Review: Annoyance Theatre’s “Sodomites!”

Biblical madness paired with sardonic revelry makes for a musical of Biblical proportions

Christy Bonstell, Jim Fath, James Asmus, Mort Burke, Irene Marquette.  Photo credit: Sean Cusick

Right on the heels of Gay Pride Month, Annoyance Theatre puts up a raucous riff on the Biblical tale of Sodom and Gomorrah. Naturally, any theater with a full service bar and a long history of shock-theater doesn’t need to go further than gay jokes or fart jokes. But Sodomites! director Sean Cusick and his partners in crime, writer James Asmus and lyricist Mike Descoteaux, have crafted a sly dissection of the usual right-wing fundamentalism towards the Old Testament and set it all to music to make it go down with jovial ease. In this production, witty lyrics, anachronisms, and fast-paced lines critique our modern day culture wars—bringing this high-energy, lowbrow show dangerously close to satire.

Maybe Sean Cusick’s past holds the key to this blend of bawdy theology. He majored in philosophy and political science at Tufts University, and then went on to improvisation out of a need for an unrestricted outlet. “I had no discipline for acting. But I learned a lot from Second City about saying something while going for laughs.” It was James Asmus who called with the idea for the musical. “James, Mike, and I came up with the skeleton for the show over a few lunches. Mike knew all the Biblical verses by heart, so there was no need to explain to him what we were going for.”

James Asmus, Mort Burke. Photo credit: Sean Cusick You can still get drunk and watch the show, but it’s almost better if you don’t so that you won’t miss all the cunning details. The archangels Michael and Gabriel are ordered by God to seek out “one good man” from the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah or God will wreak destruction upon them. The trouble is that Michael and Gabriel are as jittery before God as overworked personal assistants to a fickle, spoiled CEO. While they are off on their mission, God will “bury some dinosaur bones to test peoples’ faith.” The angels describe the perils of their mission with “One Good Man.”

Upon landing in Sodom, they run into Lot, a raving, self-righteous homophobe who sees gay sex all around him. And he equates “gay sex” with everything, from bestiality to melon-ballers. “Our hero is as pure as his daughter’s labia majora,” sings the narrator. Isn’t that the truth, since Lot is more sexually obsessed than the deviants he condemns and one of daddy’s little girls seems rather eager to leave mom behind.

But bourgeois gay couples and liberal elites also get their come-uppance. A quick visit to Gomorrah reveals beautiful people so smug and fatuitous in their liberal haven, you long for them to be destroyed. Michael visits a gay couple who are both well meaning and self-absorbed. They take the angel for a mentally challenged homeless person until he downloads 1% of God’s consciousness into one of them. “You look like when we did coke,” his partner remarks as he comes out of it. Of course, it doesn’t help for them to learn that they will be destroyed for violating the laws of God that haven’t even been written yet. Even as Michael lets them preview an “advanced copy” of Leviticus, “Leviticus Rag” perfectly expresses their chagrin.

Irene Marquette, Christy Bonstell, Photo credit: Sean Cusick The highlight of the show occurs when God finally reveals himself, as a Morrissey character, singing, “This is God, Saying Sorry.” The true nature of the Old Testament God comes to light, as a capricious, arbitrary, and erratic personality; an awful power coupled to insecurity issues. Perhaps even the liberal religious may take offense, but the song is perfect piece for the production and explains a great deal about a god who “expects a lot.”

So, even once the angels have found one good man, Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed anyway. The writers pull no punches in describing or commenting on the arbitrariness of that destruction: “Genocide is always someone else’s fault.” What more needs to be said about the human propensity to come up with any rationalization for the abuse of power, whether it be bombing cities or decimating populations?

The final act wherein Lot has sex with his daughters returns us to the ribaldry for which Annoyance is famous. It’s a telling moment when the angel Michael reassures Lot that, not to worry, the whole incident will be left out of the Koran. Nice to know that someone will do damage control, once the damage is all well and done.

Much praise goes to the well-coordinated cast, whose enthusiasm and energy are unflagging. Biblical madness should be paired sardonic revelry and earnest mania. It may be the only way for the human race to survive.

 

Rating: «««½

Sodomites!! A Musical of Biblical Proportions opens on June 19 during the Just For Laughs Festival and will show on Fridays at 8:00 PM through July 31. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at the company’s website theannoyance.com, or by calling the box office: 773.561.HONK (4665). The Annoyance is located at 4830 N. Broadway, Chicago, Illinois 60640.

Cast list and bios after the jump

SODOMITES!!! A MUSICAL OF BIBLICAL PROPORTIONS

Story by God

Received and transcribed by The Cast

Director – Sean Cusick

Adaptation – James Asmus

Music and Lyrics – Mike Descoteaux

Accompaniment – Lisa McQueen

Costumes – Emily Candini

Lighting Design – Jim FitzGerald

ABOUT THE CAST…

James Asmus has been in theater since childhood.  In three years at the Annoyance, he has been a part of Coed Prison Sluts, Splatter Theater, The Invention Show, Late Night Tit Bits, and teaches Level I for the writing programJames also co-created and performed in Love Is Dead: A NecRomantic Musical Comedy for the Annoyance, which won awards from its run in the New York Fringe Festival and Chicago’s After Dark Awards.  He has written several other plays and superhero adventures for Marvel Comics. Special appreciation to his ultra-wonderful girlfriend, Mara.

Christy Bonstell couldn’t be more excited to be a part of this show. When she’s not playing the lovely Tawny, she can be seen taking her clothes off on Saturday nights at Late Night Tit Bits or improvising as part of the two-man show Women with Manners on Tuesdays at the Annoyance. She also performs with the improvised musical Baby Wants Candy, harold team Willie Nelson Slept Here at iO, the cast of ComedySportz and the hit church service Best Church of God. She would like to thank Jen, Mick, Lisa, Sean, Andy and Keagan.

Mort Burke grew up in St. Louis and moved to Chicago five years ago. He’s done comedy at various venues throughout the nation for a while and is very excited to be in another show at the beloved Annoyance Theatre. He would like to thank the theatre and all of the wonderful cast members and employees, Sean and James for asking him to do this, the cast of this show and everyone he’s performed with so far. He would also like to give a big ups to God and say, you know, sorry.

Erica Elam* is a proud member of the Actors’ Equity Association. She has performed with The Second City, iO, Annoyance, and The Comedy Shrine. Recent theatre credits include Born Yesterday (Peninsula Players), The Trip to Bountiful (Goodman), The Philadelphia Story (Remy Bumppo), Inherit the Wind (Northlight), The Romeo and Juliet Musical (Second City/Chicago Shakespeare), Winesburg, OH (Steppenwolf/About Face), and Abingdon Square (Piven). She recently completed an Off-Broadway run with the critically-acclaimed musical improv group, Baby Wants Candy, and was named one of the “Top 5 Actors to Watch” by The Chicago Tribune. Erica is a magna cum laude graduate of The University of Georgia and The School at Steppenwolf.

Jim Fath hails from Cleveland and is delighted beyond words and slightly terrified to be in Sodmites!!! as it is his first bonafide musical. He’s a published humor author, denizen of sketch comedy with Hey You Millionaires and improv comedy with The Space Robbers and i.O. He’d like to thank his fellow cast mates and James, Sean and Mike for putting this hedonistic and blaspheming pile of wonderful together.

Irene Marquette is thrilled to be a part of Sodomites!!! She has performed at iO and Second City Las Vegas and had a hand in writing shows including LHC presents: KINK and the Annoyance’s Chasing Dumb.  Later this summer she will be joining the cast of ImprovAcadia in Maine and is directing her first full length show at the Annoyance, Lights Out Alma. She loves and thanks Griffen.

 

*Appears courtesy of the Actors Equity Association

Chris Witaske would like to apologize to any children who see this show. Chris’ credits at the Annoyance include Scientology The Unauthorized Musical, Death Roast, Buffet Shark, Bodyslam, Bearforce One, ThunderPussy, Stop That Show, Splatter Theater and Grabass. Chris also performs at IO occasionally and performed for Second City on a cruise ship. Chris would like to thank his parents, Mick, Jennifer, Mary and the children at the preschool where he works for not seeing this show.

ABOUT THE COSTUME DESIGNER…

Emily Candini is always happy to be around this crud and is grateful to be working with Sean and the cast. She would like to thank Mick, Tyler, Fitzy and Jen (the strongest woman ever and the hardest working man the building) for creating and maintaining this wonderfully absurd theater. She, as always, would also like to thank Condor, Mandrew, Timmy, Morton, Forest and Rich (her grandfather) for their support and love. Oh, and her best friend Sam Weiner.

ABOUT THE LIGHTING DESIGNER…

Jim FitzGerald has been an ensemble member since 1991 and is very pleased to work with so much great talent on this show as Technical Director. He also likes puppies, kittens, and long walks on the beach.

ABOUT THE MUSIC DIRECTOR…

Lisa McQueen, an Ensemble Member / Musical Director at Annoyance Theater for 19 years, composed Tippi: Portrait of a Virgin, President Bush is a Great Man, and The Invention Show, among others. She choreograped America – All Better!, the most current Second City Revue and Rod Blagojevich Superstar, currently running at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Other Second City Musical Director credits include Alliance Theater (Atlanta) Too Busy to Hate, To Hard to Commute, Boom Chicago (Amsterdam) Mainstage Revue and Center for Performing Arts (Denver) Red Scare!. Regional credits include Chicago Shakespeare Theatre’s How Can You Run with a Shell on Your Back?, Hamlet! The Musical and People vs. Friar Tuck, Romeo & Juliet, the Musical; as well as the Victory Gardens Theater and Off-Broadway productions of Wild Men! both starring George Wendt.  Lisa is also pianist / keyboardist with the Jeannie Tanner Jazz Quartet and The Rolling Clones, a band dedicated to the music of the Rolling Stones.

ABOUT THE COMPOSER…

Mike Descoteaux is head of the Music Program at the Second City Training Center and resident music director of the ETC stage. His work has been heard at The Goodman, Chicago Shakespeare, American Theater Company, The Theatre Building, Davenport’s and numerous other Chicago venues.  With Baby Wants Candy, pHamily, Jazz Hands Across America, and Musical! The Musical, Mike has “composed” over 1,000 improvised musicals. He has been named one of the top young songwriters in America (Johnny Mercer/AMTP), worked with a handful of Tony Award winners, and is the creator/director of the hit satire, Best Church of God. Mike is a member of ASCAP and the Chicago Federation of Musicians.

ABOUT THE DIRECTOR…

Sean Cusick comes from tropical upstate NY. He’s had the honor of working with the Annoyance since 2003, having directed the cult hits Dr Amazing Your Country Needs You and An Aerosmith Xmas. Around Chicago, Sean directs one of the Second City’s Touring Companies, writes/performs with the Best Church of God, and can be found many places in between. All his love to Nissa.

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