REVIEW: Shoot Faster, Dear Brother, I’m Dying (Apollo)

Lovely lies, perfectly preserved

 

A Civil War era America gets amusingly preserved in 'Shoot Faster, Dear Brother, I'm Dying!'

Apollo Theatre presents
  
Shoot Faster, Dear Brother, I’m Dying!
 
Written by Joe Anderson and Demian Krentz
Directed by
Amanda Blake Davis
at
Apollo Theatre Studio, 2540 N. Lincoln (map)
through July 31st  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Not your usual blast from the past, this delicious, daffy and demented spoof of an imaginary Victorian-era correspondence between two strategically separated brothers amounts to a kind of sit-down comedy. It’s two hours of perfect parody as Shoot Faster, Dear Brother, I’m Dying! exactly apes the ornate letter-writing style of a A Civil War era America gets amusingly preserved in 'Shoot Faster, Dear Brother, I'm Dying!'century and a half ago. And it works equally well as a delightful exercise in deadpan absurdity. Silly and funny are far from mutually exclusive: The proof is this archly phony recitation of manufactured adventures.

Over the last decade comedians Joe Anderson and Demian Krentz have merrily concocted a series of letters exchanged between the hypothetical Binjimmons brothers, Chauncy and Adam, pontificating blowhards and gasbags with style to  spare. It’s here debuted as a major historical reclamation, here performed–as a breathless curator (Karen S. Chapman) describes–for the first time in chronological order from 1864 to 1871. Adding to the artificial authenticity is a musical backdrop by fiddler Kevin Madderson and a series of cleverly appropriated 19th century photographs and drawings depicting the brothers in love and war.

In the course of correspondence the brothers emerge as a kind of 19th century Beavis and Butthead. Without quite realizing the awful secrets they reveal, the letters recount Chauncy’s cowardice as a Confederate soldier, his desperate trek to the still wild West where he weds a whore who he thought was a nurse because “the hospital shared the same wall as a bordello,” and has his incredibly faithful dog stolen by a band of fur traders. Chauncy goes on to destroy scores of trees in order to create a Barnum-like entertainment complex. He slaughters buffalos to satisfy his need for sandwiches. He remains recklessly clueless of the carnage he commits wherever he wanders.

Meanwhile, ensconced in their family home in Virginia, brother Adam manages to sire a big-headed baby who’s captured by Indians, loses track of his randy father (a closet Mormon) and his deranged mother, who manages to terrorize a town before disappearing into the wilderness. When Chauncy is kidnapped by a crew of fur-loving partisans who despise him for leveling their forest, he’s rescued by his brother and a posse of courageous courtesans. It’s so crazy you almost think it just might be true…

 

Demian Krentz as Adam Binjimmons in Shoot Faster, Dear Brother, I'm Dying Joe Anderson as Chauncy Binjimmons in Shoot Faster, Dear Brother, I'm Dying

Complicating matters is the fact that five years of letters appear to be missing, only to be found just in time to fill in assorted gaps during the second act.

The remarkable feat–worthy of Mark Twain and other tall-tale tellers–is how well the author-performers capture the baroquely ornamental flavor of the era. With breathless zeal and unflappable seriousness, they deliver their hilariously flowery prose, festooned with overwrought aphorisms mingling with anecdotes of casual cruelty. Chauncy, a pathological liar when he’s not a self-pitying hypocrite, can mention the approach of a little boy, only to correct himself a moment later by saying it was actually a large man who was further off. The Binjimmons will never use four words when ten will do even better. The result is an embarrassment of riches which occasionally is just an embarrassment.

A closer recreation of 19th century humorists can’t be imagined nor should it. Or as the theater charmingly puts it, “Chicago theatergoers who have long clamored for an epistolary comedy about the Civil War, featuring a live fiddle players and photos of old things, will finally be able to check their item off their collective bucket lists.” Indeed.

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
  
  

 

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