REVIEW: The Last Cargo Cult (Victory Gardens)

Witty, expressive storyteller goes tribal

 

 
Victory Gardens Freshly Squeezed Series presents
 
The Last Cargo Cult
 
Written and performed by Mike Daisey
Directed by
Jean Michele Gregory
at the
Richard Christiansen Theatre, 2433 N. Lincoln (map)
thru May 9th  | tickets: $25  |  more info

By Katy Walsh

Sleeping with a pig, shopping at Ikea, fermented yam paste, $40 public beaches, its primitive tales from the South Pacific spliced up with pure Americana. Victory Gardens Freshly Squeezed Series presents

The Last Cargo Cult runs for a limited engagement at the Richard Christiansen Theatre, 2433 N. Lincoln. Master storyteller Mike Daisey uses his personal memoirs to illustrate America’s money paradox. According to Wikipedia, the goddess of all information, “a cargo cult is a type of religious practice that may appear in traditional  tribal societies in the wake of interaction with technologically advanced cultures.” During World War II, the U.S. military set up strategic bases on several South cargocult3Pacific islands. At the conclusion of the war, the G.I. Joes go but the awakening to technology and commerce remains. (Think of Bali Ha’i islanders singing, "I’m gonna wash that man right outta my hair.”) Daisey relates his recent journey to an exotic South Pacific Island that worships America. He intertwines everyday experiences of a first world inhabitant. The Last Cargo Cult is a one-man comedic deconstruction of the U.S. economic foundation that crumbled.

Daisey is a witty and expressive storyteller. As the writer, his word choices create vivid illustrations. He describes the islanders as “if the French and English had sex and the baby was raised by sailors in the 1940’s.” Now, that’s a descriptor. He cloaks poignant points within hilarious absurdity. Upon arrival each audience member receives a bill of currency, ranging from $1 to $100. Daisey uses the random distribution to relate self-validation connected to money. With arms flailing, eyes bulging and red faced, Daisey is outstanding in nailing the ludicrous lives of Americans and their plethora of ‘awesome shit.’ He transitions to the unexpected response in the story with a well-placed uttering of the word ‘awkward.’ Daisey’s disenchantment with the American cargocult financial industry and the unfortunate infiltration of American culture on what use to be an exotic island is pure schadenfreude. He finds the comedy in the farce and delivers it with dark, delicious satisfaction.

The running time is two hours and ten minutes. Awkward… It’s too long! It’s like if Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert had a love child and that love child was paid by the word commentating on the travel channel. Even the strongest storyteller benefits from editing. If the length is part of the money paradox theme, I got my money’s worth easily at the half-way point. Seat F 109 didn’t even make it that far before she started dozing off and she received $50 to my $1 in the commerce audience activity. Every time Daisey turned over a legal sheet of notes, I silently prayed, “be the bottom of the pile.” Although I have a healthy attention span, I have American impatience limitations. I refused to go on a second date with a monologuer. And after the hour and a half, he at least bought my dinner. Mike, tack on another forty minutes of my undivided attention and I’m going to expect more than dinner out of our encounter.

 
 
Rating: ★★½
 
 

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Running Time: Two hours and ten minutes

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REVIEW: Avenue Q (Broadway in Chicago)

A perky-pervy ‘Avenue’ like no other

 

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Broadway in Chicago presents
 
Avenue Q
 
Music/lyrics by Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez
at
Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe (map)
thru May 9th  |  tickets: $22-$67  |  more info

reviewed by Catey Sullivan

Sure, the hot puppet sex scene – anal, oral, Reverse Cowgirl and a riotous assortment of additionally hilariously raunchy positions one does not normally associate with puppets – is a real grabber, so to speak.

But there’s so much more to the perky and pervy world of Avenue Q. The 2004 Best Musical Tony-winner – an explicit and R-rated ode to Sesame Street and the life-lessons therein- has more veracity than many a real-people populated drama. avenuq3 For example: Everyone’s a little bit racist. And: The more you love someone, the more you sometimes want to kill them. And: Life often sucks. And finally (but of course): The Internet is for porn. Go ahead – try and dispute the grain-to-mountain of truth in any of those statements. If you are at all honest with yourself, you will lose that debate. That the last bit of wisdom is delivered in a chirpy song that sounds, lyrics aside, as if it should be the tune to a nursery rhyme, only increases its sage power.

Some seven years after Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx (music, lyrics, original concept) introduced the world to the multi-culti wholesome denizens of  a seedy, scrappy corner of  New York City, Avenue Q still holds up.

The effectiveness of Avenue Q lies in part in its brazen willingness to give voice to things simply not said in polite society. Coming from puppets, some self-evident truths are a bit easier to swallow. With a touring production that keeps the expensive production values of the original Broadway incarnation largely intact, Avenue Q maintains its winning mix of peppy charm and profane raunch,  (hilariously) dream-shattering cynicism and up-with-people, can-do enthusiasm.

Its endearing, enduring gimmick – storytelling via an ensemble of puppet characters and “real” people – is immensely clever. Black-clad actors (there’s no attempt to hide them) give voice and marvelous movement to bug-eyed, cloth moppets. It’s a device that sounds terrible on paper – a cheesy mix of ventriloquism and kindergarten field trip. But it works, beautifully thanks to a top-notch cast and Lopez’ utterly winning material.

When Princeton, as idealistic and clueless as only a newly minted B.A. in English can be, shows up looking for his purpose in life and an affordable apartment, he’s embodied in the face, body and voice of both actor Brent Michael DiRoma and the puppet DiRoma’s carrying.

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DiRoma and Jacqueline Grabois anchor the production, each portraying a pair of Avenue Q residents. In addition to Princeton, DiRoma is also the Bert- (as in Ernie and) like Rod, a lonesome closeted gay man who you just know is going to come out in a feel-good, huge triumph-of-the-human spirit big song ‘n dance number before the evening’s over.

Grabois is both Kate Monster, a shy and wholesome (at least until she’s wasted) assistant kindergarten teacher who dreams of founding a special school where little monsters can be safe from ridicule  and the sashaying Lucy the Slut, a character whose name pretty much sums her up.

Watching Grabois and DiRoma agiley veer between characters – sometimes in the same conversation – you get a sense of how deceptively demanding Avenue Q really is. It only looks easy. But technique, no matter how impressive, is not what Avenue Q has to offer the audience. Avenue Q is a lovely and lively mix of smut and sweetness that even the most puppet-averse will find irresistible.

 
 
Rating: ★★★★
 
 

 

 

Avenue Q continues through May 9 at the Bank of America Theatre, 19 W. Monroe.Tickets are $25 – $75. For more information, go to www.avenueqontour.com or www.broadwayinchicago.com

   

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