Archive for the tag “The Second City”

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.

Improv All-Stars

WHAT: Improv All-Stars (Comedy)
WHEN: Every Monday at 8pm from January 21 – April 29 (with an additional performance on January 24 at 8pm)
WHERE: UP Comedy Club (230 W. North Ave.)
RUN TIME: 60 minutes, no intermission
PRICE: $16.00 (Online and phone orders incur a $3-$7.50 fee)

OUR RATING: Chance It!

In Chicago, you can’t get more classic than The Second City. Founded in the 1950s at the University of Chicago, it is a cornerstone of comedy, and so, we expect only the best chortles when appreciating their interpretation of the artform. Improv All-Stars at UP Comedy Club, comprised of Second City-ites, certainly made us chuckle, but fell short of the mark and ultimately left us believing that you can only do the same routines so many times before they become old and worn.

(upcomedyclub.com)

(upcomedyclub.com)

We’d previously been initiated into the UP Comedy Club scene a few months ago to see a few stand-up acts by Maribeth Monroe and Erik Griffin from the show Workaholics. The space, located on the third floor of Piper’s Alley in Old Town, and just adjacent to their presenter Second City, is pretty unique, offering two levels of cabaret-style seating, as well as a full service kitchen and bar.

Under the direction of Mick Napier, Improv All-Stars features highly interactive improvisational comedy, with a mix of traditional games you’ll see elsewhere in the Chicago improv scene with some long-form pieces. We will admit that some classic routines, including shout-outs from the audience to construct a story told by each member in succession (including robots and Asians) and a full musical sung about completely wacky subjects, with the accompaniment of an acoustic piano, were really fun and could not be replicated by other groups.

(upcomedyclub.com)

(upcomedyclub.com)

Improv All-Stars really plays on their ancestry, once in awhile speaking about the development of the improvisational art form and the uniqueness of Second-City comedy. This segwayed into a simple, but rather lengthy, two-person improvised scene based entirely on one suggestion from the audience.

(upcomedyclub.com)

(upcomedyclub.com)

However, perhaps what bothers us the most about UP is not the content or locations, but the little things that seem to get in the way of a good evening. The price, at $16, is steep for an hour of comedy (even if it is Second City), and especially so when the material is not really that new. Add to this the service charges (we could talk about how nauseating annoying these are in another post entirely) and you have tickets costing over $20 for only 60 minutes of performance. That’s more than a just-minted college grad makes in 2 or so hours, and they are literally just running around the stage playing games! And then there are the wait staff. Our advice to them: stop harassing patrons who are clearly not going to buy anything, especially since there isn’t a drink minimum (if we’ve said no once, do you really think our answer is going to change over the course of an hour? And if it did, we’d just wave you over to help us out).

(upcomedyclub.com)

(upcomedyclub.com)

Seeing comedy in Chicago is kind of like playing Russian Roulette, and with the cast of Improv All-Stars constantly rotating, there is such a thing as an on or off night. So, our advice to you (if you have the $20 to spare) is go and try it out. You’ll have a good time regardless (it’s funny), but only if you are willing to part with your Jackson with no hard feelings.

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.

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