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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."  But...at 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 theater...it 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!

Eric

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

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