REVIEW: The New Adventures of Popeye (Factory Theater)

  
  

Strong the to finish, ‘cause they eat their spinach!

   

      
Factory Theater presents
   
The New Adventures of Popeye
   
Directed by Eric Roach
at
Prop Thtr, 3504 N. Elston (map)
through Dec 17   |  tickets: $8   |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

The Factory Theater has a late-night theater offering, The New Adventures of Popeye – but one wonders whether it shouldn’t be pared down and placed just before Jenny & Jenni in the way that cartoon shorts used to warm up the audience in movie theaters before the feature. Directed by Eric Roach, with John Moran (Popeye), Sarah Rose Graber (Olive Oyl) and Dave Skvarla (Bluto), the team absolutely nail the Popeye - Factory Theatercartoon mannerisms, voices and movement of their characters. Their goal is to produce Popeye for adults, which in some ways is rather redundant, since the original cartoons always had Popeye mumbling witty asides that the adults could get a chuckle over, while the kids reveled in the cartoon’s hyperbolic physical comedy and routine sparring between Popeye and Bluto over Olive.

Eric Roach and cast (which include Lina Bunte and Colin Milroy) also try to update Popeye with contemporary themes and concerns. For openers, Popeye and Bluto compete in selling their apples at a farmers market. Popeye’s apples are organically grown while Bluto’s reek of harmful chemicals. But the premise comes off as preachy more than funny; even now it’s difficult to see two iconically stereotypical seamen like Popeye and Bluto getting into farming, organic or otherwise.

The other sketches prove to be much funnier: couples-counseling for Popeye and Olive Oyl, the travails of air flight for all three. I wonder if there’s still time to put in material about ex-ray screening and full-body pat downs. Whatever the case, the production comes off much cleaner when returning to the original comic structure of the cartoon, which has always been about two guys fighting over a gal—a skinny, rubbery, mewling kind of gal. Pleasant and pure nostalgia holds the audience, as well as marvel over the ease with which the cast physically and bracingly evokes the cartoon’s clownish effects.

     
  
Rating: ★★½
  

 

Cast

John Moran is Popeye
Sarah Rose Graber* is Olive Oyl
David Skvarla is Bluto
Lina Bunte is Female Koken
Colin Milroy* is Male Koken

Production

Directed by Eric Roach*
Geoff Coates is the Fight Director
Amy C Gilman is the Props Designer
Jason Weinberg is the Stage Manager

   
  

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REVIEW: The Book of Liz (Chemically Imbalanced Comedy)

Innovation triumphs over imitation

 

 

book of liz with mr peanut

   
Chemically Imbalanced Comedy presents
   
The Book of Liz
   
Written by Amy and David Sedaris
Directed by Angie McMahon
1420 W. Irving Park (map)
through December 18th |  tickets: $18  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker

Amy Sedaris is a nut. I’ve been following her career since her early days on Comedy Central’s surrealist sketch show “Exit 57” (directed by Annoyance Theatre founder Mick Napier). Unlike her female contemporaries Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, who have both deservedly found success on network television, Sedaris has never learned, or perhaps wanted, to tone down her irreverent brand of humor and repackage it for the masses, as evidenced by the darkly hilarious Strangers With Candy. In short, she is a unique spirit that demands a cult following.

Book of Liz - Sarah Rose Graber That is why I was blown away by Chemically Imbalanced Comedy’s remount of its production of The Book of Liz, a play penned by Sedaris and her equally talented brother, David Sedaris. Sarah Rose Graber fills in for the title character, Sister Elizabeth Donderstock, a character originally portrayed by Sedaris herself, and brings an energy that is both congruent with the play’s wacky tone while wholly original. This is significant because I would expect Sedaris’ shadow to intimidate most actresses into paying homage, but not so with Graber.

The Book of Liz concerns a small community of Quaker-like Christians known as the Squeamish. The Squeamish are simple folk who do without modern-day amenities and instead spend their time praising God and making cheeseballs. Liz is the under-appreciated genius behind the cheeseballs, which serve as the community’s financial backbone. Her patience is tested when parishioner Brother Brightbee (Brian Kash) visits from a nearby community to learn the lucrative craft. It is then that Liz resolves to run away and experience the outside world.

While on the outside, Liz encounters a cast of colorful characters, including a Ukrainian couple that speaks with cockney accents and a colonial-themed restaurant staffed by recovering alcoholics. Meanwhile, back at the Squeamish community, Brother Brightbee becomes increasingly frustrated as he fails again and again to replicate the famous cheeseball recipe.

Graber deserves all the praise she can get for her wide-eyed portrayal of Liz. She is unwavering in her commitment to the character’s little tics, from her squeaky voice to her “Gosh darn” facial expressions. Equally worthy of praise is her supporting cast, including Kash, who did double duty by filling in for Bryan Beckwith, the actor slated to play restaurant manager Duncan. As Brother Brightbee, Kash’s hyperbolized passive aggression toward Liz makes for some tense comedy. Adam El-Sharkawi, too, does an outstanding job as Reverend Tollhouse, the Squeamish community’s no-nonsense leader. In one of the play’s only dramatic scenes, Liz confronts the Reverend about his workhorse ways. Here, Graber and El-Sharkawi forge a genuinely touching connection in the midst of the otherwise hair-brained comedy.

Angie McMahon’s direction is resourceful. Chemically Imbalanced Comedy’s space is tight—incredibly tight. And yet she manages to swiftly transform the stage from a parish to a restaurant to a doctor’s office without letting the momentum of the play slow for a moment.

Chemically Imbalanced Comedy’s The Book of Liz stays true to the Sedaris spirit. Fortunately, this does not hamper the actors from taking risks and breathing new life into the play’s characters. If you are looking for a good laugh (and who isn’t these days), check out this production!

   
   
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

Cast (*indicates returning cast members)

*Sarah Rose Graber…Liz
*Brian Kash…Brother Brightbee
*Nathan Petts…Donny/Visil
*Cynthia Shur…Cecily/Dr. Barb
*Adam El Sharkawi …Rev. Tollhouse
*Lina Bunte…Sister Buterworth
Laura Wilkinson…Oxanna
Eric Bays…Yvonne
Bryan Beckwith…Duncan
Directed by *Angie McMahon

  
  

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