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Chicago Scene
by Michael Van Kerckhove
August 2004

Okay! Happy Summer, everyone, however fading it may be. Between mine and Ernie’s commitment ceremony in May (yay us!), a handful of other family weddings and graduations, our vacation to Stratford, Ontario, and getting ready to move (whew!), not to mention local fun like Pride, Halsted Market Days and the Andersonville Street Fair, it’s been a busy summer. Here’s a sampling of the season’s theatrical delights.

Perfect Timing: The time couldn’t be more right for the latest GayCo/Second City Theatricals revue, Weddings of Mass Destruction. The “Mass” as in W’s infamous amounts of weapons and, of course, the fine state of Massachusetts. The show opens with a scene featuring couples going off to Provincetown to get married. Joining them are a couple of single men mourning the loss of the gobs of anonymous sex a trip to P-Town used to promise. Another scene involves turning the scandal at Abu Ghraib prison into a metaphor for the common plights of gays living in still hetero-dominated world.

The “Homo POW’s” are forced to have lunch with their parents and visit a suburban shopping mall, among other “tortures.” There is also a parody of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy in which the guys don “pink face” and take the criticism that shows like Queer Eye are just “gay minstrel acts” to the extreme. This scene lead Chicago Reader reviewer, Jennifer Vanasco to ponder, “For gays and lesbians, this bit poses a serious question: can we find acceptance without losing ourselves?” Through August 15 at Victory Gardens Theatre. The latest news is the possibility of a national tour some time next year.

Peas, Carrots, Chowder, Lesbian: This summer, Second City’s Donny’s Skybox space is home to Cabinet Theatre’s “musical fable in one act,” A Lesbian in the Pantry by Joe Latessa. It’s the story of a Mother, who often sends her daughter, Lucy, to the pantry to help with her next culinary masterpiece. Lucy does not return for several hours. She explains that she is spending time with the lesbian who lives there, an invisible friend who helps with her homework, tells stories, and plays games with her. In her Windy City Times review, Mary Shen Barnidge hopes that this 60-minute tale will be further developed into a full length piece in order to explore the richness of its subtext-and to escape the comedy revue madness of its Piper’s Alley location.

Working It: NewTown Writers presented their annual Pride presentation of stories about gays in the work place, Working Stiffs 3. The event was held at the Bailiwick Studio Theatre on June 20-21.

Local singer songwriter Christopher Baccera opened the show with his rendition of the theme song to the TV show, Alice. He also played an original, inspired by his friend, Teddy, who works the hot dog stand on Hollywood Beach. Ms. Cookie Crumbles hit punch line after punch line as Mae West. Gloria Klein’s scene about a plumber named Dick featured Michael Rashid and Aimee Lynn Newlan. Comic Jared Logan explained how toy commercials “train” our children for their future careers. Mike Rogers and Timothy Ray performed their touching monologues. I was on hand to present a new short story called “The Residents” about working at a cemetery for two summers during college (where I had a crush on the foreman’s son) and where we eventually buried my mother two years ago. Chris Knight closed the show with his original music.

Making Love Alone: Live Bait Theater presents its 9th annual Fillet of Solo festival of solo performance. The headliner this year is Edward Thomas-Herrera. The tagline for his new show reads, “After two funerals and a euthanized cat, [he] finally has enough material for his first solo show since 1998’s Cocktail Confidential.” We are treated to Fun While It Lasted, an emotional journey to Houston, Texas to face his mother’s death. Family, Catholicism, homophobia, and alcohol are a few of the topics covered. Along the way he discovers she was an advise columnist of a paper in El Salvador. But (as he’s quoted in Jonathan Abarbanel’s Windy City Times review), “None of my mother’s advice was any good. It was too steeped in Roman Catholicism to be of any use to a gay boy in love with Morrissey.”

The festival also features the “Solo Sampler,” an evening of short pieces by various performers. David Kodeski presents an excerpt from a piece about photographs and memories and the effects of death on the memory. Mary Fons, with her short dark hair, talks of growing up in the town where The Bridges of Madison County was filmed. Her competitive best friend landed the role of Maryl Streep’s daughter. To console her, Mary’s mother said that if Liza Minelli had been cast as the mother, she would’ve won the part over her friend. One of the biggest laughs of the evening.

Take That, E!: Ever wonder what went on during the filming of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Well, this summer, Hell In a Handbag presents the answer with How “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane” Happened. Well, a theory anyway. Author David Cerda plays Joan Crawford and company producer Steve Hickson plays Bette Davis in dead-on drag impersonations. The cinematic staging by Jay Paul Skelton moves the feuding divas (along with other actors and studio players) from in front of the camera to off-set to the world of their own realities.

Cocteu’s Journey: Jean Cocteau’s semi-autobiographical 1929 novel, Le Livre Blanc (The White Book) has been adapted for the stage by The Journeymen Theatre Company’s Frank Pullen (also director) and Jean-Paul Menou (who also plays Cocteau.) This “intimate production [that] unfolds like a dream” (Web Behrens - Chicago Free Press) was staged at the Gerber/Hart Library with a minimalist approach to focus on the language. This language is never explicit as Cocteau preferred a more subtle and poetic approach. Menou and the other two actors (Victor Holstein and Christopher Zimkowski) who portrayed everyone else remained fully dressed in three-piece suits, and even physical contact was minimal (a far cry from, say, a Bailiwick production!)

Cocteau’s own projected drawings provided the only scenery. The Journeymen’s goal with this piece is to “allow the audience to examine our own time and place, reminding us to celebrate the life of love and liberty.” The piece was first presented at the New York International Fringe Festival in 2003. This Chicago production received a healthy three week extension through August 14.

But Let’s Not Knock Bailiwick: After all, it is summer. So what’s wrong with a little Pride Series skin? Here’s a run down of some of their events:

    Jay Paul Skelton (yes, he really gets around in this town) directs Jonathan Tolins’ Last Sunday In June. Tom and Michael plan to spend NYC’s Gay Pride at home packing for their move to the suburbs. But friends drop by to stall the process. Secrets and plans are revealed, and everyone is forced to “reevaluate their understanding of what it is to be gay, proud and in love.” The show features Stephen Rader (who I must say is a blast to be with at show tunes night at Side Track), John Cardone, John LaGuardia, Scot Carlson, Sarah Hayes, Page Hearn, Jeremy Hodges, and Gerrit O’Neill.

    Jamie Black presents his one-man show, Living Inside Myself, about his life as an African American female-to-male transsexual. He goes into (sometimes graphic) physical detail of genitalia reshaping operations, and his “boobectomy” (his term for “mastectomy.”) He also dives into the emotional journey of his past (being mistaken for a boy as a child) as well as more recent times (intolerance from the gay and lesbian community.) Through August 1.

    Bailiwick Artistic Director, David Zak, directs the world premiere of Michael Rougas’ semi-autobiographical drama, Anatomy of Revenge. Roger Lang (Patrick Rybarczyk) is a successful artist living on the wild side, but a certain encounter with a sexy young man leads down the path of gay bashing, fate, and revenge. On the Bailiwick web site, Zak excitedly remarks on how he loves world premiers, especially new scripts that give him an “intense emotional reaction.” He continues, “Was it because I know too many people who have been victimized? Or that it so reminded me of the Jacobean Revenge Tragedies that thrilled in Shakespearean England? Or that the headlines in our papers all too often and all too recently speak of gay men slain in their own homes?” As for the skin factor, porn star, Bret Wolf, is featured.

    Kilt by Jonathan Wilson ties together three generations of Canadian Scots. They are primarily linked by the family kilt, first worn by Mac, a WWII soldier. Later, it is worn by his grandson Tom (both Young Mac and Tom are played by Scott Carlson) in his stripper act as “Tartan Tom.” Ruth Neaveill as Tom’s uber-Presbyterian mother, Esther, whose descriptions of the clam, Tom learns, were not all that pristine. Through September 5.

The Kids Reach Out: This summer’s offering from the About Face Youth Theatre takes a different approach from years past. The project provides the opportunity for an all-inclusive group of young Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgendered Questioning and their Allies (say that ten times fast) to tell their personal stories and to create an always-emotional evening of theatre. This year, for On The Record, the ensemble recorded the stories of other Chicagoans of all ages, orientations, professions, etc. What emerges is a picture of Chicago as seen by this younger generation. Stories include a scientist first learning of AIDS (back when it was still GRID), a drag king, and PFLAG. A short but sweet run at the Goodman Theatre’s smaller Owen space through August 15.

Camp Factor: So, has anyone here heard of Havey Finklestein’s Sock Puppet Show Girls? It is, in fact, just what it sounds like. Take the best scenes, the campiest lines, and the craziest characters from that bomb of a stripper movie, Show Girls, and reenact them with sock puppets. (Plus cameos by Cookie Monster, Elmo, and Lamb Chop!) It started in here in Chicago in 2002 at the Far North store front space, The Side Studio. After it developed a cult following (not unlike the movie), it had a successful run at the Noble Fool downtown. This summer, it returns for a limited engagement (with new scenes!) to Theatre Building before heading off to New York for the Fringe Festival. If Avenue Q gave puppets an “R” rating, this show goes beyond that.

Alright, that’s the word for now. See you in chillier times. Peace.

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