Review: Annoyance Theatre’s “Sodomites!”

Biblical madness paired with sardonic revelry makes for a musical of Biblical proportions

Christy Bonstell, Jim Fath, James Asmus, Mort Burke, Irene Marquette.  Photo credit: Sean Cusick

Right on the heels of Gay Pride Month, Annoyance Theatre puts up a raucous riff on the Biblical tale of Sodom and Gomorrah. Naturally, any theater with a full service bar and a long history of shock-theater doesn’t need to go further than gay jokes or fart jokes. But Sodomites! director Sean Cusick and his partners in crime, writer James Asmus and lyricist Mike Descoteaux, have crafted a sly dissection of the usual right-wing fundamentalism towards the Old Testament and set it all to music to make it go down with jovial ease. In this production, witty lyrics, anachronisms, and fast-paced lines critique our modern day culture wars—bringing this high-energy, lowbrow show dangerously close to satire.

Maybe Sean Cusick’s past holds the key to this blend of bawdy theology. He majored in philosophy and political science at Tufts University, and then went on to improvisation out of a need for an unrestricted outlet. “I had no discipline for acting. But I learned a lot from Second City about saying something while going for laughs.” It was James Asmus who called with the idea for the musical. “James, Mike, and I came up with the skeleton for the show over a few lunches. Mike knew all the Biblical verses by heart, so there was no need to explain to him what we were going for.”

James Asmus, Mort Burke. Photo credit: Sean Cusick You can still get drunk and watch the show, but it’s almost better if you don’t so that you won’t miss all the cunning details. The archangels Michael and Gabriel are ordered by God to seek out “one good man” from the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah or God will wreak destruction upon them. The trouble is that Michael and Gabriel are as jittery before God as overworked personal assistants to a fickle, spoiled CEO. While they are off on their mission, God will “bury some dinosaur bones to test peoples’ faith.” The angels describe the perils of their mission with “One Good Man.”

Upon landing in Sodom, they run into Lot, a raving, self-righteous homophobe who sees gay sex all around him. And he equates “gay sex” with everything, from bestiality to melon-ballers. “Our hero is as pure as his daughter’s labia majora,” sings the narrator. Isn’t that the truth, since Lot is more sexually obsessed than the deviants he condemns and one of daddy’s little girls seems rather eager to leave mom behind.

But bourgeois gay couples and liberal elites also get their come-uppance. A quick visit to Gomorrah reveals beautiful people so smug and fatuitous in their liberal haven, you long for them to be destroyed. Michael visits a gay couple who are both well meaning and self-absorbed. They take the angel for a mentally challenged homeless person until he downloads 1% of God’s consciousness into one of them. “You look like when we did coke,” his partner remarks as he comes out of it. Of course, it doesn’t help for them to learn that they will be destroyed for violating the laws of God that haven’t even been written yet. Even as Michael lets them preview an “advanced copy” of Leviticus, “Leviticus Rag” perfectly expresses their chagrin.

Irene Marquette, Christy Bonstell, Photo credit: Sean Cusick The highlight of the show occurs when God finally reveals himself, as a Morrissey character, singing, “This is God, Saying Sorry.” The true nature of the Old Testament God comes to light, as a capricious, arbitrary, and erratic personality; an awful power coupled to insecurity issues. Perhaps even the liberal religious may take offense, but the song is perfect piece for the production and explains a great deal about a god who “expects a lot.”

So, even once the angels have found one good man, Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed anyway. The writers pull no punches in describing or commenting on the arbitrariness of that destruction: “Genocide is always someone else’s fault.” What more needs to be said about the human propensity to come up with any rationalization for the abuse of power, whether it be bombing cities or decimating populations?

The final act wherein Lot has sex with his daughters returns us to the ribaldry for which Annoyance is famous. It’s a telling moment when the angel Michael reassures Lot that, not to worry, the whole incident will be left out of the Koran. Nice to know that someone will do damage control, once the damage is all well and done.

Much praise goes to the well-coordinated cast, whose enthusiasm and energy are unflagging. Biblical madness should be paired sardonic revelry and earnest mania. It may be the only way for the human race to survive.

 

Rating: «««½

Sodomites!! A Musical of Biblical Proportions opens on June 19 during the Just For Laughs Festival and will show on Fridays at 8:00 PM through July 31. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at the company’s website theannoyance.com, or by calling the box office: 773.561.HONK (4665). The Annoyance is located at 4830 N. Broadway, Chicago, Illinois 60640.

Cast list and bios after the jump

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Cast of “Blagojevich Superstar” to be interviewed by Blago himself!

Blago to interview Blago


blagospoofThose listening to WLS AM radio at 7am this  Wednesday morning will hear something quite unique – ex-Gov Blago will be interviewing two stars of the Second City spoof of Blago himself, entitled “Rod Blagojevich Superstar” –  Joey Bland, who plays Blagojevich, and Mike Bradecich (who plays both Ald. Dick Mell and D.A. Patrick Fitzgerald). Second City’s popular review, now playing at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre at Navy Pier, is a foul-mouthed portrayal of the ex-governor’s legal woes (which is apt, after one hears the Blago’s expletive-laced phone conversations).  The show also takes shots at Blago’s wife, Patti.

So why is the ex-Gov on the radio to begin with?  It seems that he is sitting in on the regularly scheduled “Wade and Roma” show at WLS AM while the duo are on vacation. He was a guest on the program just last week after he took a hiatus from a full-blown media blitz earlier this year.

Ah, the joys of Chicago’s ultimate theatrical event: politics

Story is courtesy of Natasha Koreckion of the Chicago Sun-Times

Blago Superstar

Jumping on the Blago bandwagon

blago Second City (and its TV spin-off “Saturday Night Live“) has always capitalized on current events, but it’s amazing that Second City was able to create an entire show, songs and all, in just a few wekks..  This super-funny and super-successful troupe birthed the show “Rod Blagojevich Superstar” – and when the first skit’s opening with the lyrics are:

“Rod Blagojevich Superstar, are you as nuts as we think you are?”,

you know you’re in for an evening of knee-capping and wise-cracking fun, all courtesy of our state’s coo-coo ex-governor.   

Created by Ed Furman (book writer) and T.J. Shanoff (music/lyrics), …Superstar has immediately fostered some great reviews.   For info and tickets, click here.

Allison Torem – a theatre star in the making?

UPDATE:  Excerpts from Hedy Weiss’s new article regarding Ms. Torem has been added at the bottom of this post.

I am always incredibly impressed by young theatrical talent that can hold their own among a group of professional actors.  Often these young prodigies easily steal the Torem_Cox_GreatFalls show.  Past examples include Edward Heffernan in American Theatre Company‘s The Dark At The Top Of The Stairs, by William Inge, as well as Lillian Almaguer in Steppenwolf’s controversial production of The Pain and the Itch, by Bruce Norris.

It looks like we have another one of those Chicago prodigies, per Hedy Weiss‘s glowing review of Profiles Theatre‘s Great Falls, by Lee Blessing – that being Allison Torem.

Says Weiss:

One crucial reason to catch the Profiles Theatre production of Lee Blessing’s two-character play “Great Falls” is to witness the astonishing performance by Allison Torem.  An actress of dazzling skill, fierce emotional honesty and breath-taking sophistication, she also just happens to be a senior at the Whitney Young Magnet High School.     (emphasis mine)

Ms. Weiss goes on to say that Torem “triggers memories of the young Jodie Foster“.  Wow.

Kudos to Ms.Torem, and to Profiles for presenting such an exemplary production.

Great Falls continues through March 1st. Starring Darrell W. Cox and Allison Torem, direction by Joe Jahraus, Chelsea Meyers (set design), and Kevin O’Donnell (sound design).

Read the entire review here.  Other reviews: Trib, ChicagoCritic,

Great Falls, by Lee Blessing

UPDATE: Chicago Sun-Times’ Hedy Weiss has also written a post regarding Allison Torem on her blog.  A few quotes:

She didn’t see much theater as a child, but when she broke a finger in a bowling accident at age 9, she stopped taking karate and violin lessons and enrolled in classes at Prologue Children’s Theatre. In eighth grade she took classes at the Second City, but confesses: “I was seriously insecure. It would be a whole lot more fun for me now.” She also tried her hand at musicals as part of the youth-oriented Entertainment Project.

At first I was taken aback when reading this:

Torem, a slight girl with an interesting face that can shift between beauty and something far more challenging, admits to being stunned by her glowing reviews.

But then I realized that, for the stage, an actor’s ability to manipulate their expressions is an a coveted talent.  Read the entire article here.

Once again – bravo!

"Defying Gravity" – A cabaret performance to promote equality and civil rights

defyinginequality

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322 W. Armitage

 

JANUARY 12, 2009

On Monday, January 12, cast members from the four North American companies of WICKED will host DEFYING INEQUALITY, a special evening of benefit cabaret performances promoting equality and civil rights.

In Chicago, the event will feature cast members of the Chicago companies of WICKED and Jersey Boys, cast members from the National Tour of Grease, members of Second City, and other special guests. The even will be held at Park West, starting at 8pm. A silent and live auction will consist of memorabilia from Broadway musicals and Broadway In Chicago shows, gift certificates to area bars and restaurants and other one-of-a-kind items. Held simultaneously in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Louisville and featuring cast members from WICKED as well as special guest performers, these special one-night only events will benefit Empire State Pride Agenda, Equality California, Garden State Equality and Vermont Freedom to Marry, four charitable organizations working to legislate equality and protect civil rights for the gay and lesbian community. All proceeds will be distributed evenly among the four organizations.

Each of the DEFYING INEQUALITY events will feature different musical performances that support WICKED’S theme of acceptance and illuminate the musical’s message that people should not be judged on first impressions. Performing on their night off from the musical hit, the WICKED cast members and musicians from New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Louisville will be joined by local theatre performers who also recognize that in these divisive times we must come together to support one another’s rights throughout the country and around the world.

BUY TICKETS

Chicago Theater – Best of 2008 (Chicago Tribune)

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Chicago Tribune’s main theatre critic, Chris Jones, presents his top 10 plays of 2008:

 

1. A Trip to Bountiful  (Goodman Theatre)
by Horton Foote
Standouts: Harris Yulin (director), performance: Lois Smith
     
2. Our Town  (The Hypocrites)
by Thornton Wilder
Standouts: David Cromer (director), actors: Jennifer Grace (as Emily), David Cromer (narrator)
 
     
3. Picnic  (Writers’ Theatre)
by William Inge
Standouts: David Cromer (Director)
 
     
4. Caroline or Change  (Court Theatre)
by Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori
Standouts: Charles Newell (director), Doug Peck (musical director); actors: Kate Fry, E.Faye Butler
 
     
5. Ruined  (Goodman Theatre)
by Lynn Nottage
Standout: Kate Whoriskey (director)
 
     
6. Four Places  (Victory Gardens)
by Joel Drake Johnson
Standouts: Sandy Shinner (director)
 
     
7. Sweet Charity  (Drury Lane Oakbrook)
by Cy Coleman
Standouts: Jim Corti (director), Mitzi Hamilton (choreographer)
 
     
8. Gatz  (Elevator Repair Service Theatre)
by John Collins
 
     
9. The Seafarer  (Steppenwolf Theatre)
by Conor McPherson
Standout: Francis Guinan (says Jones: probably the best male performance of the year)
 
     
10. Journey’s End (Griffin Theatre)
by Jonathan Berry
 

Honorable mentions: (alphabetically): America: All Better! (Second City), Don’t Dress for Dinner (British American Stage Company – at Royal George), Grey Gardens (Northlight Theatre), If All The World Were Paper (Chicago Children’s Theatre), Jacques Brel’s Lonesome Losers of the Night (Theo Ubique). Les Miserables (Marriott Theatre), Million Dollar Quartet (Deegee Theatricals, John Cossette Productions and Northern Lights – at the Apollo Theater), A Taste of Honey (Shattered Globe Theatre), Tomorrow Morning (Hilary A. Williams LLC), The Voysey Inheritance (Remy Bumppo Theatre Company).

 

To see further discussion regarding each show, go to Chris Jones’ The Theater Loop blog posting.

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"