REVIEW: That’s Weird, Grandma (Barrel of Monkeys)

Innovative art springs from the minds of babes

 

That's Weird, Grandma - Barrel of Monkeys - Photo by Erich Nerger (2)

Barrel of Monkeys presents:

That’s Weird, Grandma

Open Run at the Neo-Futurists  (more info)

review by Keith Ecker

Chicago is not lacking in the comedy department. I’ve met accountants who do improv comedy by night and schoolteachers who do stand-up. There are no less than three prominent comedy institutions in the city—Second City, iO and the Annoyance Theatre—not to mention the smaller contenders, including The Playground Theater, the Cornservatory, Chemically Imbalanced Comedy, pH Productions and ComedySportz.

That's Weird, Grandma - Barrel of Monkeys - Photo by Erich Nerger (5) Perhaps this saturation is to compensate for the depressing and long Chicago winters we have to suffer through. Regardless, saturation is the key term. How much comedy can one sit through before you feel like you’ve heard the same joke a hundred times over? Who do we turn to for comedy that pushes the boundaries while delivering fresh material?

The answer is the children.

Theatre company Barrel of Monkeys has tapped into the genius that is Chicago’s public school students and mined the young minds for comedic gems. And what they deliver is absolutely fascinating, often surreal and at times extraordinarily touching.

The show That’s Weird Grandma, which plays weekly at the Neo-Futurists space in Andersonville, is a fast-paced variety show of child-written stories adapted to the stage by the talented theatre group. Each week, the cast slots out one to three sketches, resulting in a completely new show every few weeks.

That’s Weird Grandma is only a small component of the Barrel of Monkeys franchise, which consists of an ambitious educational outreach program that teaches kids about creative writing. Since the program began, the group has worked in 32 Chicago Public Schools, and more than 7,000 students have participated in its workshops. There is also an after-school program in Loyola Park Field House in Rogers Park.

That's Weird, Grandma - Barrel of Monkeys - Photo by Erich NergerThe show I saw consisted of 16 sketches, each lasting no more than several minutes. Sketches were presented in rapid-fire succession, and each was given an introduction that included the name and school of the student who had written the piece. Most of the pieces were completely fictitious though a couple were reflections of real life, including the hilarious scene “My Dad at Panda Express,” which features an angry father chewing out a young and confused Panda Express employee for neglecting to save any orange chicken for him.

Music accompanies every scene, and many sketches are musical in nature. For example, “Kool-Yummm” is a lyrical ode to Kool-Aid and features a hip-hop jam from the big red pitcher himself, the Kool-Aid Man.

As mentioned, the comedy captures the surreal minds of children in a way that celebrates their imaginations. That's Weird, Grandma - Barrel of Monkeys - Photo by Erich Nerger (4)You’re not laughing at them; you’re laughing with them. For instance, “W-I-A-R-D” is a bewildering scene about three girls, one of which is named Monkey, who find a note on the ground. What does the note say? “It say Jogococo.” Is this explained? No. Does it need an explanation? No. This is an unfiltered reflection of the hyperactive imaginations that rises out of the minds of babes, and that is satisfying enough.

The show wouldn’t be as amazing if it wasn’t for the talented cast, many of whom received training at the aforementioned comedy powerhouses. Their energy is big,; their commitment is strong; and their singing abilities are solid. Two of the cast members even swapped out seats at the piano to provide the accompaniment.

That’s Weird, Grandma is appropriate for all ages and has mass appeal. Scripts are tweaked so that some subtle jokes for the adults are thrown in, but the material in general is the stuff that everyone can relate to, from sisters ruining lives to parents ignoring children.

If you’re looking for something beyond Second City’s political humor, iO’s long-form improv and the Annoyance’s in-your-face comedy, That’s Weird, Grandma fills a Dadaist niche all its own that is much more than child’s play.

 

Rating: ★★★★

 A scene from the story 'Big Riders' from 'That's Weird, Grandma'

Performance Dates, Times and Location

"That’s Weird, Grandma" is currently running Sunday afternoons at 2 PM. Our Sunday matinee shows continue through April 4, and our 8 PM Monday night shows return on March 15.

The show runs a little over an hour.

"That’s Weird, Grandma" is presented at the  Neo Futurists Theatre, located at 5153 N. Ashland Ave., on the corner of Ashland and Foster in Chicago.

That's Weird, Grandma - Barrel of Monkeys - Photo by Erich Nerger (3) Kids and actors join in the fun during a public school performance.

This week’s Chicago theater show openings/closings

2437303-Skyline-Chicago

show openings

The 9/11 Report La Red Music Theatre

Bikerman and the Jewish Avenger Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

Bye Bye Birdie Northwestern University Theater

Ching, Chong, Chinaman Silk Road Theatre Project

Fun O’Clock: A Very Special “That’s Weird Grandma” Barrel of Monkeys

Honest Steppenwolf Theatre

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying St. Celestine Theatre

Lies and LiarsTheatre Seven of Chicago

Lorita and Other Dances Theatre Building Chicago

The Mistress Cycle Apple Tree Theatre

Sex with Strangers Steppenwolf Theatre

Six Degrees of Separation Eclipse Theatre

Ski Dubai Steppenwolf Theatre

Waiting for Godot Redtwist Theatre

 

chi-skyline-narrow

show closings

Anti-Social Darwinism and High School Musical 4: Come Hell or Heil Water Donny’s Skybox

Boleros for the Disenchanted Goodman Theatre 

Busman’s Honeymoon Lifeline Theatre

Cloclo Chicago Center for the Performing Arts

The Conduct of Life The Viaduct

Consume Gorilla Tango Theatre

A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking Buffalo Theatre Ensemble

Death Roast Annoyance Theatre

Hedda Gabler Raven Theatre

Hitched! Donny’s Skybox

Posers Donny’s Skybox

A Song for Coretta Eclipse Theatre

Super Happy Fun Show Corn Productions

Uncle Vanya TUTA Theatre Chicago

Wanted Gorilla Tango Theatre

What We May Be Gorilla Tango Theatre

special ticket offers

$15 tickets to The Great American Nudie Spectacular! by Scratch Media at Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W. Belmont. TBC is offering a limited number of discount tickets for the following performances:  Friday, July 24, and Saturday, July 25, both at 10:30 p.m. The discount is available for these two performances only. Call the box office at 773-327-5252 and mention this offer.

New Artistic Director for Barrel of Monkeys

New Artistic Director for BOM

Barrel of Monkeys announces their new, permanent Artistic Director will be long- time company member Luke Hatton, as of the beginning of the eleventh anniversary, 2008-2009 season on September 1st. He started with the ensemble in fall 2000, right after graduating with a BS in Theatre from Northwestern University, and began performing and teaching for many of BOM’s in-school residencies. Hatton then served as a member of the Teacher Corps, a select group of lead teachers within the company, and as a Program Officer. In 2003, he began directing in-school and public performances for BOM, and in 2007, he served as Artistic Associate for the company. Hatton has also worked extensively as a performer in Chicago with Steppenwolf Theatre, The Neo-Futurists, The Hypocrites, The Gift, Lifeline, and with Geva Theatre Center in New York. He has directed acclaimed theatrical productions with Steep Theatre and Phalanx Theaters. As an arts educator, Luke has developed and taught curriculum with After School Matters and Adventure Stage Chicago.

weirdgrandma Interim Artistic Director Laura Grey will leave the position to continue to perform with Second City etc’s “Campaign Supernova” (and will also continue to perform in the BOM ensemble), and founding Artistic Director Halena Kays will begin a University of Texas, Austin, MFA, after recently returning to Chicago to direct The Neo-Futurists’ “Fake Lake.”

After three years as Production Stage Manager for BOM’s Monday night show “That’s Weird, Grandma,” Maggie Fullilove-Nugent joins the staff as part-time Company Manager. She is also the Production Manager for The Hypocrites and North Park University Theatre. As a freelance lighting designer and technician, she has worked on over 50 productions with companies including 500 Clown, House, Building Stage, Lifeline and Artistic Home.

Best of luck to Luke!!

Luke Hatton, as seen in "Big Riders"

For WGN Radio – My summer picks…

Chicago - My Kind of Theater Town - cropped

For Kids and Families:

  • Lyle, Lyle, the Crocodile, Lifeline Theatre
    • June 13th -July 13th; Friday-Sunday at 1pm
    • Tickets: $10
  • Cirque Shanghai: Gold ; Navy Pier outdoor theater
    • Runs all summer through Sept. 1st
    • Performed at outdoor theater at Navy Pier (just east of Ferris Wheel), so take in the show, then experience the huge fireworks display every Wednesday and Saturday evening.
    • Tickets: $12.50-$30
  • Willy Wonka, Chicago Shakespeare at Navy Pier
    • July 8th – August 17th
    • Tickets: $18-$23
  • Blue Man Group, Briar Street Theatre
    • Super-fun for kids of all ages
    • Tickets: $49-$59 (box office: 773-348-4000)

For Teens (and the young-at-heart):

  • Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, Neo-Futurists
    • Experience Chicago’s longest running play – 20 years and counting!
    • Days/Times: Friday-Saturday, 11pm, Sunday 7pm
    • Price: $6 plus the roll of a dice (so $7-$12 – is that cool or what?!?)
  • That’s Weird Grandma, Barrel of Monkeys
    • Monday nights, 8pm
    • Adults: $9 // Kids: $4

Broadway In Chicago (the big downtown shows):

  • Wicked, Ford Center for the Performing Arts (Oriental Theatre)
    • After 4 super-successful years,Wicked, has announced that it will officially close in January 2009.  So catch it while you can!
    • Ticket Price: $30-$95 (Box Office: 312-902-1400)
  • Jersey Boys, Bank of America Theatre (formerly Schubert Theatre)
    • Open run
    • Ticket Price: $30-$95 (Box Office: 312-902-1400)
  • Shout!, Drury Lane Watertower
    • Through July 20th  
    • Tickets: $45-$55 (Box Office: 312-902-1400)

For Date Night:

My two-pennies worth:

You haven’t experienced Chicago until you’ve ventured north to The Heartland Cafe in East Rogers Park.  First opened in the 1970’s, this earthy restaurant and bar jettisons you back to the late 1960’s and early 70’s (in a granola and incense kind-of-way).  The musical review, Lonesome Losers of the Night, is performed in an intimate coffee house down the street from Heartland, so first grab a bite to eat at Heartland, walk down the block to the performance, then mosey back down to The Heartland for drinks and nightly live music.

 

Comedy

  • Campaign Super Nova: or How Many Democrats Does It Take To Lose An Election?
    • Second City’s newest review
    • Open run, tickets: $19-$25 (Box Office: 312-337-3992)
  • Dead Man’s Cell Phone, Steppenwolf Theatre
    • runs through July 27
    • Tickets: $20-$68 (Box Office: 312-335-1650)
  • Co-Ed Prison Sluts, Annoyance Theatre
    • Annoyance Theatre brings back their raunchy long-running hit of the 80’s and 90’s.
    • Runs July 4th – August 29th
    • Tickets: $15 (Box Office: 773-561-4665)
  • Comedy Sportz – Comedy Sportz Theatre, Belmont and Clark
    • audience-interactive comedy competition between two teams of improv comedians, who perform a series of scenes and songs, all based on suggestions from the audience
    • Open run, now in their 21st year
    • Ticket prices vary, (Box Office: 773-549-8080)

Drama

  • A Steady Rain, Royal George Theatre
    • extended through Oct 5 (then on to Broadway?)
    • Tickets: $50 (box office: 312-988-9000)
  • Taste of Honey, Shattered Globe Theatre Ensemble
    • runs through July 5th
    • Tickets: $15-$35, (box office: 773-871-3000)
  • Hizzoner, Prop Thtr (performed at Beverly Arts Center)
    • Running for over 2-years, this play eerily depicts the infamous Mayor Richard J. Daley and inner-workings of “The Machine”
    • runs through July 29th
    • tickets: $40

Musicals:

  • Fiorello, Timeline Theatre 
    • runs through July 20th
    • Tickets: $15-$30 (Box Office: 773-281-8463)
  • Ain’t Misbehavin’, Goodman Theatre
    • running June 21st – July 27th
    • Tickets: not yet announced (Box Office: 312-443-3800)
  • Jekyll & Hyde, Bohemian Theatre Ensemble
    • through July 20th
    • Tickets: $20-$27 (Box Office: 773-327-5252)
  • Hunchback of Notre Dame, Bailiwick Repertory
    • composed by Dennis DeYoung of the band “Styx
    • runs through July 6t
    • Tickets: $25-$45 (Box Office: 773-883-1090)
  • Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, Drury Lane Theatre, Oakbrook Terrace
    • runs through July 27th
    • tickets: $28-$33