On Friday, Eric and I took our wives out on a beautiful late summer evening to the theater. That's the place you want to be on one of the last nice nights of the year.
It was brilliant and gorgeous and it was so nice that Mortar Theatre company gave us free tickets so we didn't have to sit on a patio all night drinking Shirley Temples and Sloe Gin Fizzes. Before the show, we went to Jack's on Southport.
I had been there a few times before. It feels like, sort of a last meal before you enter Athaeneum Theater Jail.
There definitely is a death march vibe as you walk up to its Shawshank Prison stone edifice.
At Jack's we dined on the finest cheeseburgers and fried pickles this side of Southport Avenue. We discussed politics and football, upcoming artistic presentations, and of course, the bartender.
This guy had watched the entire collection of Entourage on BluRay, and he wanted us to hug it out with him. I didn't want to though. I wanted him to give me my IPAs without any horseplay.
Hey bartenders! I'm not your fucking friend. I just wanna shot of Sambuca and a to go box. Quit it with the jumping in the convos ESPECIALLY if you are gonna spit out some facts you don't know about the Mosque in New York City. You are talking to the wrong kind of white folks.Eric
I really wish we had gotten a lady waitress. She seemed so nice when my wife wanted her burger refired. We're at Jack's, not a Hooters in Rockford. Let's all know our place and not start talking about politics with our waitstaff. Anyway, the artichoke dip was really great.
Maybe that Pastor in Florida needs some Jack's Artichoke Dip.
Our wives asked us what play we were going to.
Andy and I steeled ourselves. We were not looking forward to double icy glares.
After I faked a coughing fit for 8 or 9 minutes, I informed the table that we were going to see a 2 hour and 45 minute play about race relations in Chicago from a baby company called Mortar Theatre Company.
A hush filled the bar. The only sounds were awkward fork scratchings on plates, and Molly Hatchet on the jukebox.
Well, after our wives paid for dinner, it was time to head over. Eric and I walked behind them, as we hummed "Flirtin' With Disaster". They were oddly, not in the mood for a 2 hour and 45 minute play about race relations in Chicago on this Friday night, after a long day of work.
Luckily, once we got to the theater and the promise of free tickets was realized, everyone seemed much happier. People love free things.
Our friend John Moran came too. Our wives love him.
We settled into our semi-comfortable seats and got ready to have our minds changed about white people and black people all over again. Only Norman Lear in the 1970s can do it better.
Let me give you the play setup:
"A young white lesbian moves into Cabrini Green to live amongst the black people to write an article about their struggles."
What does this sound like to you? If you answered "Black Dicks for X-Mas 7", you'd be right.
Most porno operates under the umbrella that lesbians are just looking for the right man to make them switch teams. I wondered how the hell this show was gonna get away with the naughty bits.
There was no naughty bits, though. Only an Asian lady strokin' boobs for a sec. That doesn't count.
So, there are a LOT of plots in this show...Anderson named the main one already. But, there's also the lesbian reporter's parents who seem to be some sort of politician and his sickly wife. He's always telling the lesbian that she's naive...but you know that's not true because gay people are never naive.
Well, the playwright must think the audience is naive because he said the lesbian went to Northwestern. Everybody knows about Northwestern's big anti-gay policy.
There's also the black family who lives in Cabrini Green with their old dog that you never see because it's really hard to put a dog into a play because dogs are notorious improvisers. Can't trust them.
The black family said things like:
"Chile, whachoo doin'!?"
"I be from these Streetz!"
So this was a totally realistic way to engulf me into the world which is actually about 10 blocks from the theater.
The youngest child gets arrested for possession of some sort of controlled substance and thrown into prison. We are also informed by the gay reporter that prisons are the new slavery so we should be mad about this.
Oh, also, his older brother works at a flower shop.
His brother works at a flower shop and has a wife named Tamika and a baby, and he is trying to dig out from under the ghetto and be a great dad and save money. See? There are so many things already in this play that deal greatly with everyone in Chicago's favorite play device:
For some reason, Chicago playwrights think the way to really win over an audience is to make things as different as they can and then compare them, and then bring them together...WHERE THEY MEET IN THE GRAY AREA.
Andy, are you telling me that this use of juxtaposition could have been used in a different way?
Listen, Eric. Maybe I'm wrong here, but we live our lives in gray areas. Basically, part of being an adult is making compromises everyday. It is EXCITING to see a character stand up and be willing to NOT compromise and have to pay the price for it. And not that the racial energy isn't an important part of the city we live in, but...
When will we see REAL juxtaposition? Real compromise?
Oh, you mean like a gas pump and the Andromeda Galaxy. Or a beef wellington and the works of Madame Bovary.
Right. So say for instance, if all black people were giraffes, and all lesbian reporters were spacemen. NOW WE GOT A FUCKIN' PLAY GOIN' ON!!!!
That would be pretty amazing to watch and I would feel incredible while experiencing it for myself! But, we are now reviewing a play that doesn't exist...yet.
Ok. We are off to a good start. So from now on, let's call the lesbos "Spacemen" and the blacks "Giraffes".
What can we call the Puerto Rican woman?
Let's call her "Dominican".
OK, so the Spaceman goes and lives with the Giraffes while the Dominican explains to us how hard assed she is and the Spaceman's parents complain about pills and people getting shot by Giraffes.
Then there's the Catman.
What should we call prison?
American Girl Place.
Ok. So, the littlest Giraffe is slangin' weed on the El train and gets caught and thrown into American Girl Place where he meets all kinds of other Giraffes.
And then we get to the title metaphor.
Turns out, under the American Girl Place, there are a series of tunnels connecting all the projects and ghettos and American Girl Places in America.
What should we call tunnels?
So the little Giraffe gets thrown into solitary confinement in the American Girl Place and his dad shows up and takes him through the Wormholes.
So far, this is the best goddamned show I've seen this year.
See? Pay attention, youngsters.
So while he is in the wormholes he runs into a Catman. Is that right?
Yes. And the Catman has a letter to give to the Parole Board of the American Girl Place. So, for this next bit in the second act, the show becomes a live action Legend of Zelda. Because Catman tasks the little Giraffe with the letter.
The little Giraffe doesn't want to do it though! He wants to stay in American Girl Place because he thinks that that is where all Giraffes wind up anyway.
Back to the Spaceman in the projects...she is now stealing her mom's Zanex to get through the crazy nights at Cabrini Green. And now SHE starts having insane hallucinations and thinks the older brother Giraffe is stealing her MacBook.
Let's call MacBooks "Big League Chew".
So, she's going crazy looking for her Big League Chew and her parents show up in her dreams as psychotic police officers and take HER to the wormholes to and the little Giraffe runs into the Catman again.
The Catman might be his dad Giraffe, or maybe just a crazy guy. He lives in Texas somewhere.
And I guess in Texas they end the second act of a three act play with a little prison rape.
This is Cat on Giraffe rape. Almost like two black guys in jail.
I was shaken to the core. We needed some sodas stat!
For some reason, the entire Athenaeum building was closed off except for the 1st floor studio for Under America. So, one of the theater workers had to unlock the elevator so a group of us could go to the vending machines. I don't like being in the Athenaeum at night. I haven't liked it for years. And now, during our nocturnal adventure to the vending machines, I finally understood why.
The whole building is haunted by dead plays.
As I entered the vending machine room, I thought I saw the eldritch shade of William Inge walk past me. It was actually an ancient headshot of David Skvarla fluttering to the ground.
Man, that guy stood right behind us as our dollars weren't being taken. It felt like we really were in the American Girl Place!
And Skvarla, just staring up at us the whole time.
We entered the elevator with our sodas. WHAT'S THAT NOISE? Is that the club footed steps of Laura from The Glass Menagerie?
Nope. It was just an AA meeting finishing up in the basement.
You were so scared.
I don't ever want to be in the Athenaeum alone again. I also don't ever want to have to type the word "Athenaeum" again.
So we are back to the play after the second intermission, and by now, things look really bad for the Spaceman and the little Giraffe. The Asian talks to the Dominican about rescuing the little Giraffe from the American Girl Place, but says that the Spaceman has to stop writing about it on her Big League Chew or it will draw too much attention in court and they will have to make a Clam Chowder out of him.
Also, I changed the word "example" to "Clam Chowder".
Once again, juxtaposition. And really, just plain old position.
Oh, and the Asian spaceman and the other spaceman are really mad at each other because the spaceman is more interested in the Big League Chew and the Giraffes.
I can't really remember what happens at the end, except the Spaceman's parents are better than we thought they were. And the oldest Giraffe dies of a stroke.
Right. And then there was some poetic bookending with the very opening lines, which I appreciated because I forgot what they were, being that I saw them 2 hours and 40 minutes ago.
Right. Let's talk about the performances.
OK. I really liked Deanna K. Reed as the oldest Giraffe. She was very loving and could be tough when she needed to be.
She was just great!
You know, they say in Chicago, it's hard to find good Giraffes that are non-equity, but that didn't seem to be the case.
I also love Annie Slivinski who played the Spaceman's mom...I had also seen her in The Lady From Dubuque where she played the Lady from Dubuque.
Who played the older brother Giraffe?
Sentell Harper. He played MANY roles in the show, including the Catman, and had no problem switching in between them all.
He was really great, too.
Agreed. There are some good actors in this show.
Really good actors! It's a hard script to make live, but they did a nice job.
The set was well done, in fact, all the production values were pretty top shelf. Somebody's got a little cash to wave around, eh Mortar Theatre???
Yeah! Remember, these are kids who are just getting started, it's important to support these younger companies because they are our future. Do you want your kids to grow up knowing that there is no more Mortar Theatre Company?
I don't. It always makes me sad to cross another theatre company off the big list of theatre companies.
Rush out to see "Under America" at Mortar Theatre Company, but bring your own sodas, or you will be raped in the Athenaeum.
GHOST RAPED. Oh, and don't go to Jack's unless you love boring ill-informed bartenders.
Do something fun this weekend!
Under America: B-
-Eric Roach, Anderson Lawfer
-Anderson Lawfer, Eric Roach