Review: Only Kidding (Emergent Theatre)

| June 19, 2011

Stale jokes, familiar story in need of serious update


Only Kidding

Emergent Theatre presents
Only Kidding
Written by Jim Geoghan
Directed by Frank Nall
at Chicago Center for the Performing Arts, 777 N. Green (map)
through July 10  |  tickets: $10-$30  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh 

‘Writers don’t know what it’s like under battle conditions.‘ A  seasoned comedian struggles to stay relevant in the ever-changing world of showbiz. A newbie writer is brought in to develop new jokes for him. The generational clash isn’t so funny. Emergent Theatre presents Only Kidding.  Jackie loves being a stand-up comedian.  He lives for the spotlight.  He enjoys his old-fashion, uncensored shtick.  His material is losing its audience.  Sheldon is recruited to freshen him up.  He writes politically-correct banter for a TV talk show host.  Their union isn’t civil.   In another dressing room, in another town, two partners debate their act.  Tom and Jerry have been doing the same routine.  Tom wants to bring in new material.  Jerry wants to bring in a manager.  The duet is not harmonious.  Three years later, the foursome meet up in the green room.  Who’s with whom?  Only Kidding is a bit already bitten.

Playwright Jim Geoghan writes a behind-the-scenes look at stand-up comedians.  Geoghan focuses on aging-out and dated material.  It’s not the premise, it’s the script.  The set-up is familiar.  The punchline is more of a pinchline. The jokes are old.  Director Frank Nall salvages the play by showcasing solid acting.  In the lead, Bobby Costanzo (Jackie) is perfect old-school comedian.  If Jackie Mason and Jerry Stiller had a love child, it would be Costanzo.  Although he’s crass, brass and a bit of an ass, he endears as the well-worn choice over the shiny, newer version.  Jim Saltouros (Tom) acts the part but doesn’t look the part.  In a play emphasizing *age*, Saltouros and A.J. Miller (Jerry) as a duo is a speed bump.  Visually, Saltouros seems more aligned with Costanzo.  Their chemistry is much more peer-oriented than an establishment-rookie scenario.  For his part, Miller plays out-of-control novice with energetic hi-jinx.  Eustace Allen (Sheldon) is a hoot as a buffoonish writer.  With animated facial gestures, Allen provides an amusing slapstick element. 

Geoghan wrote a character resistant to change.  It’s an art imitating life moment.  All kidding aside, Only Kidding is begging for an update.  To build the gap between washed-up and up-and-coming, the other characters need to be more humorous contemporaries.  The jokes need to be funnier, fresher, and farcical. For the age contrast between Jackie and Jerry to work, Tom and Jerry can’t have one.  Without the disparity, the point is lost and the joke is on us… Only kidding – but seriously!      

Rating: ★½

Running Time:  Two hours and ten minutes, which includes an intermission


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Category: 2011 Reviews, Chicago Center for the Performing Arts, Emergent Theatre, Katy Walsh, Now Playing

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