REVIEW: The Legend of Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet (CIC)

  
  

Testing the limits of holiday schlock

  
  

Legend of Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet

  
Chemically Imbalanced Comedy presents
  
The Legend of Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet
  
Written by Marz Timms and Angie McMahon
Directed by Josie Dykas
Chemically Imabalanced Theater, 1422 W. Irving Park (map)
through Jan 16  |  tickets: $12   |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker 

As an American, it may be hard to imagine Christmas without that magnanimous bearded man who is the reason for the season. No, not Jesus. Santa.

But, as surprising as this may sound, other cultures don’t have Santa Claus. Instead, they have other characters that award the good and punish the bad.

In The Netherlands, the giver of gifts is Sinterklaas, also known as Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of children. This tall, regal saint places gifts of fruit in good Dutch children’s shoes on the evening of Dec. 5. Sounds pretty much like Christmas so far, right? Well, this Sinterklaas character also has a faithful African servant named Zwarte Piet, who is often depicted in popular Dutch culture as a white man dressed in black face. Not so merry anymore, is it?

This kind of nonsensical, overtly racist foreign tradition is rife with material for a wonderful satire that speaks to America’s own wacky traditions and treatment of race. What amazing source material for a hilarious and poignant holiday play, right?

Unfortunately, in the hands of Chemically Imbalanced Comedy (CIC), The Legend of Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet is as lame as a Christmas duck. There’s little story, the comedy is stale and the performances are weak. It’s one of those productions that probably started off as a brilliant idea but failed miserably in the execution.

The hour-long play tells the tale of Sinterklaas (Jeff Taylor) and Zwarte Piet (Chris Redd). Sinterklaas is a fairly established saint who is attempting to spread the tradition of gifting good Dutch children with fruit while punishing bad Dutch children with a trip to Spain. He goes to the local court one day and prevents the incarceration of Zwarte Piet by purchasing him. The two form a tenuous friendship.

After being harassed by a local gang of school children, Sinterklaas pays one of the kids a visit. When his parents notice him missing, they go on a hunt for the kidnapper. In the meantime, the gang of children is plotting to drive all the adults out of the city so they can rule the town. Did I mention this is an hour-long play?

Writers Angela McMahon (who is the theatre’s founder) and Marz Timms have tried to cram too much plot into this tiny production. What results is an overwrought mess void of intriguing characters or any relatable relationships. This completely obliterates the hope of any real comedy, as generally the best humor arises out of situations with characters we empathize with. Instead, we get a few bits and gags, many of which feel forced or worn. (Can we have a comedy with a black man that doesn’t force him to wear a dress?)

At no point does the audience really get to know any character. Instead, we are left to connect with cardboard cutouts who seem incapable of executing more than one trick. This is both a shortcoming of the writing as well as the acting. Rob Palmerin as the leader of the Dutch gang doesn’t shift at all from loud and angry. Taylor as Sinterklaas is flat and emotionless. He’s like a big gift-giving robot.

Finally, the entire show feels slapdash. Actors talk at one another, as if struggling to recite lines from memory. Musical numbers are weakly sung. This may improve during the run, granted the company amps up its rehearsal schedule.

CIC is capable of doing great work (see my review for The Book of Liz ★★★★). The Legend of Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet, however, comes across as Christmas pandering. It’s as if the company scrambled to get a holiday play on the table to cash in on the Christmastime trend. Sinterklaas would certainly be displeased – no fruit for you!

  
  
Rating: ★½
    
   

Theater Thursday: The Book of Liz

Thursday, September 16

The Book of Liz by Amy and David Sedaris

 

Chemically Imbalanced Theater 
1420 W. Irving Park Rd., Chicago

bookoflizJoin the cast and crew of The Book of Liz (our review ★★★★) after the show for a discussion and wine and cheeseball reception. Amy Sedaris‘ famous cheese ball recipes will be served. Sister Elizabeth Donderstock is Squeamish, has been her whole life. She makes cheese balls (traditional and smoky) that sustain the existence of her entire religious community, Clusterhaven. However, she feels unappreciated among her Squeamish brethren, and she decides to try her luck in the outside world. New comedy from the talent family, David and Amy Sedaris.

 
Show begins at 8 p.m.
Event begins immediately following the performance.

Tickets: $25
For reservations call 800.838.3006 and mention "Theater Thursdays."

REVIEW: Ring around the Guillotine (Chemically Imbalanced)

Time travel for the jilted

 

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Chemically Imbalanced Theater presents
 
Ring Around the Guillotine
 
Written by Chris Tawfik and Anthony Ellison
Directed by Anthony Ellison
at
CI Theater, 1420 W. Irving Park (map)
through May 23rd (more info)

By Katy Walsh

The cure for being dumped? Finding love in an unexpected place and time… like a prison 600 years ago. Chemically Imbalanced Theater presents Ring Around The Guillotine, a lustful comedy about time travel. In modern day, Tyler is drinking away her break-up. Her supportive coworker gives her a gift of an antique ring and rose. Putting on the ring, Tyler is transported back in time to Magical France. The country is in duress. The queen and king are mourning the death of their daughter and lamenting the ambitions of their son, Carvier. Tyler beams into Carvier’s jail cell, who has been sentenced to the guillotine for killing his love, Princess Camille. Tyler is Camille’s splitting image. Ring Around The Guillotine is a soap operatic comedy with new age mystique against a renaissance backdrop.

This cast knows how to have a good time. They’re trying to not only crack up the audience, but also each other. Emily Harpe (Tyler) is hilarious as a messy drunk rebounder. Ashley Thornton (Beth) is the career-minded pizza manager with amusing fixations on her employees and work policies. Ross Compton (Randy) animates his scenes with chuckle-worthy delivery. Guillotine-licking Mat Labotka (Felipe) is the creepy prince playing over-the-top queen to Connor Tillman’s (Chester) straight man. Tillman’s dead pan slaps the punch line. The entire ensemble, with collective bios boasting extensive improv training, is a riot!

cic From the moment of arrival, you’re plunged into two stories. The contemporary story is relatable. Jilted girl, weirdo manager, pizza – got it. The period piece story is more challenging. It’s elegantly delivered by Jo Scott (Queen) and Martin Monahan (King), but the significance of what is occurring isn’t quickly digestible. Anthony Ellison directed and co-wrote Guillotine with Chris Tawfik The basic story is interesting and the dialogue is witty. At the same time, however, some of the initial scenes in Magical France don’t explain the set up clearly. The back and forth time travel adds to the delayed clarity. Scene changes go dark; a few of the transitions seem unnecessarily long. But this is allayed by the fact that energetic Cyndi Lauper soundbites fill the transitions, so “She Bops” provides a necessary distraction from an over-long break. Pop music, gags galore, people making out – Chemically Imbalanced Theater has invited you to party with them. Plus it’s BYOB and they’ll provide the entertainment.

 

 
Rating: ★★½
 

Running April 9-May 23. Fri & Sat 8pm, Sun 5pm. Tickets $15. Running Time: Ninety minutes with no intermission

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Shows Opening/Closing this week

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Show Openings

 

“Master Harold”…and the Boys

TimeLine Theatre

The Alcyone Festival 2010 Halcyon Theatre

The Castle Oracle Theatre

Desperately Seeking Chemically Imbalanced Theater

Dreamgirls Cadillac Palace Theatre (Broadway in Chicago)

First Words Greenhouse Theater Center (MPAACT)

The Dames Storm Division New Millenium Theatre

Glitter in the Gutter Annoyance Theatre

Harper Regan Steep Theatre

Hughie/Krapp’s Last Tape Goodman Theatre

King of the Mountain Chemically Imbalanced Theater

Nighthawk Sandwich Storefront Theater (DCA Theatre)

Phedra New World Repertory Theatre

Real Bros of DuPage County Gorilla Tango Theatre

Savage in Limbo Village Players Performing Arts Center

Short Shakespeare! The Comedy of Errors Chicago Shakespeare

WHACK! Gorilla Tango Theatre

The Year of Magical Thinking Court Theatre 

 

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Show Closings

 

Annie Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University

The Capitol Steps North Shore Center for the Performing Arts

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan Dance Center of Columbia College

Give Us Monday Gorilla Tango Theatre

Icarus Lookingglass Theatre

Little Women Circle Theatre

Mamma Mia! Rosemont Theatre

Mark and Laura’s Couples Advice Christmas Special Gorilla Tango Theatre

 

Openings/Closings list courtesy of League of Chicago Theatres

Chicago Theater Openings and Closings this week

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Show Openings

The (edward) Hopper Project The Storefront Theatre

24 Hour Project Infamous Commonwealth Theatre

Annie Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University

The Artist needs a Wife the side project

I Hate Hamlet Big Noise Theatre

Killer Joe Profiles Theatre

Kink Annoyance Theatre

Mamma Mia! Rosemont Theatre

Mary’s Wedding Rivendell Theatre Ensemble

The Original Improv Gladiators Corn Productions

Out of Order Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

The Prisoner of Second Avenue Citadel Theatre

Private Lives Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Sleeping Beauty Winnetka Theatre

Some Paradise Annoyance Theatre

Too Hot to Handel Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University

The Wedding TUTA Theatre Chicago

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Show Closings 

Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival Chicago SketchFest

Death of a Salesman Raven Theatre

It Came Upon a Midnight Queen Chemically Imbalanced Theater

A Look Through Our Eyes Gorilla Tango Theatre

Sketch and Sniff Gorilla Tango Theatre

Sublime Beauty of Hands and Klown Kantos Next Theatre and Theatre Zarko

A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientolgy Pageant A Red Orchid Theatre

Chicago theater openings/closings this week

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show openings

Bury the Dead

O’Malley Theatre

Boolesque Review Piccolo Theatre 

Dave Rudolf Halloween Spooktacular – Center for Performing Arts – GSU

End Days Next Theatre 

Fulcrum Point Plugged In Evanston SPACE

Hard Headed Heart Victory Gardens Biograph Theater

Little Shop of Horors Beverly Theatre Guild

The Song Show Gorilla Tango Theatre 

The Walworth Face Chicago Shakespeare Theater

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show closings

12 Ophelias Trap Door Theatre 

Anna in the Darkness: The Basement Dream Theatre 

Anton in Show Business Theatre Building Chicago 

Black Comedy Piccolo Theatre

Bucket of Blood Annoyance Theatre

The Castle of Otranto First Folio Theatre 

Death Toll Cornservatory

Disturbed Oracle Productions 

The Dreamers Apollo Theatre 

The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity Victory Gardens Biograph Theater 

Erendira Aguijon Theater 

Fear – The Neo-Futurists 

The Flaming Dames in Vamp II New Millenium Theatre

Frankenstein The Hypocrites 

Journey to the Center of the Uterus Greenhouse Theater Center 

Lights Out Alma Annoyance Theatre

Macabaret Porchlight Music Theatre 

The Magic Ofrenda Metropolis Performing Arts Centre 

Married Alive! Noble Fool Theatricals 

Mistakes Were Made A Red Orchid Theatre 

Mouse in a Jar Red Tape Theatre 

Nightmares on Lincoln Ave. Cornservatory 

Plans 1 Through 8 from Outer Space New Millenium Theatre 

Salem! The Musical Annoyance Theatre 

Scared Stiff Chemically Imbalanced Theater 

Silk Road Cabaret Silk Road Theatre Project 

Sleepy Hollow Theatre-Hikes 

Splatter Theater Annoyance Theatre 

St. Crispin’s Day Strawdog Theatre 

 

List courtesy of the League of Chicago Theatres 

Theater Thursday: “Texas Sheen”

Thursday, September 3

Texas Sheen
Chemically Imbalanced Theater
1420 W. Irving Park Rd., Chicago

cictexassheenChemically Imbalanced Comedy opens their 10th season with the original parody Texas Sheen based on Harlequin Romance Novels by Anthony Ellison. As WWII is ending, the discharged Elroy McSheen returns to his hometown, Pecos, TX, to pay off his brother’s debts. Lacking the money to repay Jud Lawson, Elroy agrees to work off the debt on Jud’s farm. Jud’s beautiful daughter, Lilly, falls in love and lust with Elroy causing trouble for the whole family.

Show begins at 8 p.m. Followed by a wine and cheese reception and talk-back with the playwright, director and cast.
TICKETS ONLY: $25
For reservations call 800.838.3006 or visit www.cicomedy.com.