Category: Annoyance Theatre
The Chicago theater community will again produce a wide array of Christmas and holiday plays, musicals, ballets and comedies in 2016, all designed to put you in a festive mood. Find the entire list of holiday offerings below!
Now extended through October 7th!!
Hilarity, history and the ‘Big O’
|The Annoyance Theatre presents|
|Oprah! A Comedy! Live Your Best Laugh|
|Co-created and directed by Anne Marie Saviano
Co-created and written by Marc Warzecha
at The Annoyance Theatre and Bar, 4830 N. Broadway (map)
Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins
Ah Chicago. It’s a hardscrabble kind of place and once the people take you into their hearts it seems that there is instant canonization. For better or worse we Chicagoans have our saints. In Oprah! A Comedy! Live Your Best Laugh, conceived by two Second City alums, The Annoyance Theatre hits the mark with hilarious perfection.
Michelle Renee Thompson does a spot on Oprah as Lady Bountiful and full of herself. Ms. Thompson’s Oprah is led on an ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ type of replay of her years in Chicago. This is a purely Chicago production with parodies of present day politicos and a couple of ghosts from the past played to perfection.
The supporting cast of “Oprah” brings to life all of the lore that has been dispensed about Ms. Winfrey. No one is allowed to look Ms. Winfrey in the eye and if you reach the exalted position of calling her Ms. Oprah Winfrey rather than her surname-well it’s a Benny Hinn-style miracle. The evangelist dig was slipped in so smoothly that perhaps only insomniacs and media nerds such as myself caught it.
Oprah gives a ‘miracle’ of her advice and inspiration to Janet who she calls Janice, lays hands on her forehead, and Janet swoons falling backwards. Liz Bell is hilarious as the newly-inspired Janet and as other characters Suze Orman, Ellen Degeneres , and Mother Theresa.
Nate Sherman plays Oprah’s eternal sideman Steadman. Thompson’s Oprah doesn’t know his last name or what he does for a living. Mr. Sherman also brings life to Mahatma Gandhi and Jesse Jackson Sr. The spoof of Jesus, Gandhi, and Mother Theresa on Oprah’s favorite things show brings down the house. Gandhi gets a Volkswagen Beetle and exclaims that he deserves it because “I got shot and it was bullshit!” while Jesus and Mother Theresa cling to one another in shock and awe. Mr. Sherman’s Jesse also offers father another illegitimate baby with Oprah if she will stay in Chicago.
Justin Vestal plays Richard M. Daley as the political scion always trying to live up to his father’s legacy. Vestal is a mirror or Daley-isms at a press conference even throwing in the legendary ‘cuckoo!’ He begs Oprah to stay and shore up his legacy since he lost the Olympics. Then the ghost of Richard J. Daley enters and he is given the Royko-inspired name “Boss”. He slaps Richard M. around and then sets about showing Oprah that Ellen Degeneres would be the queen of talk while Oprah is relegated to local commercials.
If you have lived in Chicago for at least five years, you will recognize the Eagle Man laying the insurance rate egg, Peter Francis Geraci’s painful deadpan delivery, and the Empire Carpet commercials. (It should be noted that Elmer Lynn Hauldren just passed away and was known as the Empire Man for over thirty years.) A woman behind me cringed and said “too soon”. I say just right. Hauldren was well aware of his cult status and had been spoofed on the Chicago stage before by playwrights and comedians. The show was running before he died and his appearance with a halo was more of a tribute in my eyes. Besides, Hauldren had appeared in the carpet commercials as a cartoon for the past few years with only his voice. R.I.P. 588-2300 Empi-i-i-re Today! Wolfgang Stein played him with a wonderful doddering effect.
Oprah! opens up a few sensitive tabloid subjects with comic flourish. Brittany Davis plays best friend Gayle King with schoolgirl lesbian crush undertones. Oprah and Gayle pantomime patty-cake (ala “The Color Purple”) whenever they part. Stein reappears as couch jumping freak Tom Cruise who frantically humps Oprah’s leg. And there’s is a freaky scene with her and Dr. Phil that would spin the National Enquirer on its’ head.
In all, this is inspired satire and it is brilliantly funny. I have not laughed so hard in a while and hope that Oprah! A Comedy! Live Your Best Laugh could play continuously for a while like other Chicago classics. Over 70 Chicago icons make the cut in this fast paced and intelligently funny show. Yes, some of the jokes are base and low, but to quote Richard “Boss” Daley, “This is Chicago and if you don’t like it, kiss under the mistletoe on my suit tail”.
Oprah A Comedy! Live Your Best Laugh runs through
May15th October 7th at The Annoyance Theater. Go to www.annoyanceproductions.com for more information on tickets and show times. Lighten up and laugh!
Small scale, big laughs, great fun
|Annoyance Theatre presents|
|Skiing Is Believing: A Speedy, Deadly Musical|
|Written by Boaz Reisman & Hans Holsen
Directed by Dunbar Dicks
Musical Directed by Boaz Reisman
at Annoyance Theatre & Bar, 4830 N. Broadway (map)
through March 12 | tickets: $20 | more info
Reviewed by Oliver Sava
Small-scale, low-budget original musicals are shockingly easy to find in Chicago, but good ones are more of a rarity. Often time, lofty ambitions and expectations beyond the theaters’ modest means lead to the undoing of these production, but Annoyance Theatre understands and embraces its limitations to create production that are both economical and gut-busting. Using only a piano, a handful of actors, and minimal set dressing and costumes, Skiing Is Believing is another success for the Uptown theater, a hilarious musical that will appeal to both skiers and non-believers.
Brett (Scott Nelson) and Gary Wheatley (Kellen Alexander) are a superstar skating duo who return to their hometown of Ski-town to celebrate Brett’s upcoming nuptials. After a few shots of Jager with their best “brahs”, Brett and Gary takes to the slopes for a late night ski, until an avalanche buries Gary under a sheet of snow. (Literally a white sheet with holes cut into it; cheap, yet incredibly effective.) The avalanche also takes the life of a baby learning to ski, setting off a stream of dead baby jokes that start off funny with the song “A Baby Has Died,” but eventually become rather tedious. Luckily, these jokes are the only ones that fail to connect, and the baby skiing death leads to some great comic plot developments.
His guilt over the death of his brother and various babies throws Brett into a depression that lasts six months, pushing him apart from his fiancée (Mary Cait Walthall), who channels her frustration in the explosive bridge of her ballad “The Light In Your Eyes,” doing her best Jennifer Holliday impression. Eventually Brett is convinced to reenter the world, beginning with a Gnarleyfest, a wild, raunchy party that ends up taking the life of yet another person close to Brett, his friend Devin (Neil Dandade). The dead bodies piling up pushes Brett out of Ski-town, down south to Panama, where he meets a sassy local named Manuela (Chelsea Devantez) and dedicates himself to building a second Panama Canal in his brother’s memory.
The plot to Skiing Is Believing is completely nonsensical, but the actors are unflinching in their dedication to the material. Productions at The Annoyance are built with the help of the actors, and this cast of improvisers is adept at creating the types of wacky characters that would inhabit a musical as ridiculous as this one. The Panama setting in the second act is basically used to give the actors an excuse to use exaggerated Latin accents, but they are so funny that the laziness in the plot is excusable. The music is infectiously catchy (“Seeing me skiing is seeing me being happy!”), fantastically sung, and the characters are exaggerated but fully realized, making Skiing Is Believing one of the strongest small-scale musicals I’ve seen in quite a whole. If you’re brave enough to brave the treacherous slopes of Ski-town, it will make a believer out of you, too.
Rich Girl Gone Bad—Really, Really Bad
|Annoyance Theatre presents|
|Book/Lyrics by Aggie Hewitt
Music/Lyrics by Lisa McQueen
Directed by Irene Marquette
at Annoyance Theatre, 4830 N. Broadway (map)
through August 6 | tickets: $15 | more info
reviewed by Paige Listerud (and, after the break, Barry Eitel)
Just who is Lizzie Borden to the average person today—a reclaimed feminist icon from the 19th-century or a poor little rich girl gone really, really bad? Lisa McQueen (music and lyrics) and Aggie Hewitt (book and lyrics) get to have it both ways with their masterful musical comedy 40 Whacks, now playing Fridays at the Annoyance Theatre. Truth to tell, Lizzie (Ellen Stoneking) wins audience applause at the end of the show because – after a wild ride of mayhem and mistrial – she gets away with it all.
Irene Marquette directs a cunning comidic cast, who lay it all on the line about the good ol’, bad ol’ days surrounding this murder, America’s sordid Gilded Age. Even if Lizzie is no feminist heroine—largely because the glass ceiling she bumps into is about sharing part of her inheritance with her stepmother, Abby (Jennifer Estlin)—the show is, nevertheless, very conscious about the limitations women faced in the 1892, in and out of marriage. Lizzie’s father, Andrew Borden (Noah Gregoropolous), gets thoroughly hosed in the script as the Borden family’s patriarchal douche bag. But Gregoropolous’s dry, deadpan pronouncements on women’s menstrual cycles and mental states make us wish he wasn’t off to see his maker so quickly.
What amazes most about this production is its restraint. Marquette has adhered to a little more class and period consciousness than one usually sees in Annoyance productions. Higher production values in scenic design and costuming, coupled with hints of ragtime in McQueen’s musical score, give the audience a stronger sense of old-timey mass murder–all the better with which to sail into the production’s more off-the-wall, anachronistic moments. After a steady diet of arsenic poisoning and a failed attempt at getting medical help, Abby starts to make Uncle John’s (Mike Maltz) bed on the second floor. We know that her mortal comeuppance at Lizzie’s hands is imminent. However, Abby still gets a glorious swansong before her demise, covering the Carpenters’ 1972 hit “I’ll say goodbye to love.”
That’s not the end to this show’s imaginative flights of fancy. The cast knows how to pour it on for Lizzie’s trial, which Lizzie gets to observe through nothing less than a court-ordered morphine haze. Maltz is charming as Uncle John Morse–what with his little crush on the family Irish maid Bridget (Chelsea Farmer)–but he really excels at delivering the trippy, whacked out opening remarks as the prosecuting attorney. Cristin McAlister, demurely spoiled and vindictive as Lizzie’s sister Emma, really gets to step out and shake it as Lizzie’s defense. Sherman Edwards, as the casual and celebrity conscious judge overseeing trial proceedings, seals the circus for what it is. “Will you be dignified and respectful of the court system?” he mildly asks of the audience before Lizzie arrives. His understated delivery already informs us we need not be.
What seals the deal for this show is its excellent music. There are times when the score strays into operetta territory and that’s when I begin to ask whether the producers have created something a little beyond Annoyance’s typical schlock comedy fare. 40 Whacks definitely delivers more sophistication, while keeping a light, crude touch to get across Lizzie’s overwhelming sense of entitlement. I, of course, am screaming for more and I hope Annoyance’s audiences will too.
* Review #2 after the fold *
Veteran sketch director can’t save “Swear Jar”
|Annoyance Theatre presents|
|Directed by Mick Napier
Musical direction by Lisa McQueen
Annoyance Theatre, 4830 N. Broadway (map)
through May 1st (more info | tickets – $15)
reviewed by Keith Ecker
Annoyance Theatre‘s founder and artistic director Mick Napier has never once directed a sketch show for his own company in its 22-year history. It’s not that he doesn’t have experience in the medium. In fact, Napier’s a bit of a Chicago comedy legend, having directed more than 15 Second City revues and working with the likes of Stephen Colbert and Amy Sedaris.
Swear Jar is Napier’s debut sketch revue for his own theatre. And although it definitely embraces the Annoyance aesthetic—which can be described as subversive, in-your-face, punk rock comedy—it never gains the momentum it needs to be a truly good sketch show.
It’s not that there aren’t some shining moments of hilarity. A scene where an alter boy (Chris Witaske) makes a lustful pass at a kind-hearted priest (Andrew Peyton) inverts the played out power dynamic with great success. Another scene (once again starring Witaske opposite straight man Peyton) depicts a desperate suit salesman quickly crumbling before an unsuspecting customer. Witaske’s solid acting skills and captivating stage presence make the demented sketch one of the best in the show.
The musical sketches, save for the closer which is a painfully unfunny and poorly executed piece about fast food, are big winners as well, thanks in part to musical director Lisa McQueen’s strong songwriting abilities. In particular, Vanessa Bayer’s rap about battling Leukemia is a perfect blend of catharsis and comedy.
Like a good stand-up act, a sketch show is only going to work if you can maintain momentum. One dip in the running order is acceptable, but when you have a string of sketches that just aren’t funny, then it’s difficult to keep the audience’s attention, even if the humor is meant to be somewhat shocking.
This was the case for many bits that may have started strong but then, with no real conclusion, just floundered and died on stage. A sketch about a man (Brian Wilson) who gets the bright idea to sit on the car’s gearshift plays out in full just as I describe it. A woman’s-only afternoon tea starts funny as the ladies passive aggressively take pot shots at each other’s failing relationships. It even gets to a second beat as one woman is berated by the hostess’s husband for spilling her drink on the floor. And just as you’re waiting for the final punch of the sketch, it awkwardly and abruptly ends.
Swear Jar would be a much funnier show if it was consistent. There are just too many bumps throughout the revue. Many of the performers seem fairly green to the stage, having difficulty projecting their voices beyond the front two rows. (Witaske and Bayer, however, do stand out as consistently strong players.) The writing, too, is all over the place, often trying harder to shock than to elicit laughter. Although there is something to be said about shocking an audience, contemporary culture has raised the bar on what passes for taboo to a point that this sketch show just doesn’t hit, save for a sketch about a girl with a heavy flow.
With directing Swear Jar, Napier doesn’t abandon the Second City sketch format that inserts short “blackout” pieces between longer sketches, but he does tweak it. There is an outpouring of short, 30-second sketches near the end of the show, which helps bring up the energy at the end. But overall, the revue drags when the comedy just isn’t there, and at other times, the slew of short pieces can feel frantic and choppy. The show could also be trimmed down by 30 minutes. With an intermission, the 10 p.m. revue didn’t end until midnight.
Swear Jar just never hits its stride. Instead it limps across the finish line. There are some great moments and solid performances here and there, but the bulk of the revue feels directionless, which is a shame when you have the talent of Napier in the director’s chair.
RUN: Previews | March 13 and 20 | 10:00 PM | $10 // Saturday | March 27 – May 1 | 10:00 PM | $15
- check out Mark Napier’s book “Improvise. Scene from the Inside Out”
- check out Annoyance’s acting and writing class schedule
- fun schtuff
Innovative art springs from the minds of babes
Barrel of Monkeys presents:
That’s Weird, Grandma
review by Keith Ecker
Chicago is not lacking in the comedy department. I’ve met accountants who do improv comedy by night and schoolteachers who do stand-up. There are no less than three prominent comedy institutions in the city—Second City, iO and the Annoyance Theatre—not to mention the smaller contenders, including The Playground Theater, the Cornservatory, Chemically Imbalanced Comedy, pH Productions and ComedySportz.
Perhaps this saturation is to compensate for the depressing and long Chicago winters we have to suffer through. Regardless, saturation is the key term. How much comedy can one sit through before you feel like you’ve heard the same joke a hundred times over? Who do we turn to for comedy that pushes the boundaries while delivering fresh material?
The answer is the children.
Theatre company Barrel of Monkeys has tapped into the genius that is Chicago’s public school students and mined the young minds for comedic gems. And what they deliver is absolutely fascinating, often surreal and at times extraordinarily touching.
The show That’s Weird Grandma, which plays weekly at the Neo-Futurists space in Andersonville, is a fast-paced variety show of child-written stories adapted to the stage by the talented theatre group. Each week, the cast slots out one to three sketches, resulting in a completely new show every few weeks.
That’s Weird Grandma is only a small component of the Barrel of Monkeys franchise, which consists of an ambitious educational outreach program that teaches kids about creative writing. Since the program began, the group has worked in 32 Chicago Public Schools, and more than 7,000 students have participated in its workshops. There is also an after-school program in Loyola Park Field House in Rogers Park.
The show I saw consisted of 16 sketches, each lasting no more than several minutes. Sketches were presented in rapid-fire succession, and each was given an introduction that included the name and school of the student who had written the piece. Most of the pieces were completely fictitious though a couple were reflections of real life, including the hilarious scene “My Dad at Panda Express,” which features an angry father chewing out a young and confused Panda Express employee for neglecting to save any orange chicken for him.
Music accompanies every scene, and many sketches are musical in nature. For example, “Kool-Yummm” is a lyrical ode to Kool-Aid and features a hip-hop jam from the big red pitcher himself, the Kool-Aid Man.
As mentioned, the comedy captures the surreal minds of children in a way that celebrates their imaginations. You’re not laughing at them; you’re laughing with them. For instance, “W-I-A-R-D” is a bewildering scene about three girls, one of which is named Monkey, who find a note on the ground. What does the note say? “It say Jogococo.” Is this explained? No. Does it need an explanation? No. This is an unfiltered reflection of the hyperactive imaginations that rises out of the minds of babes, and that is satisfying enough.
The show wouldn’t be as amazing if it wasn’t for the talented cast, many of whom received training at the aforementioned comedy powerhouses. Their energy is big,; their commitment is strong; and their singing abilities are solid. Two of the cast members even swapped out seats at the piano to provide the accompaniment.
That’s Weird, Grandma is appropriate for all ages and has mass appeal. Scripts are tweaked so that some subtle jokes for the adults are thrown in, but the material in general is the stuff that everyone can relate to, from sisters ruining lives to parents ignoring children.
If you’re looking for something beyond Second City’s political humor, iO’s long-form improv and the Annoyance’s in-your-face comedy, That’s Weird, Grandma fills a Dadaist niche all its own that is much more than child’s play.
Performance Dates, Times and Location
"That’s Weird, Grandma" is currently running Sunday afternoons at 2 PM. Our Sunday matinee shows continue through April 4, and our 8 PM Monday night shows return on March 15.
The show runs a little over an hour.
"That’s Weird, Grandma" is presented at the Neo Futurists Theatre, located at 5153 N. Ashland Ave., on the corner of Ashland and Foster in Chicago.
Kink it is-—NOT!
Annoyance Theatre presents:
review by Paige Listerud
GREG: I’m a workin’ man, sellin’ Coke and wearin’ a thong . . .
I’m a workin’ man, wearin’ panties everyday
I’m a workin’ man—God bless the USA!
A word of advice to musical comedy creators out there: christen your show with a title like Kink and the pressure is on to deliver. Either deliver the kink–or a piercing commentary on kinkiness—or change the title. By putting “Kink” out front like that, you’ve set up your audience with expectations of being blown away, metaphorically speaking.
The song “Sex Is Everywhere” kicks off a new musical by Mikala Beirma, Christina Boucher, and Rachel Farmer at Annoyance Theatre, directed by Rebecca Sohn. It’s almost as if they are telegraphing their dilemma. With every sexual persuasion just a mouse click away, the ubiquity of sex leaves less power to shock and titillate. The trouble is, that same ubiquity also gives sexual situations within comedy less power to shock or amuse. So where do you get your laughs from now, bitches?
Well, the creators of Kink demonstrate that you can still get them; if you’re willing to go deeper. They hit it on the head while exploring the earnest emotions of tomboy Julie Allman (Rachel Farmer), who, in the song “Acceptable Girl,” just wants to play high school girls’ basketball, not try out stupid dresses for prom. They achieve it through exploring her sister Tammy’s lofty, teenage romantic fantasies. The tune “Love Conquers All” dredges up every fucked-up, pop-culture depiction of love that Tammy (Christina Boucher) accepts as absolute truth. If a girl and a vampire . . . or a girl and a werewolf . . . or a guy and a mermaid can find true love, then so can she.
In fact, the character of Tammy Allman is pure comic gold. She hardly suspects what life’s really all about but she is ready to take the perilous plunge in “I’m getting ready for my life.” Boucher’s delivery of Tammy’s big number during half time at the homecoming basketball game, “Sweat Pants Dance,” shows utter comic commitment. By mid-show, the sound of Tammy’s voice alone had me giggling automatically.
But comedy surrounding Mom and Dad falls flat in this ultra-suburban setting. Nancy Allman (Mikala Bierma) and her husband Greg (Rachel Farmer) have desires they’ve never admitted to each other. Nancy wants to be a dominatrix and Greg loves to cross-dress. But other than the patriotic flourish with which Greg expounds on his love of ladies’ undergarments, not much comedy is generated out of their unfulfilled desires. It’s as if the creators agree with Tammy and Julie’s discussion of their parents, late at night in their bedroom:
JULIE: That’s not love. Look at Mom and Dad.
TAMMY: They fell in love at first sight!
JULIE: Yeah, and now their lives are over.
It’s clear Bierma, Farmer, and Boucher haven’t worked through all the comic ramifications of “Can This Marriage be Saved?” with Nancy and Greg. A longstanding advice feature of Ladies Home Journal, “Can This Marriage be Saved” has obviously been supplanted in the Kink universe by the overwhelming philosophical presence of Oprah and Dr. Phil, an issue address with the song, “Hallelujah, Oprah!”
As it is, the show handles sexual content bombastically and superficially, rather than getting to the center of disconnection between long-married husband and wife. As late night entertainment at Annoyance, one expects the limits on language and sexuality to be pushed and the blow-up dolls to be tossed around. But having crossed that Rubicon, it’s pushing the truth on human sexual experience that really makes for outrage.