Big Wind on Campus | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Big Wind on Campus 

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BIG WIND ON CAMPUS!, at Victory Gardens Studio Theater. Actor-playwright Gregory Henderson's one-man comedy is like a cross between Family Secrets, Sherry Glaser's virtuosic impersonation of five members of a dysfunctional family, and Greater Tuna, in which two actors play 20 residents of a bigoted Texas town. Here Henderson portrays seven people at a southwestern state university: breathlessly perky sorority sister Bitsy; her flaky, Xanax-popping mama Peggy Lou; Bitsy's faux-cowboy fiance Bubba; Christian marching-band drummer Jake; his barely closeted gay bandmate Steve (whose flamboyant drum-majoring has earned him the nickname Happy Hips); ancient, palsied school groundskeeper J.K.; and Priscilla, a lesbian photographer whose Ahab-like obsession with tornados leads her to face down the twister that gives the play its title.

Under Joseph Massa's direction, Henderson deftly brings these caricatures to life with an athlete's grace and precision, a rubbery face, and a voice that spans several octaves, aided by an array of inventive, sometimes outrageous costumes (the undergarments displayed during his onstage transformations are a show in themselves). But his writing is too prone to silly jokes that discredit the characters and their situations. The result is frequently funny but sacrifices believability for easy laughs; it may have played well in cabarets and gay community centers on the east coast, but its weaknesses are all too apparent in a regular theater. This would-be Lily Tomlin needs a Jane Wagner to write material with depth as well as breadth.

--Albert Williams

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