Now extended thru March 19th
Funny and sharp survival tale
|Greenhouse Theater Center presents|
|Squeeze My Cans|
Review by Lauren Whalen
Cathy Schenkelberg is many things: a successful voice-over artist and performer, a single mother, a Nebraska native, one of ten children, someone who lost her older brother at an early age. And for over a decade, Schenkelberg was a Scientologist. Her “training” began with a personality test at the Chicago Scientology Center on Lincoln Avenue (steps away from the Athenaeum Theatre), then to the Celebrity Center in Los Angeles and eventually to Clearwater, Florida, Scientology’s unofficial “home.” At one point, Schenkelberg auditioned to be Tom Cruise’s girlfriend. Squeeze My Cans is her story, a whirlwind solo show about aliens, families and faith. Funny and heartbreaking, it tries a little too hard most of the time but is worth the trip to Lincoln Park.
By now, most of us are aware of Scientology, the mysterious “religion” conceived of by author L. Ron Hubbard and memorialized in the 2000 box-office flop “Battlefield Earth.” Scientology boasts high-profile members like John Travolta and Tom Cruise, and more recently, ex-members such as Leah Remini, who’s since written a book about her experiences with the church. Unlike most churches, Scientology doesn’t to help the poor, hungry and sick, nor does it center around a deity. Instead, Scientology concentrates on the individual personality, magnifying ability for all it is worth. There are also aliens involved (an episode of “South Park” circa 2005 covers the origin story very well). Oh, and it’s incredibly expensive and time-consuming to become and stay a member. Schenkelberg projects a running tally of the near-million dollars she spent over the years and talks at length of the credit cards she opened and the weekly sums she wired directly to the church.
Schenkelberg is candid and explicit as to what led her to pursue Scientology. As a young woman living in Chicago and Los Angeles, she was pursuing an acting career with some success but, like many early twentysomethings, was searching for her true purpose in life. Anyone who’s studied cults knows that they prey on the lonely and vulnerable – bonus points if they can get their hands on your money. Thanks to Schenkelberg’s frank voice, Squeeze My Cans makes it easy to see why she stayed for so long, even after her then-nine-year-old daughter expressed tangible qualms. Like most cults, Scientology doesn’t just offer meaning, it offers a community, a network that gets increasingly difficult to leave the longer one stays.
My main issue with Squeeze My Cans is that at times, it tries too hard. Schenkelberg’s story is so emotional and compelling, her journey so true-to-life, that gimmicks aren’t necessary – yet the audience is treated to plenty. We don’t really need a dance number to Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” to illustrate how far Schenkelberg has fallen down the rabbit hole. Her comic yet vulnerable anecdotes and adventures are enough, yet neither the writer/performer nor director Shirley Anderson seem to trust them. Without the gratuitous silliness, Squeeze My Cans would be even more effective, but it falls into the trap of gimmick over and over again.
Despite this glaring flaw, Schenkelberg is charismatic and winning, and the audience roots for her the entire fast-paced 80 minutes. Squeeze My Cans offers a rare non-celebrity glimpse into a “church” that even after the dawn of the Internet, remains mysterious and more than a little foreboding. (There are lots of disappearances and deaths of ex-members and even former church leaders.) Squeeze My Cans is a memorable solo show of a unique yet universal experience: falling under the spell of something that turns out to be rotten and destructive. Schenkelberg is relatable and hilarious, and when she’s not trying so hard to make us laugh, she’s very successful at making us think.
Squeeze My Cans continues through
March 12th March 19th at Greenhouse Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln (map), with performances Thursdays & Fridays 7:30pm, Saturdays 2pm & 7:30pm, Sundays 2pm. Tickets are $25 (students: $20), and are available by phone (773-404-7336) or online through Vendini.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at GreenhouseTheater.org. (Running time: 80 minutes, no intermission)
Photos by Aleksandra Mendel
behind the scenes