Friday, April 27, 2012

Johnny Theatre (Chemically Imbalanced Comedy)

We all know LA is full of vapid, empty shallow people who would push their mothers off a cliff for a two-line part in a terrible pilot.  Chicago, on the other hand, is full of true artistes that work together with an ensemble approach that, if given the chance, would settle the strife and misery of the world in short order.  With Meisner.
Also, LA is where all the really good actors go to do real work with all the other great actors that are beloved by all the world.   Chicago is where those that aren’t good enough basically make pretentious, -important ‘plays’ that were really edgy in 1954.  Or were big hits OFF-OFf-off Broadway a few years ago.

In Johnny Theatre, now playing at the Chemically Imbalanced Theater, we find out what happens when these two worlds collide and let me tell you gentle readers, it ain’t pretty.  But it is funny, so you can laugh through your tears. I know I did.
Whether you are a Chicago actor or an LA actor this play has something to make you feel superior and pathetic about yourself.  Everybody wins! Ish!

The play stars Chicago’s answer to Zach Galifianakis, Anderson Lawfer, as a big movie star guy (Jonathon Duva) that comes back to his old theatre company to stage his terrible play.  The company is broke and going nowhere, so of course they agree.
But LA people are assholes, even when they buy you dinner, so the rehearsal process doesn’t go very well.

If you have ever been in a storefront theatre production, you will see a lot of crazy things that are kind of sad because it’s really pretty much like that.   Treading the line between the outrageous  and outrageously accurate, Mike Beyer and Kirk Pynchon pull off a pretty neat trick.

Early on we meet the cast of the Duva’s play:
Dexter (a stoned Dante Bugli) is that slack-ass actor that never have his shit together, is always late, but will probably get a Jeff Nomination and a national commercial.
Richard (a mustached Arne Saupe) the ‘old pro’ that is only doing this show at such a ‘small’ company because he wants to get as close to the movie star as possible.
 Holly  (a neatly groomed Alison Clayton ) is the actress that is convinced that everyone wants to bang her. 
Ray (a caleby Caleb Probst) is plays that really sweet guy in the cast that decides at the first read through that you and him are going to be best pals and will never leave you alone.
Stage Manager Phil (a thank you 5 minutes Bryan Beckwith) is the long suffering poor sap that has to wrangle these poor souls.
Elizabeth (a not in the boat Lauren Bourke) is that poor actress that a director can tell is so eager to please that they always totally fuck with her.
Kathi (a $50 stipendly Alexandria Frenkel) is the intern.  I think you can guess what Duva does to her.
And Artistic Director  Dana (a level-headed, devoted, overworked, underpaid Casey Pilkenton) is the level-headed, devoted, over worked, underpaid Artistic Director that we all know and should have empathy for.   

And the you will be surprised at how nice and understanding the landlord of the theatre turns out to be!  Dana and Bob the landlord (a dashing Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance Michael Derting.)

So you’ve got the diluted Hollywood actor and this cast of familiar Chicago theatre types.  The play being produced is a musical that takes place in the Depression called ‘Dusty’.   The premise of ‘Dusty’ is ridiculous and yet it is as good, or better then a lot of what you will see in someone’s 2012/2013 season brochure.   

Representing LA is (fair toothed) Catherine Dildiian as a perma-smile Hollywood reporter and (beautifully headbanded) Ray Ready plays Duva’s ever jogging assistant with panache, style and gayness. 
In the 2nd act we meet the new French director George (a surrender-ly Adam Schulmerich) and we know this project is doomed.  Let’s face it; the one thing that will always sink a Chicago off-loop production is a French person.

I think that is really the lesson here.  As hard as it is to mix the divergent worlds of Big Shouldered Chicago and Big Everything Los Angeles there is one thing we can all agree on.  The French are terrible. 

As a consumer advocate I would suggest you go see this play if you’ve ever been in, produced, seen or know someone involved in a storefront theatre production.

17 stars! 

-Michael Dailey

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

How To Treat A Playwright In Chicago (Randall Colburn)

                                                     Even August Wilson rewrote his boring plays

As a playwright, I work on a lot of new plays. Mainly my own, since the plays I write are usually new. I’m not the kind of playwright who goes to rehearsals constantly. It’s important to let the director, designers, and actors do their thing without some scarf-ensconced asshole hanging around, smoking his pipe, and sighing resignedly when you mess up a line. When I am there, though, it’s easy to feel like an alien, especially in storefront theater, where many actors and directors haven’t had the chance to work closely with a playwright and the limited resources have the potential to hinder the creative process through sheer practicalities.

As a means of introduction to fringe-dwellers interested in working on a new play with a playwright in the room, I’ve compiled this handy guide. I hope it helps.

(Addendum: Aside from my own experience in the storefront community, I haven’t done, like, research or anything, and I do not presume to speak for other writers. When I say playwright, I mean me, though I don’t feel I’m too off-center here.)

1          We’re going to rewrite.

Though it may seem like a load off your shoulders at first, if you’re working on a new play where the playwright is present in the rehearsal room and is not rewriting, or not at least fine-tuning, you’re probably fucked.

On the regular, though, it’s going to happen. So don’t try to stop us. It doesn’t matter how much work we’ve done on the play before rehearsals. When rehearsals start, and actors start saying our words and stumbling over our words and walking around with our words coming out of their mouths, things are going to start changing. It isn’t because we don’t like you, or don’t feel like you’re doing a good job, it’s because making a play is like building a spice rack: you don’t know how crooked the shelves are until you try and put a bunch of spice jars on them. Give us the space to straighten those shelves so you guys don’t fall all over yourselves and spill spice everywhere. Spice. Metaphor. Yay.

Now, the playwright may tell you beforehand: “Ya know, I’m feeling really good about it. I doubt I’ll do that much, really.”

That’s a lie. I say that shit all the time, and I’m always wrong. My play HESPERIA had already had a well-recieved production at Right Brain Project before it opened at Writers’ Theatre, and I still rewrote the whole damn thing.

So never trust a word the playwright says when it comes to them being finished. They’re not. They never will be. And since that’s the case…

2          Give us a deadline.

And be vigilant about it, dammit. Make it a week or two weeks before tech. That’s usually good.

Some people use the word “cement.”

“We should cement the script by that point.”

All that should mean is no more big changes. No new scenes, no new characters, no new tech. Fine-tuning never stops. Stop worrying about your actors. If your actors are professionals, they can handle it. So, actors, on that note…

3           Embrace the fact that you’ll be memorizing, unmemorizing, and rememorizing things constantly.

We’re probably going to cut all your favorite lines, add ones you don’t like, cut those, add others, and end up with some amalgamation of it all. Embrace it. You’re part of a living, gestating piece of art. That’s exciting, even when it isn’t, and it’s a damn good skill set to have.  Along those same lines, keep a binder, dammit. And replace old pages with new ones. Don’t put the new ones in that pocket in the front. You’ll forget. You always forget. Which leads me to my next point:

4          Get access to a free printer.

Working on rewrites during HESPERIA rehearsals at Writers’ Theatre was a revelation for me. Why? Two reasons:

a        Bobby Kennedy
b       Writers’ Theatre has their own printer

See, Bobby Kennedy is their literary associate, and a printer prints stuff. So Bobby did the printing, which he was happy to do since that’s part of his full-time job. And their printer printed stuff really quickly because it’s a big printer. They even printed each set of rewrites in a different color, so we could keep track! The best part of it all: I didn’t have to do it, pay for it, or hide it from my bosses at Groupon.

But that’s rare in the storefront scene. I’ve done about 10 shows on the fringe where I didn’t have direct access to Bobby Kennedy and his magical, multicolored printer. We print from our piddly desk printers, or covertly do it at work, or go to Screenz and pay stupid amounts of money.

And all of that is fine. Just have a plan in place. You’re going to have to print a lot of pages, get them organized, and hand them out to actors. Speaking of actors, make your damn actors do it themselves. We’re all in this together.  Have a printing plan. Or make it part of the budget. If it’s a new play, it’s necessary. Believe me.

Oh, and don’t waste copies on the playwright. We always have our laptops. Unless we don’t. I always do. Whatever. As for us playwrights…

5         Ask, don’t tell.

Talking to us can be hard. We know. We know that you know that we put our blood and guts into this play, and we want you to know that we know that it’s hard for you to bring concerns to us, as you don’t want to offend us, or make us feel unloved. But we DO want you to bring concerns to us, because clearly we respect you and your opinion enough to be working with you. BUT, we are also fragile, sensitive creatures who put our blood and guts into this play, and if you tell us our play isn’t perfect we’ll probably go home and cry a lot. To offset this, do us this favor:

Don’t tell us what’s wrong with our play.

Please, don’t say:

“I don’t think my character would do this.”
“I think the ending is contrived.”
“I think you suck.”

Instead, ask us questions.

But please, don’t ask questions like:

“What the hell does this mean?”
“Why do you hate women?”
“Who do you think you are?”

Ask us what we were thinking when we wrote a certain scene. Or why we feel this monologue is important. Or why we chose to dedicate ourselves to writing instead of something more wholesome, like, say, baseball.

Make us explain ourselves. If we don’t have an answer, we’ll probably get where you’re coming from, because you’ve so cleverly let us discover your own concern on our own. Any tension or discomfort has been evaded, because the prickly playwright figured it out his or herself. Speaking of preserving the relationship between director and playwright, and preserving that relationship is important…

6. Have a game plan.

Playwrights can be hella distracting, especially if you give them free reign. I don’t shut the fuck up. It’s awful. In college, when my first play was produced I mouthed along with the words during rehearsal. I was such a little asshole. Combat this by laying the ground rules. Here’s ones I would recommend:

* The playwright only speaks in rehearsal if asked a direct question.
* The playwright filters all of his or her thoughts through a director or dramaturg.
* The playwright sends all rewrites to the director or dramaturg before disseminating to the cast.
* The director keeps the playwright in the loop with any major updates.
* Nobody bangs each other until the show’s open. 

-Randall Colburn

Catch Randall's play "The Improv Play"

Monday, April 16, 2012

Johnny Theatre (Gang of Actors/CIC)

Being an actor in Chicago storefront theater is HARD, bros.  You graduate from college, make your way up here, get cast in a few things, and then blam...14 years of work that no one saw, 14 years of office day jobs or waiting tables or barista gigs, 14 years of not having a car, 14 years of terrible winters, 14 years of trying trying trying and feeling like you have been both blessed and cursed at the same time.

Most people would never ever do this.  They would look at the long hours and lousy compensation and say, "I think a business degree is in order, or maybe I'll look into becoming an electrician." the same time, there is the visceral thrill of it, the people that came into your life that are now your family, and the indescribable feeling of working on something really really good and knowing that it can be worth it.

Well, leave it to Mike Beyer and Kirk Pynchon to laugh in your face regarding every good thing you've accomplished!  Their new show Johnny Theatre is up and running over at Chemically Imbalanced Comedy on Irving Park and Southport, and it is a send-up of the Chicago storefront scene done with a loving touch and a dirty tweak to your bottom!

The set-up is classic comedy...Johnathan Duva, a big-time movie star and Hollywood player, has written a script and now wants to return to his former stomping grounds, the dirty little Havoc Theater in Chicago to produce his masterwork.  He promises a gritty, storefront masterpiece, that should "kick theater right in the nuts!"  Well, of course, this is all news to the current Havoc staff including Artistic Director Dana Proudfit.  She's been in charge of the Havoc for a dozen years, and has a relationship with Duva from the old days.  Well, let me tell you, the sparks FLY!

Johnathan is portrayed by my work-wife Anderson Lawfer, and all of Andy's formidable tools are at his disposal.  Duva is a character that you LOVE to hate, and his madness and "L.A." -ness will drive you up a wall, especially if you've ever had to work with a diva who thought his poop did not smell.  It's a captivating and funny performance, and Lawfer shows some serious balls in taking on this horrible, horrible douchebag and making you want to watch him for 2 hours.  That's a lot to ask of an audience, but Andy pulls it off with aplomb!

Also full of aplomb is Casey Pilkenton as Dana Proudfit.  Every wacky comedy needs a straight man, someone with whom the audience can relate to as the rock amidst the currents of this crazy band of lunatics.  Casey grounds her character with the wisdom and hangdog defeatism of someone who has worked too hard for too long with not much to show for it.  Her slow-burns are a wonder, and her explosions at Johnathan are legendary.  The chemistry between her and Lawfer is great stuff.  Off stage romance?  Hmmmm?  You heard it here first!

And the cast is rounded out by some wonderful young and hungry actors.  The perky Lauren Bourke, the handsome Alexandria Frenkel, the cutie pie Dante Bugli, and the hilarious Alison Clayton are just some of whom I will mention.  The rest are all very good, and game for anything!  I love watching sweet young things doing makes me yearn for another time.  The 1890s, actually.  I want to go to the 1890s and do a show with the cast of Johnny Theatre.  Maybe a revue with dancing girls!

The show is great fun, and the laughs keep on coming!  I will say this...the show is too long.  And I'd like you all to skip ahead a paragraph, except for Mike and Kirk.

Dear Mike & Kirk,

Great writing job, guys!  Now, do you remember the film Caddyshack?  Of course you do, how could you forget that classic comedy!  Now, what is the thing you remember about the plot of Caddyshack?  It involved a guy named Danny who was a caddy at a hoity-toity country club.  The club is lorded over by Judge Smails (the incomparable Ted Knight), an asshole blue-blood of the first degree.  Here's something that is true about many, many comedies that people have forgotten.  I liked when Danny won in the end, but I don't care about that.  What I liked MOST was that Judge Smails was PUBLICLY HUMILIATED AND RUINED.  The high-status guy being brought so very low is a component of many comedies.  This dates back to ancient times (Oedipus Rex).  When I go see a comedy, it is a choice to escape from my problems for a bit.  In that time period, I want to see someone like Johnathan Duva crucified because I work for assholes like him every day.  I think the next time you write a script, you should watch Caddyshack, Stripes, and Trading Places marathon-style and then start skyping and typing.  You will have a better idea of how to end the script that will be cathartic and funny for your audience!  Have a great day, guys!


Ok, everyone back?  Cool!  Listen, go see Johnny Theater!  It is a funny and knowing satire!  What the hell else will you do with yourselves?

Regular Folks: B
Chicago Storefront Actors: A-

-Eric Roach, Anderson Lawfer

Monday, April 9, 2012

An Open Letter To David Mamet (Carm Grisolia)

Dear Dave,

Hi!  How have you been?  I'm ok, all things considered.  But the old construction business has been a little tricky for the last little bit.  Seems like it's getting harder to earn a living off of working with your hands, you know?  You know.  The wife and kids are doing pretty good eventhough money is tight.  I keep telling myself we will make it back into the middle-class someday.  I'm prolly wrong.  Hey, that's one of your words, right?  “Prolly.”  Like the way real people say, “probably.”  Well, if it's not, it should be.  Because you're so fucking real.

Hey, speaking of  “so fucking real,” is your show still running over there at Goodman?  I haven't had a chance, because, you know-- “weight of the world” and “gas prices” all that.   And anyways, I was supposed to see it and do a review or whatever, but I figured I'm pretty real myself.  So I prolly didn't really need to see it.  It's like with your one book you wrote--  I just borrowed it from some asshole and just looked at the dust cover.  Never read it, never returned it.  Guy was an asshole anyways, right? 

But the point is-- I got your point from the cover or what other people said on the cover or whatever.  I didn't need to read it, because guys like you and me-- real fucking guys-- understand each other.  It's like there's a beautiful fucking power in simple-- like guys like us drink from the same, or deeply, or whatever. 

And then, lightbulb goes off and I realize that  the whole, it seems trite or, but “judge a book by it's cover” is like your whole thing, right?  So the point you prolly make in Race is that black people are black people and white people are white people and that's all we need to know-- what we can tell from looking at them, because that's all we know anyways, right?  I mean, am I right?  We already know what we need to know by looking at the cover.  And then some of the books we decide to read for some reason, and then we like them or we don't.  But it doesn't really change our opinion of books in general.  Which are mostly pretty stupid and self-centered.  And even some of the good ones get burned, if you follow me.  You follow me.

So nice try, Buddyboy, but I don't need to see it now to know that it's prolly got some upper class black people and some upper class white people, and some lower-class of each color, and there's prolly a bunch of prejudice and mistrust on both parts and some kind of disagreement or conflict over possession of some valuable thing, or some alleged crime that happened way in the past, which will give all parties concerned a chance to deliver a rant that has a lot of anger and a few kernels of truth as they say, and everyone who sees it will see their own opinion represented, except it doesn't really matter because no one will change their mind over it.  Cool.  That would make a pretty good play-- even in the hands of some random asshole, performed by any bunch of self-loathing assholes for any bunch of pretentious snobs.

But this ain't just random assholes and snobs.  You are David Mamet and this is The Goodman.  Performing words that sound just like the words real people say written by a Treasure of the American Theater and tackling an incendiary topic with stunning authenticity for an  audience of lakefront liberals least-likely to be affected by the themes of this masterpiece anywhere at any time.  But relevant, all the way to the bank, am I right?  In fact, it is so jaw-droppingly relevant that the Goodman didn't even need to set it on the moon during the Nazi occupation of France and cast some hot, young white chick as The Grizzled Old Negro Who Works in the Governor's Mansion, like they have to do with that Shakespeare bullshit.  Relevance, Edginess, Rich People.  This formula causes such a surefire nuclear explosion of a hit that this reviewer doesn't even need to see it to know it's an instant classic.

And that is why I am giving your show, Race at the Goodman, 12 out of 12 stars.  My highest rating.  One real-life guy to another.

So I guess that's my review, in case I don't get around to seeing it or if it already closed.  Nice job again, Bro.  And hey, not for nothing, but how about dropping one of these “relevant” solid-gold turds on an actual storefront theater with real people performing at it once in awhile?  Remember how you used to? When you were real?

Stay Real,

Carm Grisolia