Tag: That’s Weird Grandma
“Jackass” Meets The Bard
|The Neo-Futurists present|
|Written by Ryan Walters and ensemble
Directed by Halena Kays
at Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland (map)
through September 25 | tickets: $15 | more info
reviewed by Lawrence Bommer
Only in culture centers like Chicago could there be a theater audience savvy enough to completely comprehend this show’s connections between Shakespeare and professional wrestling, the indecisive Hamlet’s crisis of confidence and the endangered masculinity of modern metrosexuals; the actors’ own neuroses and the Shakespearean characters they’re most drawn to. We deserve this show, if only because it won’t be lost on us.
In 2005 Ryan Walters’ band of jumpsuited or strait-jacketed daredevils created their first edition of exuberant “jackassery.” But, intent on putting statements behind their stunts, five years later the quintet are riffing on “Hamlet,” using their cartwheels, tumbling, acrobatics, and hoop diving to illustrate the melancholy Dane’s identity crisis and adding their own autobiographical confessions to this absorbing “afterword.” (Each gets to answer questions about their dads, whether they would avenge their father’s murder by exterminating their uncle, and whether they are men of action or men of thought.)
The audience is warmed up as an interactive game of “Four-Square” opens the inquiry. It’s followed by various action-oriented depictions of scenes from the tragedy: Young Ryan Walters rides a tricycle as he attempts a small-scale Knievel-like jump across a wooden ramp. (The exact link to Hamlet escaped me here except that he was also reciting the “What a piece of work is man!” speech.) The graveyard scene is depicted with the performers naked in black light with tiny skulls lit up as codpieces over their privates. Ophelia’s drowning occurs in a real flower-strewn trough, a kind of life-size baptismal font. Though the fight between Hamlet and Laertes is reduced to overhyped WWF combat, the sword fight finale is performed exactly as written because, of course, the daredevils can’t overdo the original when it comes to exaggerated overkill.
These 100 minutes teem with fascinating connections where art deconstructs art and life imitates itself. Buhl, stretching a bit, compares Hamlet’s pursuit of justice with his own memories of “wild play” in a kiddie pool that got out of control. Anthony Courser prefers to portray an action figure like Robin Hood whose black-and-white status as a legend is preferable to Hamlet’s moral ambiguity. John Pierson describes the fasting and sacrifices he intends to make throughout the show’s run (including sex and modern food). Jay Torrence is fascinating by Horatio’s loyalty to Hamlet and depicts it with some homoerotic interaction with Walters. Finally, the show’s conceiver, Ryan Walters, playing the pseudo crazy, roller-skating Prince of Denmark, eloquently soliloquizes on the transience of life and its poignant surrogate, the theater, as he bends over an audience member who he intends to never forget. There’s even a brief interlude in which an unnamed actress enters as Gertrude to make a rather convincing defense of Hamlet’s much maligned mother.
It’s not the sometimes indulgent, hit-and-run skits that convince here; they’re clever distractions within a larger illustrated lecture. What wears you down and finally wins you over is the fascinating totality of this free-form action portrait of a play that’s as seemingly inexhaustible as the sun. “Hamlet” and Hamlet are everything we can project onto them and Daredevil’s Hamlet exposes us every bit as much as it illuminates a rather old script.
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.
New Artistic Director for BOM
Barrel of Monkeys announces their new, permanent Artistic Director will be long- time company member Luke Hatton, as of the beginning of the eleventh anniversary, 2008-2009 season on September 1st. He started with the ensemble in fall 2000, right after graduating with a BS in Theatre from Northwestern University, and began performing and teaching for many of BOM’s in-school residencies. Hatton then served as a member of the Teacher Corps, a select group of lead teachers within the company, and as a Program Officer. In 2003, he began directing in-school and public performances for BOM, and in 2007, he served as Artistic Associate for the company. Hatton has also worked extensively as a performer in Chicago with Steppenwolf Theatre, The Neo-Futurists, The Hypocrites, The Gift, Lifeline, and with Geva Theatre Center in New York. He has directed acclaimed theatrical productions with Steep Theatre and Phalanx Theaters. As an arts educator, Luke has developed and taught curriculum with After School Matters and Adventure Stage Chicago.
Interim Artistic Director Laura Grey will leave the position to continue to perform with Second City etc’s “Campaign Supernova” (and will also continue to perform in the BOM ensemble), and founding Artistic Director Halena Kays will begin a University of Texas, Austin, MFA, after recently returning to Chicago to direct The Neo-Futurists’ “Fake Lake.”
After three years as Production Stage Manager for BOM’s Monday night show “That’s Weird, Grandma,” Maggie Fullilove-Nugent joins the staff as part-time Company Manager. She is also the Production Manager for The Hypocrites and North Park University Theatre. As a freelance lighting designer and technician, she has worked on over 50 productions with companies including 500 Clown, House, Building Stage, Lifeline and Artistic Home.
Best of luck to Luke!!