REVIEW: Tommy Gun’s Garage: A Roaring 20’s Speakeasy

  
  

Gangsters, Prohibition and Flappers – Oh my!

  
  

We're In The Money - Tommy Gun's Garage

  
Tommy Gun’s Dinner Theatre presents
  
Tommy Gun’s Garage
   
Chicago’s Only Original Roaring 20’s Speakeasy
 
at Tommy’s Speakeasy, 2114 S. Wabash (map)
Open Run  | 
tickets (includes dinner): $60  |  more info

Reviewed by Allegra Gallian

Prohibition. Flappers. Gangsters and bootleggers. The roaring 20s were a time when speakeasies were the place to be and the people who frequented them were happy and carefree. The illegal booze ran high and the hemlines got higher.

Tommy Gun’s Garage, a dinner theatre situated in the South Loop, embodies that heart and style of the roaring 20s. The whole theatre has been transformed into Tommy Gun’s Speakeasy with flappers and gangsters milling about, both serving the food and performing on stage.

Tommy Gun's Garage and Dinner Theatre, ChicagoThe second you arrive you are greeted by Gloves, Da Boss’s right-hand-man. Once you give him the password to enter (yes, really) you are brought into the theatre where the actors are instantly in character, resembling mobsters who may have hob-knobbed with Al Capone himself. The men turn up the charm to schmooze the ladies and the girls laugh and dance around, swaying their hips to create maximum movement of their fringed flapper dresses.

The evening starts with a pre-show dinner, which offers a decent selection of entrees as well as appetizers, dessert and “hooch” (alcohol). The food is quite tasty (see menu) and comes in a timely fashion. As I said before, the actors and actresses double as the wait staff and keep in character throughout, whether on or off stage. The characterization is distinct and evident of the 1920s and it feels like the audience has been transported back in time. The setup is also conducive to social interaction and friendliness, so it’s easy to sit back, relax and make friends with all those seated around you as you share in the entertainment swirling around.

Once everyone’s been served dinner the show begins. In the form of a musical comedy review, the actor’s take the stage to entertain and sing. The show gets off to somewhat of a slow start but quickly picks up once the actor’s got in their groove. Vito “Da Boss” leads the audience through the show, introducing acts and performing as well. His characterization is as strong as his singing voice.

The energy stays high throughout the performance which, for the most part, boasts exuberant singing and dancing. (I found a few actors hard to understand – diction, people!).  However, what may lack in the performance aspect is made up for in charisma. The actors and actresses – in particular Deuce, Vito and Officer Murphy – play well off one another and the audience. They are quick with the hilarious jokes and thinking on their feet. The show is interactive and the performers do a wonderful job of including the audience in on the frivolity, even bringing people on stage.

          
Da Gangsters of Tommy Guns Garage - Chicago flappers from Tommy Guns Garage Dinner Theater - Chicago

Musical numbers include popular standards the audience can sing along to such as “We’re in the Money,” “All That Jazz,” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby?” The music is often accompanied by dances, like the Charleston, which is performed with the entire cast and is a joy to watch. The flappers really show off their talent with a rousing tap-dance number. If you’re lucky enough to find out the password from Da Boss, Tommy Gun’s Garage will definitely serve up an evening to remember! 

  
  
Rating: ★★★
   
  

Tommy Gun’s Garage plays at 2114 S. Wabash Ave., Thursday through Sunday (schedule) with tickets for dinner and the show ranging from $60 to $70. Tickets can be purchased by calling 312-225-0273.

 

Tommy Guns Garage - the gangsters and their girls

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Review: Sketchbook Reverb (Collaboraction)

  
  

High-energy company serves up so-so sample platter

  
  

Dan Krall, James Zoccoli, Kim Lyle, Saverio Truglia, Collaboraction, Sketchbook Reverb

   
Collaboraction presents
   
Sketchbook Reverb
  
Directed by Anthony Moseley
at
Flat Iron Arts Building, 1575 N. Milwaukee (map)
thru March 27  | 
tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker 

Collaboraction has to be one of the most energetic theatre companies on the planet. If you’ve ever seen a past Sketchbook, the company’s signature showcase for new avant-garde works, you understand what I’m talking about. Anthony Moseley and his band of merry artists are like a bunch of teenagers who have forgotten to take their Adderall. The creativity bubbles forth, frequently with a lack of clear direction and focus, making the final product a sight to see but not always a comprehensible sight.

Saverio Truglia, Sketchbook Reverb, Amy Speckien, CollaboractionSketchbook REVERB certainly delivers on whimsy and inventiveness. And just like the eponymous annual series from which its one acts have been borrowed, its inconsistent. Some of the pieces are absolutely brilliant, reaching intense levels of poignancy through bare-knuckled honest comedy. Other times, the wackiness of the plays feels put on in a desperate attempt to appear cutting edge and quirky. When it works, it works. And when it doesn’t, you eye the program seeing what’s next on the menu.

Let’s first discuss some of the winners. “My Yeti Dreams”, written by Lisa Dillman, is a soliloquy delivered by a woman (Laura Shatkus) who falls in love with a grunting, half-naked Yeti (HB Ward). It’s an absurd premise with honest and relatable underpinnings. This woman finds freedom in her love for something so free of social mores. Shatkus delivers a breathy, heartfelt monologue as Ward jumps and grunts with gusto.

Another highlight of the night was “I’ll Never Tell You”, written by Stephen Cone. In this short, a man (HB Ward) is mourning privately over his wife’s corpse (Laura Shatkus). The man reveals to his wife things he regrets not telling her, specifically his many infidelities. Despite the fact that he’s a chronic cheater, the man’s awkwardness and sadness overshadow any judgment we may reserve for him. Instead, we are compelled to sympathize. This time, Ward delivers the monologue, and he does it with great patience and passion. It’s a beautiful performance.

The last high point of the night was “The Lurker Radio Hour”, written by Drew Dir. The short takes the form of an old radio show, which is always a fun format to see staged. The show’s host Steve Larker (James Zoccoli) dawns a sinister-sounding voice while his assistant Alice (Amy Speckien) creates the sound effects. Steve’s wife has left him, and so he uses the radio show as a platform to beg her to return. Meanwhile, Steve is blind to the fact that Alice pines for him. It’s a tale of unrequited love, played out with comedic sincerity by the talented Zoccoli. Speckien does a great job with amplifying the laughs as the timid sidekick.

Cast of "The Untimely Death of Adolf Hitler," part of "Sketchbook REVERB." Photo by Saverio Truglia.

The show’s five other plays range from mildly amusing to aggravating. “The Deep Blue Sea”, by Keith Huff, is bloated with stale, overwrought dialogue. “Tuning in El Paso”, by Ellen Fairey, tries too hard to appeal to our emotions. “Dating: A Cautionary Tale for Facebook Users”, by Ira Gamerman, is like a stand-up routine that doesn’t know when to stop. “A Domestic Disturbance at Little Fat Charlie’s Seventh Birthday Party”, by Andrew Hobgood, is a poor man’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. And “The Untimely Death of Adolph Hitler”, by Andy Grigg, is a decent sketch that quickly wears out its premise.

If you’re a fan of past Sketchbook shows, you’ll definitely enjoy Reverb. If you’ve always wanted to see a Collaboraction performance, Reverb is a great introduction. If you enjoy consistently good, grounded theatre, then Reverb probably isn’t for you. Personally, I applaud Collaboraction for taking risks and not always succeeding, and I appreciate the opportunities they give to new playwrights. They serve to remind other companies that artistic vision should always come before critical recognition.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
   
  

Pictured: HB Ward (Yeti) and Laura Shatkus (Christine) in "My Yeti Dreams," part of "Sketchbook REVERB" presented by Collaboraction. Photo by Saverio Truglia.

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