REVIEW: Bri-Ko: All Silent. All Funny (Stage 773)

  
  

A barrel of laughs and fun for everyone – don’t miss it!

  
  

tim Soszka, Brian Posen, Brian Peterlin in Bri-Ko at Stage 773 Chicago

   
Stage 773 presents
   
Bri-Ko: All Silent. All Funny
   
Written/directed by the Ensemble
at
Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont (map)
through Jan 2  |  tickets: $12-$18   | more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

Whenever I am in the Stage 773, (a.k.a. Theatre Building) area, I make a stop at Uncle Fun. I am a whoopie cushion and chattering wind-up-teeth kind of gal, which made Uncle Fun the perfect stop before Bri-Ko: All Silent. All Funny. I rarely have any expectations before a production that I review but Bri-Ko has a history in Chicago and it turns out a well-deserved one.

The set is dressed in all white with bare hanging bulbs. A set of three lab coats, construction helmets, and goggles lay on white stackable chairs. Enter Brian Posen, Brian Peterlin, and Tim Soszko: three guys with a wonderful comic aura the minute they step onto the stage. A dramatic donning of the lab coats to the requisite rubber gloves begins a hilarious 70-minutes of visual shennanigans with a lovely dark undertone and a healthy dose of making a mess.

Bri-KoI first wondered if this was going to be a "Blue Man Group" experience, which I don’t particularly enjoy. I am happy to report that Bri-Ko:All Silent. All Funny is built on a number of traditions without the visual and sound overload of the aforementione group. Indeed, less is more in the case of Bri-Ko

Posen, Peterlin, and Soszco are Everymen put into everyday situations with absurd twists. These are the guys that no doubt were suspended for practical jokes and bringing Mad Magazine books to catechism class. They are the kids who were way smarter than anyone figured and did everything over the top.

A simple act of eating a marshmallow becomes an experiment in torturing the straight man with tape measures. Changing a light bulb is an exercise in extremes with everyday objects, all backed by the music of Electric Light Orchestra.

This is comedy in the tradition of the great Ernie Kovacs, vaudeville, and great modern clowns such as Red Skelton or Bill Irwin. The craft of the perfect expression and movement is a disappearing art in this age of uber-realism and high definition. A return to simplicity is the perfect antidote for overloaded technology. Bri-Ko pares everything down to make a wonderful concoction of mayhem and gleeful insanity.

The trio adds shades of satire in every skit. “Bedtime Before Christmas Morning” is a combination of Hardy with two Stan Laurels. Striped pajamas and nightcaps (the head cover not the whiskey shot kind) are put on and then prayers are said. Two say Christian prayers and the third pulls out a hat with earlocks and a prayer shawl. It mocks and alludes to political correctness all at once to great effect and good laughs.

Posen/Peterlin/Soszko make genius use of everyday toys such as the revered hackey sack. “The Death of the Hackey Sack” is a twisted and dark play on consumerism in life and death. This bit is worth the price of the ticket alone. The trio portray the wonderful innocence of children in imagining personalities for the hackey sacks. When the toys inanimately fall to the floor, the 3 show their sorrow by performing an elaborate death ritual. They embalm the sacks with sugary breakfast cereal which probably has a nuclear half life. Three separate funerals ensue. The first is a military affair with a 21-Nerfball salute; an expertly folded tiny American flag presented to an audience member. The second ceremony is a coffee can cremation with the ashes interred in a vase and placed on a shelf. The third is a Hunter S. Thompson affair where the deceased hackey sack is shot into space with cross bow. This was my favorite if for nothing other than my own love of Thompson and the altered consciousness slant on his afterlife.

Another genius skit is what I call “The Crazy Circuit Breaker Box”. Two of the trio accidentally discover a circuit breaker box while the third sits in a wall box, polishing a surviving hackey sack. Each of the breakers causes a different effect including sending shock waves into the hackey sack polisher. One breaker causes a carhop on roller skates to roll by with a hamburger on a tray much to the duo’s delight. Another flip sends out the carhop with juice boxes that they literally drain until the boxes fold over. The third guy gets out of the box and joins them as they introduce him to the magic breaker box. They dim lights, get hamburgers on wheels, and then shock him as a joke. The joke is on them when the guy enjoys the shocks with a sublime smirk on his face. He convulses in ecstasy and tries to keep going but they intervene with faux intervention concern.

Bri-Ko - Stage 773 Chicago Bri-Ko - Stage 773 Chicago Bri-Ko - Stage 773 Chicago

The last part of the show gets more interactive and really messy. A hilarious sketch of lettuce to bio-fuel segues into a made-to-order menu that the audience members can order from the chef on stage. He searches through a giant bowl of water balloons and chucks them into the audience. One person orders split pea soup that is water turned green much to their relief. However, in the great tradition of vaudeville and the holy trio of Moe, Larry, and Curly, a cream pie is a cream pie smooshed in the face of a planted audience member!

Other highlights are a pantomime/sign language rendition of Wilson-Phillips "Hold on For One More Day". The sight of three very manly men acting out such a chirpy chick song gets huge laughs. Another stab at treacly pop culture is what I call “Waiting for Gumball” whereupon two of the trio get gumballs from a giant chute filled with gumballs. The chute doesn’t work for the third of the trio and he goes fetal to Lionel Ritchie’s "Hello". It’s a side bender but all is well in the end. Gumballs, lettuce, Nerfs bb’s and ping pong ball are everywhere. It is as if the bad kids from the block came over and wrecked my room and I loved it.

This is a great family holiday show to forget the chaos of shopping and acquisition. There is nothing like controlled mayhem and madness for the holidays. Watch out for flying lettuce!

   
  
Rating: ★★★½
   

 

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Bri-Ko:All Silent. All Funny is appropriate for some children. I would suggest over the age of 5 – unless you have done some explaining about death and what is appropriate to try at home. This is a messy show so don’t go wearing your prissiest cashmere or Eiffel Tower hair. Your cashmere will get and your tower of hair will fall. It is a lot of fun and an opportunity to not be uptight for an hour or so. And if you’re nimble there is free gum!

Bri-Ko:All Silent. All Funny plays Fridays and Saturdays ant 7:30pm and Sundays at 2:00pm through January 2nd. There are no performances on December 24th, 25th or January 1st. There is a special New Years Eve kiddie show with balloon animals and kiddie cocktails. Stage 773 is at 1225 W. Belmont in the heart of Lakeview. It is accessible by public transportation and there is valet parking for $10.

        
       

REVIEW: Cirque du Soleil’s “Banana Shpeel”

Yes! We have no bananas

 Dance 9

Cirque du Soleil presents:

Banana Shpeel

written and directed by David Shiner
at the
Chicago Theatre
Through Jan. 3 (ticket info)

reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Comedy 3 When I mentioned to another critic that I planned to rank Banana Shpeel by scoring each of the acts separately and averaging the results, she asked, "Can you use negative stars?"

Yes, parts of Cirque du Soleil‘s new stage show are that bad.

Although a few elements of this remarkably uneven spectacle are terrific, it all adds up to a disappointing and chaotic whole. If you’re too impatient to sift through the details, the short version is that Cirque du Soleil’s effort to re-imagine the vaudeville variety show succeeds in the circus acts for which the company has become famous and fails in nearly all of its efforts to be vaudevillian and, notably, the comedy.

The humor of vaudeville was broad and slapstick – think the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy and The Three Stooges – often bawdy and coarse. While some of that era’s gags remain timeless, others have become unfunny through overexposure or because modern audiences have finer sensibilities than those of the minstrel era.

Banana Shpeel groans under the weight of hoary old bits that went dull before Groucho Marx was born and ragging jokes that most of us no longer laugh at. Cirque steers away from vaudeville’s most commonplace slurs and stereotypes, but still, within the first 15 minutes, Banana Shpeel pokes fun at old people and deaf people, uses a filthy Yiddish word in reference to an apparently Jewish character and tops it off with a pair of African-American tap dancers.

 

Acrobat 2 Acrobat 6 Acrobat 4

The lineup:

Auditions. The show begins with an utterly lame, overlong act that introduces cigar-chomping impresario Marty Schmelky of "Schmelky’s Schmelktacular" (Jerry Kernion); his two would-be comic sidekicks, Daniel (Daniel Passer) and Wayne (Wayne Wilson); and three other clownish characters who are supposedly auditioning: Claudio Carneiro, a lame Brazilian impersonator of "ordinary people with knee problems"; Patrick de Valette, an exhibitionist modern dancer; and Gordon White, "The Oldest Mime in the World." Despite discouragement by Schmelky and company, this trio shows up again and again in different guises, the running gag of the show. This bunch of second bananas apparently inspired the name. No actual bananas were harmed in the making of the show. zero stars

Welcome to Schmelky Spectacular. Next, we get a not especially spectacular opening dance number, featuring lots of flappers and feathers and highlighting siblings Joseph and Josette Wiggan, two talented tappers who deserve better than to be exhibited like a revival of the vaudevillian "two-colored" rule. ★★

Juggler. In this more traditional Cirque act, Tuan Le adeptly juggles hats – getting up to six – using his hands, feet and head. ★★★

Eccentric dance. An ensemble dance number more remarkable for its fluorescent costumes and effective use of blacklight than for its choreography. ★★½

Duo hand to hand. Strongman Jeff Retzlanff and lithe Kelsey Wiens perform a pas de deux of acrobatic maneuvers that climax with her standing on his head on one foot. ★★★½

Clown restaurant. A long, painful episode involving all five clowns, an apparently well-coached audience member and some trite routines so antique they’ve fossilized.

Act II Clowns. More of the same. zero stars

Foot juggler. A hypnotic act in which dexterous, scantily clad Vanessa Alvarez spins mats with her feet while, among other things, standing on her head. In the background, three other young ladies pose with giant fans. ★★★

Magic dance. There’s nothing especially magical about this dance number. ★★

Magic. A stylized, slapstick magic act, set to music, disjointed and dumb.

Hand balancing. An awesome performance by Russian strongman and contortionist Dima Shine, a beautiful young man doing beautiful, sinuous, graceful, almost impossible things with his body on a lighted pole. ★★★★

Tap dance. If you thrill to the tap spectacles in old movies, this one will wow you. It starts off a bit slowly, but perks up fast. The Wiggans do some fine work here, as do the whole ensemble. This may be the one act that really justifies the "new twist on vaudeville" label, and would have made a much better opening act than those excruciating clowns. ★★★½

Charivari and finale. The lady from the audience is pulled back on stage for a tender scene with Daniel, while White clowns at one side. Surprise – there are actually a few laughs here! Then another chaotic crowd sequence brings the two-hour show to a merciful end. ★★½

Dance 12 - Finale 

Set and lighting. Set Designer Patricia Ruel and Lighting Designer Bruno Rafie did a noticeably impressive job. The shifting, colorful backdrop made from a huge, lightbox screen and a glossy, lighted, moving floor add real impact, especially to the dance numbers. ★★★★

Costumes. Costume Designer Dominique Lemieux evokes flamboyant vaudeville style with glittering, shimmering, iridescent and phosphorescent fabrics. ★★★

Music. Composer and Musical Director Scott Price has put together a good live band, but nothing in his score will leave you humming. ★★½

So, let’s do the math: 37½ points, divided by 16 items, equals 2.34. Do we average up to 2.5 stars or down to 2?

Given the incredible pre-show hype, which included spammers posting to local blogs, and the price of decent seats, I’m inclined to average down. Cirque fans who need a fix are advised to skip this and wait till March, when the perennially touring Alegria will play in Hoffman Estates.

 

Rating: ★★