Tag: Neo-Futurists Theatre
A tour de force of originality, wisdom and LOL’s
|Crisis (A Musical Game Show)|
|Created by John Pierson, Daniel Kerr-Hobert and Clifton Frei
at Neo-Futurists, 5153 N. Ashland (map)
through June 5th | tickets: $15 | more info
Reviewed by Robin Sneed
Is life rigged? Are we trapped in a massive capitalist game show in which the halfwits and the shrewd end up at the top with all the money while the intelligent and thoughtful are relegated to loser? In the Neo-Futurists’ brilliant original musical, Crisis – A Musical Game Show, you are left to trust or not, at a most pivotal time in US history, in what you see, what you read, what you hear, and what you think.
In the grand tradition of true Neo-Futurist theater, which never seeks to suspend disbelief, we must question whether this outrageously well performed set up is truly as advertised. Are those audience members taking scantron tests before the show truly scoring well on the quiz, and thus asked to participate? Is it a lottery? Are the participants pre-chosen? Are you simply relegated to loser by default of the process? Are you feeling so powerless over so many crises in the world that you hand your money over to organizations simply because they promise to find the cure, the solution, to right the wrong? Is capitalism really just a system in which blind faith is a given because so many have been trained to trust authority and never ask questions? A system in which the truly blind are preyed upon by the self-proclaimed altruist as well as the openly greedy? Trusting others is trusting yourself, Crisis sings to us. Can you be trusted?
Crisis is a tour de force of originality, energy, skill, timing, and intelligence. One must follow along at a pace or be left behind, duped into the fast flashing ‘rules’ of a game show setting. The beauty of this genre is that the performers never condescend. They are in this with you, even as they never let up for two hours of rapid fire intellectual and emotional sleight of hand. There is a simple humility that is natural to this form of theater, and it shines in this cast. After all, the creators of Crisis have lived the American experience and take no outward pride in having figured it out while showing the audience just how willingly we continue to believe the fantasy of the seemingly altruistic money giver, maker and taker, all in one, brought to us by the television culture that feeds it.
In the deep center of this piece, the three hosts and creators of Crisis – John Pierson, Daniel Kerr-Hobert and Clifton Frei – tell the truth. They tell the truth through the wild energy they harness and give to the audience. This is not the staid phone-it-in performance set. They are present, engaged, and true to themselves as artists. If you believe in nothing about our current system by the end of this show, you will believe in gift. You will believe there is theatre in Chicago worth seeing and being a part of. You will get far more than you pay for. And you will laugh. When is the last time you went to the theater and laughed for two hours?
The hosts, although running the show, are still deeply embedded in the ensemble, sending their force through it. One gets the feeling there is nothing these three can’t catch, save, or recover from. The rest of the ensemble is tight, on time, connected and hilarious, using an impressive range of skill in commedia dell’arte. The commercials throughout the show from local businesses bring the reality of our current economic state right through the doors in real time with style and wit. The live band is fully a part of the ensemble, highly skilled, funny, and plain cool.
To win at this game is simple. Pretend to be annoyed with and above the game. Be very adept at unlocking cabinets, finding the money inside, and shredding documents. Admit in a moment of ‘raw honesty’ to purposely leading your own sibling to physical injury while still saying he isn‘t very bright, and then cover it all over with a high paying job that makes you seem as if you are helping others. Misrepresent your job as research in the beginning in an attempt to sound as if it carries a scientific basis, then conveniently pull the heartstrings of your audience by bringing attention to a cause or illness for which there is no cure or solution, and for which you have done no actual research, and you just won yourself lots of money. Unfortunately, this describes the directors of too many non-profits to numerate, and makes the openly greedy Wall Street CEO look honest by comparison.
As this is a review of neo-futurist theatre, I am required by participation to disclose the whole truth about my experience Saturday night, and so I will. The Neo-Futurists are a national treasure, supported in part by National Endowment and The Illinois Arts Council. The truth is, it has been a very long time since I have seen one of our true jewel boxes of the arts in this country. These are tax and patronage dollars being spent the way I want them spent: an incredibly high self-motivated standard of performance in an all at once humble and elegant space, where truth through creative expression still wins.
Cast and Crew
The Hosts: John Pierson, Dan Kerr-Hobert, Clifton Frei
The Musicians: John Szymanski, Curtis Williams, John Bliss
The Question Designers: Evan Hanover, Bilal Dardai
The Commercial Writing Staff: Megan Mercier, Steve Heisler
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.