Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: Smut: The Improvised Romantic Book Club/Under The Gun Theater

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Smut Poster

RECOMMENDED

Sex sells and the more of it the better for the bottom line. This is as true in movies as it is for literature with books like “Fifty Shades of Grey” dominating the romance aisle of Barnes and Noble. We might pretend to like sweet romance but in the end we go for the smut. This is true across the board with smutty love scenes liberally added into romance, fantasy, comedy and every other genre you can think of. Under the Gun Theater explores this phenomenon with “Smut: The Improvised Romantic Book Club.”  Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Holidazed and Confused/The Second City

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 Casey Whitaker, Martin Morrow, Kelsey Kinney, Ali Barthwell, Jasbir Singh, Charles Pettitt (photo by Kirsten Miccoli)

Casey Whitaker, Martin Morrow, Kelsey Kinney, Ali Barthwell, Jasbir Singh and Charles Pettitt/Photo: Kirsten Miccoli

RECOMMENDED

I must preface this review by noting that the type of comedy you enjoy is a matter of preference. With that said, The Second City’s “Holidazed and Confused Revue” is not for everyone. However, if quirky, SNL-like sketch comedy is what gets your laughter bug going then this show is a perfect way to spend your holiday season. Here, Second City plays to that crowd and from the uproarious laughter in the room they didn’t disappoint. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Fool Me Twice, Déjà Vu/The Second City

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Rashawn Nadine Scott, Daniel Strauss, Sarah Shook, Jamison Webb, Paul Jurewicz, Chelsea Devantez/Photo: Todd Rosenberg

Rashawn Nadine Scott, Daniel Strauss, Sarah Shook, Jamison Webb, Paul Jurewicz, Chelsea Devantez/Photo: Todd Rosenberg

RECOMMENDED

By the time the titular déjà vu kicks in during the second act of this fast-paced revue (Second City’s 104th on the mainstage), the audience is already so heavily invested in the six comedians on stage that they’ll follow them anywhere—through time, bizarre family meltdowns and even straight into the heart of the heavy, ultra-relevant relationship between Chicago’s (and America’s) people of color and police officers. Aside from the unprecedentedly intricate interlacing and layering between the scenes in the first and second acts, it’s the depth of the (funny but hard-hitting) sociopolitical messages interspersed throughout that brings this show to the next level. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Tribulation: The Musical/The Mission Theater at iO

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IMG_5326

RECOMMENDED

In “Tribulation: The Musical,” playing now in iO’s Mission Theater, mankind’s worst fears are confirmed—the world is burning and murderous Horsemen of the Apocalypse ride the streets, but you still have to show up for your shitty nine-to-five. For would-be-poet Genevieve (Sarah Hoffman), not even the Rapture distracts from the fact that her dreams of intellectual stardom have given way to a data-entry gig she hates and co-workers whose companionship she dreads. And that’s before her company is suddenly taken over by the Antichrist. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Porn Minus Porn/Under The Gun Theater

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Porn Minus Porn

RECOMMENDED

When you hear “Porn Minus Porn,” that is, porn without the sex and all of the naked people, you might think, “Why?” After all, the most deplorable part about porn, okay, other than its gender politics, is the writing. The dialogue always makes one wonder, “Why would anyone bother with anything other than the sex?” I admit that going into this show at Under The Gun Theater, I was less than optimistic about the possibilities of pornography without sex. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: #TBT/Under The Gun Theater

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Angie McMahon

Angie McMahon

RECOMMENDED

I’ve never been one to keep a consistent journal, but judging by the expressive content of the readings at Under The Gun Theater’s new monthly show “#TBT,” my infrequent entries are far too dry and logistical. A bit of background for the unfamiliar (read: old): #TBT (Throwback Thursday) is a Twitter/Instagram (and even Facebook, though their hashtag game is pretty weak) hashtag people use to post a photo or memory from their past. Every second Thursday at Under The Gun, “#TBT” provides a stage for ensemble members to read their early writing (mostly journals and letters) in all of their embarrassingly inelegant glory. And it is the perfect combination of all three: embarrassing, inelegant and glorious. It’s also sometimes moving.

The night I attended, a dozen readers braved the stage, clutching old diaries, personal letters and short stories. While the fiction readings delivered laughs through their overly ambitious prose—Allison Keller’s eighth-grade opus “The Homeless Child” described a color as “a deep planetarium purple”—the angsty and adamant pinings from young diaries make this a truly captivating show. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: VAMP: A Music Comedy Drinking Show/MCL Chicago

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VAMP

Michael Shepherd Jordan and Alex Garday

RECOMMENDED

Walking into the MCL Chicago space for “VAMP: A Music Comedy Drinking Show” is like walking into a raucous house party that’s just getting started. A four-piece band (Doc McCullough & The Vampers) plays frenetic jams while audience members mill around chatting and sipping from their various BYOB selections. And once the show gets started, under the direction of endearingly wry host Keenan Camp, it’s not that different from a house party itself. In fact, “VAMP,” as a whole, feels like a loosely organized, low-pressure showcase by a group of popular, talented, semi-intoxicated improvisers in a friend’s basement, with all the pros and cons associated with that scenario. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: ComedySportz/ComedySportz Theatre

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ComedySportz-20

Meg Grunewald (referee) and player Alex Garday (in red)/Photo: James Rand

RECOMMENDED

A brand since 1984, in Chicago since 1987 and in their current digs on Belmont since 2007, ComedySportz has clearly hit on a winning formula, proudly maintaining the title of longest-running short-form-improv comedy show in Chicago and extending that run every week. And short form it is, with quick, fast-paced games (most familiar to anyone with a little exposure to improv) making up the majority of the ninety-minute running time, which plays out as a competition between a blue home team (the Chicago Bosses) and a red visiting team (the Lyle Lovetts on the night I attended).

The lovely hardwood stage looks like a cross between a locker room, a performance space and a basketball court, with each team of three jerseyed players given a bench and a television screen to track their ongoing score. Points are awarded based on the success of improv games and there’s an announcer, a referee, an Applause-o-meter and… much like the show itself, which spends a solid ten minutes on introductory information, I’ve already used up a good deal of real estate explaining the premise. Suffice it to say that there is improv, there is competition and there is comedy. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Second City’s Improv All-Stars/The Second City

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(left to right) Adam Peacock, Ryan Archibald, Brooke Breit, Kevin Sciretta Second City Improv All-Stars . © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2015

Adam Peacock, Ryan Archibald, Brooke Breit, Kevin Sciretta/Photo: Todd Rosenberg

RECOMMENDED

Still going strong after more than three years, this sixty-minute showcase of Second City’s improvisational skill, with an on-stage cast of five that rotates through almost twenty listed cast members, manages a healthy mix of audience-pleasing quick laughs and more in-depth improvisational games. Director Mick Napier has allowed for plenty of audience suggestions (who laughs more than the person whose suggestion was taken?) with quick, clearly explained improv games while still letting his performers take a few scenes to expand on lengthier scenes with more character development.

On the Monday night I attended, the UP Comedy Club was nearly full and nearly every game, from the stalwart “freeze” to more elaborate games involving telling a story from multiple character perspectives and styles, landed. But the darker moments stood out—“Reunions are about going to be with the people who are supposed to make you happy but they don’t.”/”I thought that’s what Facebook was?”—demonstrating that this cast knows what’s funny is not always happy. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Ithamar Has Nothing to Say/Second City

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Ithamar Second City_00027

Ithamar Enriquez

RECOMMENDED

While watching Second City alum Ithamar Enriquez, I couldn’t help but think of “Geri’s Game,” the Pixar short film wherein an elderly man plays an increasingly erratic and high-stakes game of chess against a vicious opponent that turns out to be none other than himself. “Ithamar Has Nothing to Say” is not just a solo performance. It’s also a silent one. Billed as a modern update of the silent masters, Enriquez has sculpted, along with director Frank Caeti, an ode to vaudeville that also celebrates the “Yes And” brand of comedy touted by Enriquez’s alma mater.

Anyone accustomed to sketch or standup may take a little while to adjust to “Ithamar Has Nothing to Say.” The show’s first ten minutes demonstrate Enriquez’s physical dexterity, as he hops all over the stage, seemingly against his will. Transitions between sketches can sometimes be abrupt, though Enriquez keeps the energy going through each. The show uses a good deal of music across a broad genre spectrum, whether it be for the purposes of clever sendup—a The Who-themed spot is particularly hysterical—or to cue the audience into a cultural reference a la Enriquez’s string of handsy movie parodies. Read the rest of this entry »