REVIEW: Jenny & Jenni (Factory Theater)

     
     

Funky Freestyle Aerobic Friendship

     
     

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The Factory Theater presents
   
Jenny & Jenni
   
Written by Shannon O’Neill
Directed by Laura McKenzie
at
Prop Thtr, 3504 N. Elston  (map)
through Dec 18 |  tickets: $15-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Heaven only knows what drugs inspired Shannon O’Neill’s disco-fevered aerobic dance flashback, but Jenny & Jenni, a new comedy produced by The Factory Theater at Prop Theatre’s space, throws down a litany of 1970’s zaniness like no other. The show begins with the claim that—forget Jane Fonda–these two fictional exercise queens were the real start of the 70’s workout craze. Jenny (Shannon O’Neill), spelled normally with a “y,” and Jenni (Christine Jennings), spelled weirdly with an “i,” are high school rejects with crappy, self-absorbed and neglectful parents. They find each other and take the audience on a ride through every absurd 70’s trend with all the Jenny and Jenni posterhyped-up positive outlook of your favorite 70’s sitcom.

Laura McKenzie directs this picaresque ode to the evolutionary beginnings of jazzercise, spandex, and headbands. The show comes in under two and a half hours but for all that, McKenzie runs a tight, organized and whipsmart ensemble. Even transitions between scenes are choreographed with military precision to keep energy up and the fun going; the cast drives the show from beginning to end at an exacting pace. 70’s tunes dominate the dance/aerobic choreography of Donnell Williams, so rest assured the actors are feeling the burn while they joke about feeling it.

By far, the comedy standouts are Nick Leininger, taking on roles such as a smarmy Health Teacher and an encounter group leader, among others. William Bullion makes yet another deadpan funny fringe appearance as Riggins, the principal of Jenny and Jenni’s high school, who is absolutely plum loco about Scottish heritage. High school archenemy Lola St. James (Aileen May) and her gang of mean girls (Kathryn Hribar, Elizabeth Levy, Kim Boler and Sarah Scanlon) try to keep Jenny and Jenni down but Mr. Riggins gives them their first big morale boost to hit the road and build their aerobic workout dream.

Jenny & Jenni has a wild assortment of hilarious scenes. There’s the Scottish Highland Dance competition with Mr. Riggins and his stiff, proper Scottish sidekick, Aidan (Ted Evans). There’s the hallucinogenic drug scene, when, Jenny and Jenni posterdemoralized, Jenny and Jenni lose track of their dream and go off on wild benders of their own. There’s the encounter group session—a scene that deserves its own award for bringing back hysterical reminders of the prevalence of Me Generation pop psychology. There’s the reintroduction of Kathryn Hribar as Crazy Person, which single-handedly manages to amp up the crazy quotient for the whole second act.

The show could still use a strong editorial hand. The aerobic dance-off between Jenny and Jenni’s entourage versus Lola St. James’ Studio 54-style entourage veers into train wreck territory and loses its comic impact. Plus, the show tries for a sweet and happy ending with a reformed Lola seeing the error of her ways. The transformation is neither emotionally convincing nor even necessary, comically speaking. As for the friendship between Jenny and Jenni, O’Neill and Jennings have a wonderfully simple, understated and convincing bond but more humor could be made of their fabulously bizarre, mutual desire to get down and boogie-oogie-oogie.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
      
     

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Ensemble

Wm. Bullion, Kim Boler, Matt Engle, Ted Evans, Kathyrn Hribar, Christine Jennings, Nick Leininger, Elizabeth Levy, Aileen May, Shannon O’Neill, Sarah Scanlon

Production and Creative Team

Directed By: Laura McKenzie
Written by: Shannon O’Neill
Produced by: Manny Tamayo & Timothy C. Amos
Scenic Designer: Ian Zywica
Sound Designer: Brian Lucas
Lighting Designer: Jordan Kardasz
Costume Designer: Emma Weber
Technical Director: Dan Laushman
Choreographer: Donnell Williams
Props Master: Josh Graves
Stage Manager: Allison Queen
Asst. Stage Manager: Christina Dougherty
Graphic Designer: Jason Moody

Original Music By: Laura McKenzie

 
 

Bios

 

Shannon O’Neill (Playwright, Jenni Bishop) hails from Carbondale, IL and is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago, with a B.A. in Theater. Shannon has been a member of Factory’s ensemble since 2003 and performed in a handful of shows including Dragon Tales, Dick Danger, Janice Dutts Goes To Life Camp , and most recently,Mop Top Festival. Also a fight choreographer, Shannon has had the pleasure to have worked with a number of other theater companies including, The Journeymen, Lifeline Theatre, Trap Door, Dog & Pony, Steep Theatre, and the side project

 

Christine Jennings (Jenny Fox) I am, above all, so proud of my best girl Shannon. The idea behind this show sprouted many years ago in one of the 80 apartments we shared. This is the 5th production we’ve been in together & it certainly elicits the most excitement from me. Cheers to Oken for helping so much along the way, to L Mack for taking  the reigns, to Manny for Mannying it, and to George & Triva O’Neill for sharing Shannon with the world – and always encouraging her to do what ‘feels good’. Big cheers to all my fellow knuckleheads at the Factory, who I’ve been playing with  since 1996. Love to Pat, Rita & my P.I.C Safety Jim. MO-TI-VATE!!!

 

Ted Evans (Mr. Fox, Aidan, Drug Person, Chip) is a graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design and the Second City Conservatory and is currently pursuing a second career at the Cortiva Institute of Massage, in addition to acting, voiceover and web design. He currently produces, writes, and acts in a new webseries, Funemployed. Ted is also a published playwright for his one man show entitled Wait…What? A Story About ADD. Ted has worked with 20% Theatre, Theatre Nebula, Actors Theatre Company, The Peninsula Players, Hell in a Handbag Productions, First Folio Theatre, New Leaf Theatre, Brain Surgeon Theatre, The Idea Place, and TUTA.  He is excited to be working with Factory Theatre for the first time.

 

Matt Engle (Dubin, Randy, Mr. Fife)  has been a proud company member of Factory since 2003. In that time, he has acted in several shows, his favorites being Toast Of The Town, Dirty Diamonds, Ren Faire! A Fistful Of Ducats & Janice Dutts Goes To Life Camp. He has written, directed and designed fights for Factory, as well. Around town, Matt has had the honor to work with some fabulous theatre companies, including Lifeline, Steep, Strawdog and WildClaw Theatre. Thanks for coming out and supporting Factory.

 

Sarah Scanlon (Lisa, Mr. Fox’s gf, Sherkah, Spectator)  is thrilled to be making her Factory Theatre debut with Jenny & Jenni, and to  be playing a human for the first time in over a year! Recent credits included Zilla, a little  scientist alien with a heart of gold in Hey, Mr. Spaceman! with The Strange Tree Group; a  sassy Rhinemaiden, an adorable wood-bird, and others in The Building Stage‘s epic adaptation  of  The Ring Cycle,and most recently a ghost Antigone and Megira, a goddess of vengence,  in The Last Daughter of Oedipus with Babes with Blades. Sarah has also done work with  Redmoon Theater, Metropolis, Aloft!, and does vocals and keyboard for the band Left Turn at Albuquerque, who is currently recording their first album.  During the day, Sarah is a personal trainer…so she hopes that her clients appreciate seeing  her do some of the moves that she tortures them with…and also hopes that they’ll enjoy  learning new ones, such as the Taco Tangler.

 

Aileen May (Lola St. James) is from Kansas City and moved to Chicago in 2005 after graduating with a college degree in French. She still kind of speaks it, but mostly not. Quel domage. Aileen has most recently been seen this past summer in Redmoon Theater‘s summer festival J.O.E as a mutant ninja cheerleader, as a slutty hipster in Mary-Arrchie Theatre‘s Cherrywood, and a raging bitch in the Factory Theater’s Hey! Dancin! last spring. She has also worked with Dream Theatre, Oracle Theatre, The House Theatre, The Side Project, Hobo Junction and Theo Ubique. In the near future you may see Aileen perform in modern dance pieces throughout the city, capturing the fleeting essence of what it means to be beautiful-ugly. Aileen would like to thank The Factory for being an island of awesome, hospitality and weirdos. Meow

 

Kathryn Hribar (Kiki, Heather, Spectator, Crazy Person) is thrilled to be working with The Factoy for the first time. Recent projects include Redmoon’s Last of my Species badass cheerleading squad and Dog & Pony Theatre’s The Twins Would Like to Say. She has also worked with Collaboraction, Next Theatre, The Ruckus, The Building Stage and Point of Contention. Thanks to Laura for inviting me to this sweet party and thanks to my hip hop soccer player for all of his support. Everyone enjoy the show!

 

Kim Boler (Ms. Fox, Celeste, Judge, Drug Person, Vermla, Mia)  Through several hours of omphaloskepsis, Kim has started her bio and is delighted, gleeful, chipper, exultant, jolly, flying high, tickled pink, slappin skins, and grateful for this online thesaurus is available to help describe her debut with The Factory Theatre in Jenny & Jenni.  She is NOTdejected, despairing, troubled, grieved, heavyhearted, or woebegone to be working with O’Neill and the unparalleled Laura McKenzie. Not to mention the preternaturally cool talents of the rest of this singular cast…let’s kick some balls! She gives muchos thanks to the Fam, lovin her from the South, and her permanent man meat, Kevin, for…well…you know. And Everyone else, thank you for coming to our show!

 

Wm. Bullion (Principal Riggins) is a 25-year veteran of the Chicago Fringe theater scene. This is the second time he’s ventured beyond the fringe to work at the Factory Theater. Most recently, Billy was seen as Gladys, the prescient narrator in a bathrobe in Factory’s The League of Awesome. Just before that, he acquitted himself admirably in the epic The Building Stage production of The Ring Cycle where he originated the roles of Alberich, Fasolt, and Hagen. Previously, he played jaded ace detective Nick Charles in City Lit Theatre’s The Thin Man and Matt Danaher in Prop Thtr’s smash-hit Hizzoner: Daley the First. Prior to that, Mr. Bullion was in Hamlet (Building Stage), The (W)Hole Thing (Stage Left Theatre), Romeo & Juliet (Oak Park Festival Theatre), and many plays with his own company, Sliced Bread Productions.

 

Elizabeth Levy (Missy, Stacy, Mrs. Bishop, Judge) is excited to make her Factory debut.  Most recent stage credits include Good Soul of Szechuan at Strawdog Theatre, God’s Ear, and As Told by the Vivian Girls, both with Dog and Pony Theatre Company.  Elizabeth is Program Director and a company member of Barrel of Monkeys Theater Company, and she performs regularly in their critically-acclaimed Monday-night show That’s Weird, Grandma at the Neo-Futurist Theater.  Elizabeth has also appeared at Steppenwolf, Collaboraction‘s Sketchbook and joined the House Theatre‘s production of The Sparrow for part of its run at the Apollo Theater. Many thanks to Laura, her family, friends, and Chad.

Nick Leininger (Knowles, Teacher, Judge, Todd) has worked with and in the Prop Thtr for the last eight years. He is very excited to finally be joining forces with his friends in The Factory after the many years of seeing their shows, sharing close spaces, drinking with them, and serving them across the street at Chief O’Neils.  Nick was last seen in the Dog and Pony Theatre performance of The Twins Would Like to Say, part of the Steppenwolf garage rep that took place last spring. He would like to thank his parents for their continued support of his art. And to everyone else, "Distance hates you!"

Laura McKenzie (Director) made her Factory Theater debut as actor and contributor in the late-night hit Chicagostyle.  She has since directed Shameless Shamuses, written Janice Dutts Goes to Life Camp, co-written Ménage à Trailerand appeared in a whole bunch of shows including Janice Dutts, Toast of the Town and Being at Choice.  Other writer-performer credits include: Picked Upand Alice with the Neo-Futurists, Laura McKenzie Feels Like Makin’ Love, Funk Cloud: Fight the Stank! and Waiting On Godot.  She is one half of the comedy duo The Laura On Laura Comeback Tour and is a company member and Music Director for the Barrel of Monkeys

   
   

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