bars and the circumstances that lead society to imprison.

Ike Holter

Ike Holter

But, let’s be honest, a magazine is never all about it’s newsworthy material, and we were treated to an inventive series of laughs as well. Ike Holter, popular playwright of Hit the Wall (first performed by The Inconvenience at Steppenwolf last year, and now moving to Off-Broadway), gave us an op-ed monologue musing on this year’s selection for the Academy Awards. Featuring quotes from “that owner of 7 Eleven who shouts at hipsters” to acceptances speeches themselves, Holter was full of ingenuity and verve.

(reformedwhores.com)

NYC’s Reformed Whores (reformedwhores.com)

And what variety show would be complete without music? We giggled with NYC musical comedy duo Reformed Whores, and swung along to the dulcet tones of Bethany Thomas (of Porgy and Bess fame), who created an atmosphere entirely appropriate to such a venerated establishment as The Green Mill.

Chad the Bird (wbez.org)

Chad the Bird (wbez.org)

A well-rounded current events publication needs a sports section, this one provided by resident puppet Chad the Bird (a Josh Zagoren creation). Staging in the venue was divided between the main stage towards the back, and the bar area, where Chad gave us his weekly sports roundup.

Matt Braunger (thepapermachete.com)

Matt Braunger (thepapermacheteshow.com)

Finally, Matt Braunger (love your website!) provided the capstone to the afternoon, also performing from the bar area. With topics covering Chicago staples such as certain kinds of people on the #22 bus, to tripped out nights dressed as clowns downtown, Braunger tapped into the audience and hit all the right notes. We highly recommend you see him if you can in the future.

Bethany Thomas (courtesy of Jeremy Rill)

Bethany Thomas (courtesy of Jeremy Rill)

Busy on Saturday afternoons? Not to worry! Every week The Paper Machete and host WBEZ create a podcast, also known as “The Paper Machete Radio Magazine,” with selections from the latest show.

The Paper Machete comes highly recommended from Storefront City. Best enjoyed with a couple of friends (the space is crowded) and a relaxed attitude, performances may vary week to week, but if the quality remains the same as last time, you will not be disappointed.

The 12th Annual Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival

WHAT: The 12th Annual Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival (SketchFest) (Comedy)
WHEN: January 3-13, 2013 (see schedule here for specific start times)
WHERE: Stage 773 (1225 W. Belmont Ave.)
HOST: Stage 773

OUR RATING: Do It!

(chicagosketchfest.com)

(chicagosketchfest.com)

Chicago is famous for its comedy, and especially its sketch comedy. Since the birth of Second City, the nation’s second city has become a magnet for all comedic types, from the guy performing at the bar right down to Jeff Garlin of Curb Your Enthusiasm fame. However, rarely does all this great talent coalesce in one place. The (12th Annual) Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival (aka SketchFest) at Stage 773 is one such rare place where troupes from around the country (and globe) perform to audience after audience in an excited, electric atmosphere that only a theatre of Stage 773’s calibre could muster. Over just two weeks of performances, Stage 773 will probably be visited by over 10,000 patrons watching 169 performances featuring over 1000 artists. The nation’s largest sketch comedy festival. Astounding.

Stage 773 Lobby (stupidtimemachine.wordpress.com)

Stage 773 (stupidtimemachine.wordpress.com)

When you enter SketchFest, you might be a little confused. There are people everywhere you look, some dressed as lobsters, another as a very demonic looking Winnie the Pooh. Beer is flowing from the bar, a woman stands atop an ice chest selling $4 PBR Tall Boys, as laughter is escaping from the theatres into the lobby. The awesomely-decorated space is pulsing with energy.

But don’t be fooled. This is organized chaos. After you pick up your ticket from the desk to the left of where you enter, you can mill around and have fun until your show is called. There is a really fun raffle going on, where you can win anything from some fun trinkets to a Guinness, and even free tickets, for only a buck. And once the hour comes around, every single theater in the space opens, and guests are ushered into their respective shows.

Once your show is done, you are led out of the theatre via an alternative route than those coming in, providing a constant flow of comedy-goers that prevents traffic jams and speeds transitions. And if you’re up for the challenge, you can go right back into the throng of enthusiastic lobby-dwellers and await the next show.

Stage 773 has four distinct theatres (proscenium, thrust, black box and cabaret), each featuring different comedians and troupes every hour. We didn’t manage to get into all four spaces last weekend, but we’re going to try to this weekend when the Fest continues.

 (cupidplayers.com)

The Cupid Players (cupidplayers.com)

Our night started off with The Cupid Players, who actually perform outside of SketchFest every Saturday night at Stage 773. If you’ve never seen Chicago sketch comedy before, this is where you should start. It’s better than any Second City show we’ve seen. Ensemble-driven, The Cupid Players create original and intelligent musical sketch comedies, rooted in social and political satire. They sing, they dance (well, sorta), they play musical instruments and, more importantly, boy do they entertain. It’s a wild and hysterical roller coaster, and when you get off the ride you’ll be high on laughter and your cheeks will hurt from smiling so hard.

Boat (boatcomedy.com)

Boat (boatcomedy.com)

Next up was Boat, a Brooklyn (NY) based trio with a hyper-satirical and rather surreal go at sketch comedy. These three boys are not afraid of the dark-side of comedy. If you aren’t into jokes about pedophilia, death and homosexuality, this may not be for you. But if you’re a little more open, Boat is definitely a unique and risk-taking bunch.

Missing Earl (missingearl.com)

Missing Earl (missingearl.com)

As with any comedy festival, each show you will see is different, and has a chance of being excellent or not to your liking. Such is the nature of comedy, after all. One show that we would not recommend was by Missing Earl from New York City. While a wide array of themes and ideas were put forward, none made these reviewers laugh in the way one would want. Overwhelmingly dark themes that didn’t seem to be derived from much more than grotesque or toilet humor (fancy eating a pilot’s privates after a serious plane crash?), we believe this group needs to focus on more accessible laugh, rather than fringe material whose goal is to shock rather than entertain.

Uncalled For (weareuncalledfor.com)

Uncalled For (weareuncalledfor.com)

However, apart from this slight blemish, the other shows we saw were timely and amazing. Canadian group Uncalled For produced a work reminiscent of the Monty Python good old days, complete with BBC news reports, time travel, CERN, the theory of evolution and free birthday cake. We would describe it as stream of consciousness humor that is hilarious in its absurdity, yet thoughtful in its content and delivery. A sensitive, side-splitting experience!

(chicagosketchfest.com)

(chicagosketchfest.com)

We suggest the best way to experience SketchFest is to go with a few friends and purchase a one-night pass this Saturday, and go from show-to-show (and make sure to see Cupid Players at 8PM on The Pro Stage). Buy a few raffle tickets and you’re practically guaranteed a lovely Guinness or two to accompany you throughout the night (a drink tends to make everything funnier, obviously). If this review isn’t quite enough to convince you to take part in this amazing experience, we think the promo image does the rest of the talking for us.

Jeff Garlin: Closer Than I Appear

WHAT: Jeff Garlin: Closer Than I Appear (Stand-Up Comedy)
WHEN: Running December 4 – 16, 2012
WHERE: Steppenwolf Theatre Company (1650 N. Halsted)
HOST: Jeff Garlin and Steppenwolf Theatre Company

OUR RATING: Do it!


–(photo courtesy of jeffgarlin.com)

We had the amazing opportunity to see the first preview of Jeff Garlin: Closer Than I Appear, a limited engagement stand-up comedy routine in Steppenwolf’s intimate Upstairs Theatre.

While perhaps most known for his role in HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm (of which he is also the executive producer), Jeff is also an alum of Chicago’s Second City, wrote/directed/starred in the film I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With, has lent his voice to numerous Disney movies and has a local show based in LA called By the Way – Conversations With.

Here’s our two cents on his newest show, Jeff Garlin: Closer Than I Appear.

Alicia: Unlike Adam, I am not a die-hard fan of Curb Your Enthusiasm, nor as familiar with Jeff’s comedy in general. Nevertheless, I went into the performance ready and willing for anything he might throw at me. I was not dissatisfied.

I won’t lie and say Mr. Garlin was flawless. His strength is clearly in scripted (or slightly structured) material, rather than stand-up. While the middle of his performance was shaky (he kept going back to a list of possible stories/angles he brought with him and trying out some new things, many of which only elicited a single laugh or two from the audience before descending into silence), the beginning and end of the show were really strong, and he was a pro at recovering from some of his dead-end attempts.

Perhaps what made this show so appealing was Jeff’s familiarity with Chicago (he’s a native of the city and owns a place up in the Gold Coast). Many of his jokes were based on things I knew from merely walking along the intersection of Chicago and Michigan, or passing the Lou Malnati’s in the Gold Coast. Jeff knows what a Chicago audience can relate to, and how to make it funny. His childish charm and curiosity are really unique staples in his routine. In summary, I found it extremely enjoyable, and I laughed a lot…which is the point, right? I’d go again, even if only to see his jack-o-lantern prop and hear a re-hash of his story about a man and his lotions and creams. I won’t expound or clarify…what would be the fun in that?

Adam: You can’t imagine how thrilled I was to able to see the legendary Jeff Garlin at Steppenwolf, practically right in my backyard. I have a long association with Curb Your Enthusiasm, and remember clearly first seeing the advertisements for it, starring Jeff, about ten or eleven years ago on British television. More than just a comedy series, the show resonated for me at another level, as I saw myself and antics (albeit exaggerated) reflected in those of the characters more often than not.

Jeff Garlin is truly a master of observational comedy. Whether it’s slightly touchy subjects like the obese and their scooters (and who hasn’t wondered about this) or the infamous “lotions and creams” man, Jeff literally makes you laugh out loud. And I mean LAUGH out loud, as in, I was laughing so much I could barely contain myself, which certainly can’t be said of any run-of-the-mill comedian.

His deep knowledge of Chicago and relatability to the audience created a relaxed atmosphere more akin to a conversation with Jeff than a show. While I would ordinarily find audience participation and shout-outs rather annoying, they were entirely appropriate here, and lent to the lovable sense of collective friendship Jeff created.

Jeff’s greatest strength is perhaps a total willingness to say what everyone else is thinking. He doesn’t do this maliciously or with intent to offend, but in the manner of the genuinely interested, which makes us evaluate why we are so introverted in our everyday lives as to never ask these questions. Perhaps what makes him so appealing is his ingenious ability to turn uncomfortable subjects into feather beds.

If you can make it to this show GO! Please, please go! It is the perfect antidote to the impending winter and might, just might, give you a little more faith in the human condition. (Additionally, this is a great opportunity to meet and greet with Jeff after the show, with a variety of merchandise for sale and signing by the man himself).

P.S.: Jeff has a fab new autobiography out that’s worth a read, if you can continue coherently between the laughs – Curbing It

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