A Chicago Success Story




Illegitimate Players Getting Along By Leaving Egos At Home
January 06, 1989|By Allan Johnson.

When working in a comedy troupe, there is always the chance that someone will get lost in the crowd, especially when some members try to get their material to the forefront. One example: When Eddie Murphy was reigning on ``Saturday Night Live,`` some performers on the show groused about being overshadowed by Murphy, who dominated almost every sketch.

That`s not the case with the Illegitimate Players, according to founding member Maureen FitzPatrick.

``I think what`s neat about this group is that it`s a group that`s very, very open to what everybody wants to do creatively,`` FitzPatrick says. ``It doesn`t limit us, because we all work on particular pieces with each other. If somebody is performing something, another person has helped out in the writing.``

The Illegitimate Players performs as part of Catch a Rising Star`s regional talent showcase every Monday night (151 E. Wacker Dr.; 565-HAHA). The 6-member group also plays the Roxy on Saturday nights (1505 W. Fullerton Ave.; 348-4123).

The group has been together for 3 1/2 years. They met while attending Second City.

``We had started out more or less taking our training from Second City and doing a lot of sketches and musical comedy,`` FitzPatrick says. ``What we`re doing now, though, is expanding more into longer pieces. We`re trying to write more and more half-hour shows that are all central to one theme.``

With improvisation a standard of Second City, it`s no wonder that one centerpiece of the Players` set is an improv-variation of the popular television game show ``Jeopardy.`` The audience is asked to give the answers to certain topics, and three IP members playing the ``contestants`` have to come up with the questions.

The group currently has a tri-state cable show, ``The Illegitimate Players on TV.`` It won a National ACE Award, cable`s equivalent of the Emmys, this year. The group was also nominated for a local Emmy in 1987. It has done work for WTTW`s ``Image Union`` program, as well as producing two stage shows, ``Near North Side Story`` and ``Out on a Whim.``

It has produced video presentations and shows for a number of Chicago area businesses, including Abbott Laboratories, Ameritech, Illinois Bell, the Electronic Distribution Show, St. Paul Federal Savings and the Chicago Tourism Council.

``A big market for us that we love to do is corporate videos,``

FitzPatrick says. ``Current members of the group have written a number of videos. That`s great, because that more or less pays the bills.``

Members include Doug Armstrong, Keith Cooper, Kathy Jensen, Maureen Morley and Tom Willmorth. And these are people whose ``egos are all intact,`` and ``who love working with each other,`` according to FitzPatrick.

``I think the most important thing is that we have so much fun performing together, FitzPatrick says. ``We all really like ensemble performance. We allow ourselves to do individual characters and individual routines. But at the same time, we love playing off each other.``


Illegitimate Players` `Twist` A Turn Of The Scrooge
November 28, 1991|By Lawrence Bommer.

It was inevitable that the Illegitimate Players would run Dickens through their comic meat grinder. Their ``Glass Mendacity`` ground up Tennessee Williams and ``Of Grapes and Nuts,`` the Players` sharpest spoof, skewered Steinbeck. ``A Christmas Twist`` opens a rich new holiday vein.

Like its predecessor, ``Twist`` blends two works by its victim author; grafted onto the familiar parable of Ebenezer and his spirits are guest villains Fagin and Mr. Bumble from ``Oliver Twist.`` The title character is twentysomething Tiny Twist, a gangly orphan waif who hates gruel (the Cratchits` favorite dish) and whose crutch keeps getting stuck in cracks. Bumble and Fagin mercilessly exploit Twist (despite the lad`s klutziness as a pickpocket) until Bob Cratchit impulsively adopts the tall tot. The villains scheme to get Twist back-but in the mock-violent conclusion a redeemed Scrooge exposes their foul plot.

``Twist`` abounds with Illegitimate irreverence, like a Ghost of Christmas Past who grouses about always having to fly from one stranger`s dreary memory to the next. Along with the regulation chains worn by Marley`s ghost are some keepsake accessories he added for texture. The Cratchits` idea of forced merriment is to play ``blind man`s buff`` with a real blind girl and to share ghoulish holiday wishes. The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come uses a step stool to tower over Scrooge and communicates entirely through charades.

If ``Twist`` doesn`t trigger the laugh riots of past Illegitimate sendups, it`s because this treatment stays too close to its source, relying a lot on verbatim borrowings; it doesn`t quite hold its own as a self-contained parody. It`s also reluctant to ridicule Dickens` stylistic excesses (as the Players never were with Steinbeck and Williams). Maybe they like Dickens too much.

Also, the Twist characters don`t gel with the others; they seem intrusions into the complete world of ``A Christmas Carol.`` Certainly that tale has enough to spoof, like the exaggerated extremes of covetous Scrooge and virtuous Cratchit.

Still, enough remains for a good night of wicked travesty. Judith O`Malley`s staging spares no stereotype. Wearing a blond mop and hobbling on a short crutch, Paul Stroli`s Twist looks like an uncoordinated Ray Bolger. Doug Armstrong`s Cratchit may be placidly wholesome (in contrast to Maureen FitzPatrick`s acerbic Mrs. Cratchit), but his Jacob Marley is pure banshee overkill. It`s inspired humbug.


By Doug Armstrong, Keith Cooper and Maureen Morley. Illegitimate Players at Victory Gardens Studio Theater; directed by Judith O`Malley, with a set by Doug Armstrong, costumes by Cheri Cory and lighting by Jeffrey Childs. Opened Nov. 16 at 2257 N. Lincoln Ave.; Thursdays, Fridays at 8:30 p.m., Saturdays at 5:30 and 8:30 p.m.; through Dec. 31. Running time: 1:40. Tickets are $15. Phone 312-871-3000.

The Glass Mendacity 
By Albert Williams

the Illegitimate Players
at Victory Gardens Studio

The Illegitimate Players have gone legit. In their new show, the comedy troupe have moved beyond the confines of cabaret and cable TV to a real theater; instead of the revue format of such previous efforts as Out on a Whim and Near North Side Story, they've put together a real, honest-to-goodness, full-length play with a plot--or rather a hodgepodge of plots, drawn from the best-known dramas of Tennessee Williams.

With his overheated story lines, larger-than-life characters, and extravagant, symbol-laden, southern-inflected dialogue, Williams is especially susceptible to parody, as innumerable blackout sketches in stage revues, TV shows, and school and summer-camp talent nights have attested over the years. It's easy to come up with a scene or two spoofing the creator of such American archetypes as Blanche DuBois, Stanley Kowalski, Big Daddy, and Amanda Wingfield; what's tricky is to sustain lampoonery over a full evening. That's just what Illegitimate members Maureen Morley and Tom Willmorth have done--very ably and amusingly--in their new two-act comedy, The Glass Mendacity, a Fractured Flickers takeoff on three of Williams's most famous plays.

The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof are all family dramas--in most of his plays, Williams was really writing about his own bizarre clan. Fittingly, Morley and Willmorth have set their story at Belle Reve, the long-lost homestead of Streetcar's disintegrated DuBois family. And what a family! Big Daddy (Keith Cooper) is off beating the field hands and guzzling Maalox juleps, while his wife, Amanda (Maureen FitzPatrick), reminisces about the gentleman callers she received as a debutante. (The exact number of gentleman callers escalates with every reverie.) Their offspring have plenty to keep them busy: Blanche (played by Kathy Jensen as a cross between Vivien Leigh and Bette Midler), now married to Stanley, sinks into madness while tossing off choruses of lewd sea chanties, while crippled, painfully shy Laura (Maureen FitzPatrick again) plays with her glass menagerie and listens to Shaun Cassidy records on the Victrola, leaving the room occasionally to vomit in the john and just generally annoy the hell out of everyone. Brother Brick--very much the strong, silent type as played here by a department-store display dummy--broods about his alcoholism and homosexuality, while his scheming wife, Maggie, runs around in her slip trying to outwit Stanley, who spends his time in his undershirt drinking beers stuck with mint sprigs. For good measure, Morley and Willmorth have thrown in one all-purpose gentleman caller, Mitch, who woos both Blanche and Laura while dispensing legal advice to Big Daddy.

Morley and Willmorth don't really capture Williams's writing style; rather, they pepper their script with patches of famous dialogue, drawing plenty of laughs when lines from different plays collide with each other--and with occasional bits lifted from Shakespeare, Emily Bronte, and Stephen King. The plot revolves around the various siblings' and in-laws' efforts to swindle each other out of Big Daddy's fortune; it's a merry-go-round of illusion and insanity, sex and self-pity, "lies, deceit, and mendacity--and redundancy," as one snatch of dialogue has it. Watching this collection of classic crazies--aided immeasurably by Consuelo Allen's tackily caricatured costumes and a collection of wonderfully awful hairpieces for the wigged-out women--is like watching a Williams wax museum come to life, the statues interacting almost by accident as they pursue their individual obsessions. Even as its absurdity makes you laugh, the play's gimmick underscores Williams's vision of life as "solitary confinement."

There is a flaw built into The Glass Mendacity. The show's humor derives entirely from its mixed-and-mismatched references to the source scripts, so an audience's appreciation of the comedy will be in direct proportion to their familiarity with the original plays. And though the cast members, under Marlene Zuccaro's direction, play off each other efficiently and intuitively--this is obviously an ensemble that's been together quite a while--they don't deliver the kind of high-style performance the material needs to soar as comedy and theater. What this play needs is actors with grand stage presence and finely honed technique to match their eccentric personalities and distinctive dialogue. What a great show this would be in the hands of a group like the Ridiculous Theater in New York, which specializes in the collision of class and camp. As it is, the Illegitimate's Glass Mendacity will delight any Williams buff with its nonstop barrage of informed in-jokes. 

Illegitimate Players Comedy Revue
By Peter Handler

at the Roxy

The glaring extremes of our mass-media culture are standard fare in today's Chicago comedy clubs: game-show hosts, television preachers, honest politicians. And while the Illegitimate Players certainly offer some of these expected bits, their current revue revolves more around the classics of English literature.

"Library" suggests an eerie future in which "readers" plug hand-held metallic orbs into their foreheads, thereby providing themselves with the outlines and condensed themes of the great novels. This scene has overtones of Reader's Digest meets 1984: the books are stripped of their subplots and "extraneous" details and electronically force-fed into people's brains (some books are offered in suppository style, a more direct method of gaining and holding knowledge). One reader plugs himself into Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises and begins chanting: "Contemplation, alienation, go for drinks." Meanwhile two others echo him with equally broad, equally twisted themes from Melville's Moby Dick and David Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago.

Most of the Illegitimate Players' literary targets are readily identifiable, and the players make lots of direct hits. In "Rapwoolf," however, based on Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, the aim seems to be to produce a clever takeoff, not something that's hysterically funny. This frenetic rap version of Albee's play about neurotic marriages, featuring Keith Cooper and Maureen Morley, elicited only sporadic laughs on the evening I was there. It may be that this skit is less accessible than most of the others, perhaps because it requires a better knowledge of the target. Still, it shows the Illegitimate Players' versatility, and with its rapid-fire timing and delivery, it was very skillfully done: the audience applauded at its close.

The longest piece of the evening is "On the Lakefront," a roughly stitched amalgam of Elia Kazan's On the Waterfront and Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie. Terry (Tom Willmorth) is a confused, discontented youth trapped in Chicago. But instead of working the docks, Terry rents paddleboats at the Lincoln Park pond. Overseeing the paddleboat concession is Cobb (Keith Cooper), a snarling old-style thug who runs a tight ship and suspects Terry of giving complimentary rides to local orphans. Cobb's tight rein only makes Terry more restless, and he yearns to emulate his father, who's a train conductor. Sister Malden (Maureen Morley) comes to Terry's aid: she plays the peacemaker by trying to cover the cost of the free rides by getting the sisters down at the orphanage to donate a jar of plasma.

At home Terry is beset by a chronically sweating mother (Kathleen Jensen) who entertains imaginary gentleman callers and a sickly sister (Maureen FitzPatrick) who clumps around the stage like a peg-legged sailor, admiring her miniature ice-cube animals. She says they sweat "just like Mother" in Chicago's oppressive summer heat.

While some of the caricatures wear thin--especially Morley's Sister Malden, who is more hard-boiled than any cop you'll ever meet--the story moves quickly, with none of the self-conscious winks or mugging that other companies use to signal their most recent pun. In fact these players move the story along so well that they earn the right to maul Marlon Brando's legacy: Terry complains to a friend (Doug Armstrong) that he "coulda been a conductor."

Employing little more than a few chairs and slight costume changes, the troupe transforms a cramped, bare stage into a showcase for their skewed worlds. The whole company acts well, slipping quickly in and out of numerous characters. But FitzPatrick and Willmorth stand out, with their exuberance and their seeming ability to change shapes and faces; FitzPatrick moves in successive scenes from a pasty, giggling teenager pulling impulsively at her pants to the middle-aged partner in a tacky husband-wife comedy team who wears pink floral bell-bottoms and laughs at her own jokes. Willmorth's equally broad range encompasses a pun-spouting Shakespearean prince and a wine-sodden flasher with crusty pants and a croaking voice.

July 07, 1995|By Lawrence Bommer.

"The Day the Arts Stood Still," Monday, Illegitimate Players at Bailiwick Arts Center, 1229 W. Belmont Ave.; 312-883-1090: Here's a cautionary tale for a darkening time. Fresh from the success of "Cheese Louise," the Players' new comedy showcase focuses on the current state of the arts, delving into such conflicts as Gingrich vs. the N.E.A., Hemingway vs. the P.T.A. and Lambchop vs. the N.R.A.

The show features new material and favorite scenes from the company's past works ("A Christmas Twist," "The Glass Mendacity" and the painfully hilarious "Of Grapes and Nuts"). Proceeds from this off-night venture will be donated to the Illinois Arts Alliance to aid in the fight against proposed cuts in arts funding.



`A Christmas Carol' gets a Tiny Twist
SUN 12/04/1994 HOUSTON CHRONICLE, Section Zest, Page 14, 2 STAR Edition

HOUSTON Repertory Theater is doing "A Christmas Carol," but with a twist - an Oliver Twist. The result, "A Christmas Twist," will open Friday at St. Thomas University's Jones Hall.

Mixing elements from two of Charles Dickens' most familiar works, the comedy centers on Tiny Twist, an amalgam of Tiny Tim and Oliver Twist. The orphan and pickpocket confronts Scrooge, Fagin and his gang, and other Dickensian figures.

The comedy was created and premiered in 1991 by The Illegitimate Players, a five-person troupe based in Chicago.

"It's for people who've gotten their fill of sentiment and want something different,"said Maureen Morley. She co-wrote "A Christmas Twist" with Doug Armstrong and Keith Cooper. "We have "Christmas Carol" as a perennial each year in Chicago. A lot of people, including critics, have expressed their gratitude that someone finally offered an alternative."

The spoof was staged in New York in 1993 and is receiving a couple of community-theater stagings in Chicago this year.

The Illegitimates began as a cabaret comedy group in 1985, then progressed from programs of skits to full-length literary parodies. Shows have included "The Glass Mendacity" (kidding the plays of Tennessee Williams), "All My Spite" (Arthur Miller) and "Of Grapes and Nuts" (John Steinbeck).

"Though they're outrageous," said Morley, "the shows we create are full-length plays with plots." The troupe has been honored with the Jefferson Award, Chicago's equivalent of the Tony.

The Chicago troupe's current show is called "Cheese Louise." Morley described it as an irreverent comedy about serial killing at a Wisconsin tourist trap.

"We have a dark side," she said. "The new show's had an excellent response. Though right now, it's a little too timely for my taste."

"A Christmas Twist" is one of three shows Houston Rep will present this season on the University of St. Thomas campus. William Hardy is directing and playing Scrooge, with Daniel Dyer as Tiny Twist and David Parker as Fagin. Performances will be at 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, through Dec. 31. For tickets, call 484-3737.

January 5th, 1993/By Hedi Weiss, Peanut juggler

I went to the big place with the people.  They was have lights and seats.  I had a hot dog before we go there.  The people made a story for us in that place where the lights were.  I want another hot dog.  I'm not a whore.

One-liners In `Cheese Louise' Are Cracking Up Theatergoers
Arts Plus. Comedy.
November 25, 1994|By Kathy O'Malley, Tribune Staff Writer

If the setting were New Orleans or Paris, this tale of failing fortunes, death, desperation and second-rate gene pools might have been a brie-tinged tragedy titled "Fromage Dommage."

But theatergoers who are pining for a more Midwest feel will be . . . well, cripes, they'll be right at home with "Cheese Louise."

Set in the Wisconsin Dells, the latest offering from Chicago's irreverent Illegitimate Players is about as far from tragedy as you can get when the protagonists own a combination gas station and bumper car tourist attraction called the Bump 'N Pump.

There are cheese jokes, live-bait jokes, flatlander jokes and Wisconsin jokes (lots of 'em, like "There's no pressure here to be successful or smart"). There are stupid jokes and stupider jokes.

Every now and then, some delightfully sophisticated humor sneaks in between a jail joke or a lawyer joke. And from start to finish, 15 seconds is about the longest recovery time the audience gets between laughs-even if they're accompanied by groans.

Doug Armstrong and Maureen Fitzpatrick are hilarious as the Bump 'N Pump's Louise and Augie Miller, the inept Wisconsin couple desperate to increase tourist traffic at their little hell in the Dells. Armstrong also designed the set that turns from a knotty-pine restaurant into a knotty-pine jail cell (hey, it's Wisconsin) with a flip of a lunch counter.

Their efforts are supported and thwarted by Maureen Morley as a waitress who's an out-of-work hand model; Paul Stroili as a nephew with definite sleazy-lawyer potential (and wearer of the show's funniest costume); and Keith Cooper, who could have played the Junior character for some really cheap laughs but manages to make him a sweetly human character. Jason Wells does triple duty as a toasted tourist, a sheriff and the wackiest judge since Wapner.

Although intermission conversation included comments that "It's mostly just cheap laughs" and "It's a bunch of one-liners" (as well as "I think it's hilarious"), not a seat was empty during the faux dramatic 2nd act and its courtroom scene, a case of mistaken identity involving Yo-Yo Ma, and the stunning revelation of one character's last name.

"Cheese Louise" isn't going to strain your budget, tax your brain or impress your in-laws. But it's different. As one of the characters in "Cheese Louise" explains so beautifully, "You know, different-like . . . the Quaid brothers."

"Cheese Louise" runs through Dec. 31 at The Bailiwick Studio Theatre, 1229 W. Belmont Ave. (Half-price tickets to anyone wearing a beer-can hat or showing a ticket stub from a Wisconsin sport event.) Phone 312-883-1090.


Pandora Skulnk Won't Come Out of the House 
By Albert Williams

Illegitimate Players
at Victory Gardens Studio Theater

I left the theater amused and cheerful after seeing the January 9 opening of Pandora Skulnk Won't Come Out of the House. This absurdist comedy about a panicky paranoid afraid to leave her home--with good reason, given the world of random violence the play evokes--is lightly funny. Not great, but occasionally very clever and always well played as it spoofs urban anxiety.

Then I got home and turned on the television news, and reality intruded. In a word: Palatine.

Linking the Illegitimate Players' new play and the murder of the staff and owners of the Brown's Chicken restaurant in that northwest suburb is as unavoidable as it is unfortunate. Pandora Skulnk addresses the same emotions the Palatine slaughter provokes--feelings of helplessness and despair at the overwhelming crime that makes living in America seem not only scary but senseless. In the light of such events, a play that deals with fear of living needs to be convincingly cathartic if it wants to offer a sense of victory, as this one does. Pandora Skulnk is merely cute--and so inadequate to the issues it begs.

The titular heroine, whose last name evokes the sound you make when you accidentally hit your head against a shelf, is a stooped, schlumpy spinster possessed by a dread of going outside. It's called agoraphobia--but it's also common sense. Outside Pandora's apartment door lurks a venal, vocal gang of rapists and robbers. In fact when an antiviolence pollster barges her way in to quiz our hapless heroine, the pollster's mowed down in a drive-by shooting the media subsequently ballyhoos as the Skulnk Doorstep Massacre.

Traumatized by the murder, Pandora retreats inside her box of a home with only her goldfish, Madame Bovary, for company. But trying to lock trouble out only invites it in. One after another, would-be authority figures parade through Pandora's house. First is a neurotic quack of a psychiatrist who tries to treat her with self-help books (How to Confront Your Inner Aggressor Without Setting Your Own Bed on Fire) and ambient-noise tapes. He's followed by a doubting deacon who loses his faith and acquires a drinking habit; a sleazy tabloid-TV reporter known for a special on devil-worshiping cheerleaders called Pom-Pom Pagans; and finally Pandora's slutty mother--forced out of her own home by a radon leak--who caresses her daughter with such caring phrases as "You're just a pool-table assault waiting to happen."

Though Keith Cooper and Maureen Morley's sick-joke script has its share of funny wisecracks and off-the-wall one-liners, it never digs beneath the glib surface. Too often it relies on pop-culture cliches--Pandora's abusive mother, for instance, starts out as a unique individual but is trivialized into just one more "Mommie Dearest" stereotype with a wire-hangers routine. More bothersome is the comedy's abrupt conclusion: Pandora's decision to leave home seems prompted by no reason stronger than that it's time for the play to end.

Regular Illegitimates Keith Cooper as the TV reporter, Paul Stroili as the shrink, Doug Armstrong as the deacon, and Maureen FitzPatrick as the mother bring to the play their usual deft understatement under Curt Columbus's direction, shrugging off silliness that other actors would be tempted to hammer home. Sue Cargill, a familiar face on the stand-up circuit making her Illegitimate debut, has a special clunky radiance as Pandora, registering the effects of a "battered life" in a cringing demeanor while letting us see the character's intelligence; she also has some fine bits of physical comedy, as when Pandora must force her body out of the house against her own will.

But having moved beyond their tried-and-true parodies of literary lions (Steinbeck in Of Grapes and Nuts, Dickens in A Christmas Twist, Tennessee Williams in The Glass Mendacity), the Illegitimates haven't yet grasped something more substantial. There's a play in Pandora Skulnk waiting to be let out--a reality to be taken into account that both proves the show's point and exposes its inadequacies. At this transitional point in their development, the Illegitimates need to go back to their books or forward to life.


`Pandora' A Box Only Half Filled
January 12, 1993|By Sid Smith, Arts critic.

The Illegitimate Players deserve their reputation for pert, full-length putdowns, skewering Steppenwolf and Steinbeck with "Of Grapes and Nuts" and Tennessee Williams with "The Glass Mendacity" in productions past.

Keith Cooper and Maureen Morley broaden the troupe's horizons a bit with "Pandora Skulnk Won't Come Out of the House," now at Victory Gardens Studio Theater. Here they abandon the easier task of mocking a literary great in pastiche and serve up instead an original, absurdist comedy, with a hodgepodge of pop cultural targets lampooned in jests scattered throughout the story.
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The results, unfortunately, reflect the group's tendency to mount a full-length satire with only half of the punch lines in place. As with their literary ventures, only some of the material works, both in humor and in storytelling, and what might make for a rollicking skit or two is stretched thin over two hours, the inimitable comedy and irreverence notwithstanding. The ideas and audacity are great; "Pandora Skulnk," pronounced "sku'n'k," just isn't quite there yet.

But credit Cooper and Morley for creating a kinky, goofball universe; creating, by story's end, a singular social comedy, to be sure. Pandora is a nervous, geeky woman suffering from understandable agoraphobia. She lives in a tenement so foul that a pollster can't even get beyond her door-step before being shot and killed. Thereafter Pandora locks herself in and lives off boxes of charity canned goods piled up in her living room, including "the same can of lima beans that's been passed around since the first food drive."

The Church, "Hard Copy," conspiracy theorists and Shelley Winters are just a tiny sample of tidbits stung in the saga, wherein Pandora's shrink, deacon, mother and would-be boyfriend all move in to share her paranoid isolation-an "Exterminating Angel" meets "Postcards from the Edge." In a fine cast directed by Curt Columbus, Sue Cargill is a marvel and standout as the stoop-shouldered, likable Pandora.


A black comedy by Keith Cooper and Maureen Morley, directed by Curt Columbus. At Victory Gardens Studio Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., at 8:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 5:30 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday. Length of performance: 2 hours. Tickets are $15. Phone (312) 871-3000.

The Day the Arts Stood Still 
By Lawrence Bommer

This deft showcase of selections from the Illegitimate Players' wicked parodies is comedy with a conscience. Using their spoofs of Tennessee Williams (The Glass Mendacity), Steinbeck (Of Grapes and Nuts), Dickens (A Christmas Twist), and their recent Wisconsin bit, Cheese Louise, they erect a bulwark from which to defend government funding for the arts. 

But not to worry--the down-and-dirty attacks on Gingrich and Dole are leavened with laughs more telling than any diatribe. To prove their dire straits as embattled artists, the five players enact composite scenes from supposedly canceled shows (just as they created The Glass Mendacity from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Glass Menagerie, and A Streetcar Named Desire). 

Hilarious takeoffs include the Joads' penny-pinching bread buying, Ma Joad's "mean mad" soliloquy, Tom Joad's cliche-clogged valedictory, Laura Wingfield's disease-of-the-year confessional, and Tiny Tim's disgust at his parents' cheerful poverty. 

Well-targeted new sketches include a rap version of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and a harrowing look at the cyber-shrinking of classics to mnemonic devices: a demented trio pungently reduce Melville, Hemingway, and Mamet to catchphrases. 

If you missed the glory days of the Players' literary satires, which were funny enough to induce apoplexy, this 75-minute show offers a blessed second chance. It also benefits the Illinois Arts Alliance: the Players put their money where their laughs are. 

At the Bailiwick Arts Center, 1229 W. Belmont, 883-1090. Through July 25: Mondays-Tuesdays, 8 PM. $8. 

`Salt Of The Earth,` `Jungle,` `bouncers` Are Hits With Jeffs
June 04, 1991|By Sid Smith, Entertainment writer.

In what amounted to an unscheduled tribute to the roughneck spirit of non-Equity theater, three works by young, gutsy or infrequently producing troupes won top honors Monday in the 1991 Jeff Citation ceremonies at Park West.

Famous Door Theatre`s ``Salt of the Earth,`` John Godber`s sweeping tale about growing up in a British mining town, earned seven honors, the most of any production. David Schwimmer`s visually feisty adaptation of ``The Jungle`` for Lookingglass Theatre received six, while the Next Lab, an offshoot of Evanston`s Next Theatre, received five for ``Bouncers,`` another play by Britisher Godber, this one about pub henchmen. (It is still playing in its second home at Ruggles Cabaret in the Royal George Theatre.)

``Salt,`` ``The Jungle`` and ``Bouncers`` were each cited for overall production. The casts of all three shows were awarded ensemble citations as well, along with Lookingglass` cast for ``The Odyssey of Homer, Part I.``

The citations, presented annually to non-Equity theater by the Joseph Jefferson Committee, are non-competitive and can go to multiple winners.

The only new works honored were adaptations: Mark Richard`s ``The Hero`s Journey: The Poetry of Raymond Carver`` for City Lit; Doug Armstrong, Keith Cooper and Tom Willmorth`s ``Of Grapes and Nuts`` for the Illegitimate Players and Schwimmer`s ``The Jungle.``

Unlike Sunday`s Tonys and their Oscar de la Renta glow, the Jeffs are, as costume design winner Sharon Evans noted, strictly Amvets. Funnier and more ribald than just about any award fest anywhere, this year`s was no exception, with ``Jungle`` lighting designer John Musial remarking, ``This will look great next to my baseball awards,`` and Mary Zimmerman, also with

Lookingglass, saying of her choreography, ``All I did was tell them to go over there and do something in time to the music, they did it and nobody got hurt too badly.``

Here is a list of the recipients:

Production: ``Bouncers,`` the Next Lab; ``The Jungle,`` Lookingglass Theatre; ``Salt of the Earth,`` Famous Door Theatre.

Ensemble: ``Bouncers,`` ``The Jungle,`` ``Salt of the Earth`` and ``The Odyssey of Homer, Part I,`` Lookingglass.

Direction: Dexter Bullard, ``Bouncers``; Calvin MacLean, ``Salt of the Earth``; Keith G. Miller, ``Kvetch,`` Blueprint Theatre Co.; David Schwimmer, ``The Jungle``; Mary Zimmerman, ``The Odyssey of Homer, Part I.``

Set design: Russ Borski, ``Into the Woods,`` Pegasus Players/Big League Theatricals; Laura Cowell Kinter, ``Broadway Bound,`` Pegasus; Patrick Kerwin, ``Detective Story,`` Mary-Arrchie Theatre Co.; Kevin Snow, ``Sister Carrie,`` Touchstone Theatre Company; Ronald Wachholtz, ``84 Charing Cross Road,`` Chicago Cooperative Stage.

Costume design: Dawn DeWitt, ``Macbeth,`` Talisman Theatre; Kim Fencl Rak ``A Public Performance of the Private Life of the Master Race,`` Chicago Shakespeare Company/Alchemical Theatre; Joel Klaff and Sharon Evans, ``Girls! Girls! Girls! Live on Stage Totally Rude,`` Live Bait Theatre.

Sound design: Rick Peeples, ``Salt of the Earth.``

Lighting design: Russ Borski, ``The Death of Carmen,`` Pegasus; John Musial, ``The Jungle``; Robert G. Smith, ``Bouncers.``

New work/adaptation: Mark Richard, ``The Hero`s Journey: The Poetry of Raymond Carver,`` City Lit Theater Company; Doug Armstrong, Keith Cooper and Tom Willmorth, ``Of Grapes and Nuts,`` the Illegitimate Players; David Schwimmer, ``The Jungle.``

Original music: Adam Buhler, ``Bouncers``; Eric Huffman, ``The Jungle,``

and Huffman again, for ``The Odyssey.``

Choreography: Mary Zimmerman, ``The Odyssey.``

Musical direction: Joseph Thalken, ``The Death of Carmen.``

Actress in a principal role: Elaine Carlson, ``Salt of the Earth``;

Carole Gutierrez, ``Broadway Bound``; Paula Killen, ``Girls! Girls! Girls!``; Jan Lucas, ``Emerald City,`` Zebra Crossing Theatre; Karen Pratt, ``Kvetch.`` 

Actress in a supporting role: Phila Broich and Patti Hannon, both for ``Between Daylight and Boonville,`` Edge Productions; Morgan McCabe, ``Jacques and His Master,`` Commons Theatre; Maureen Morley, ``Of Grapes and Nuts.``

Actor in a principal role: Scott MacEwen, ``Salt of the Earth``; Brian McCaskill, ``Broadway Bound``; Mark Richard, ``The Hero`s Journey``; Lee R. Sellars, ``Kvetch.``

Actor in a supporting role: Ellis Foster, ``Good Black,`` ETA Theatre;

Dan Rivkin, ``Salt of the Earth``; Harold Terchin, ``Broadway Bound.``

Special award: Gillian Lane-Plescia, for her work over the years coaching many varieties of dialect to Chicago actors.

* Please note:  The above review depicting The Sun Times' Hedi Weiss is not factual and is intended for parody even if most faithful readers of her column cannot tell the difference.
Copyright 2012 - Keith Cooper / Cooperweb