Tag: Lisa McQueen
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
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.
Biblical madness paired with sardonic revelry makes for a musical of Biblical proportions
Right on the heels of Gay Pride Month, Annoyance Theatre puts up a raucous riff on the Biblical tale of Sodom and Gomorrah. Naturally, any theater with a full service bar and a long history of shock-theater doesn’t need to go further than gay jokes or fart jokes. But Sodomites! director Sean Cusick and his partners in crime, writer James Asmus and lyricist Mike Descoteaux, have crafted a sly dissection of the usual right-wing fundamentalism towards the Old Testament and set it all to music to make it go down with jovial ease. In this production, witty lyrics, anachronisms, and fast-paced lines critique our modern day culture wars—bringing this high-energy, lowbrow show dangerously close to satire.
Maybe Sean Cusick’s past holds the key to this blend of bawdy theology. He majored in philosophy and political science at Tufts University, and then went on to improvisation out of a need for an unrestricted outlet. “I had no discipline for acting. But I learned a lot from Second City about saying something while going for laughs.” It was James Asmus who called with the idea for the musical. “James, Mike, and I came up with the skeleton for the show over a few lunches. Mike knew all the Biblical verses by heart, so there was no need to explain to him what we were going for.”
You can still get drunk and watch the show, but it’s almost better if you don’t so that you won’t miss all the cunning details. The archangels Michael and Gabriel are ordered by God to seek out “one good man” from the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah or God will wreak destruction upon them. The trouble is that Michael and Gabriel are as jittery before God as overworked personal assistants to a fickle, spoiled CEO. While they are off on their mission, God will “bury some dinosaur bones to test peoples’ faith.” The angels describe the perils of their mission with “One Good Man.”
Upon landing in Sodom, they run into Lot, a raving, self-righteous homophobe who sees gay sex all around him. And he equates “gay sex” with everything, from bestiality to melon-ballers. “Our hero is as pure as his daughter’s labia majora,” sings the narrator. Isn’t that the truth, since Lot is more sexually obsessed than the deviants he condemns and one of daddy’s little girls seems rather eager to leave mom behind.
But bourgeois gay couples and liberal elites also get their come-uppance. A quick visit to Gomorrah reveals beautiful people so smug and fatuitous in their liberal haven, you long for them to be destroyed. Michael visits a gay couple who are both well meaning and self-absorbed. They take the angel for a mentally challenged homeless person until he downloads 1% of God’s consciousness into one of them. “You look like when we did coke,” his partner remarks as he comes out of it. Of course, it doesn’t help for them to learn that they will be destroyed for violating the laws of God that haven’t even been written yet. Even as Michael lets them preview an “advanced copy” of Leviticus, “Leviticus Rag” perfectly expresses their chagrin.
The highlight of the show occurs when God finally reveals himself, as a Morrissey character, singing, “This is God, Saying Sorry.” The true nature of the Old Testament God comes to light, as a capricious, arbitrary, and erratic personality; an awful power coupled to insecurity issues. Perhaps even the liberal religious may take offense, but the song is perfect piece for the production and explains a great deal about a god who “expects a lot.”
So, even once the angels have found one good man, Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed anyway. The writers pull no punches in describing or commenting on the arbitrariness of that destruction: “Genocide is always someone else’s fault.” What more needs to be said about the human propensity to come up with any rationalization for the abuse of power, whether it be bombing cities or decimating populations?
The final act wherein Lot has sex with his daughters returns us to the ribaldry for which Annoyance is famous. It’s a telling moment when the angel Michael reassures Lot that, not to worry, the whole incident will be left out of the Koran. Nice to know that someone will do damage control, once the damage is all well and done.
Much praise goes to the well-coordinated cast, whose enthusiasm and energy are unflagging. Biblical madness should be paired sardonic revelry and earnest mania. It may be the only way for the human race to survive.
Sodomites!! A Musical of Biblical Proportions opens on June 19 during the Just For Laughs Festival and will show on Fridays at 8:00 PM through July 31. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at the company’s website theannoyance.com, or by calling the box office: 773.561.HONK (4665). The Annoyance is located at 4830 N. Broadway, Chicago, Illinois 60640.
Cast list and bios after the jump