Danny's Show-a-Go-Go!/The Return of Newman & Cline Grand Follies | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Danny's Show-a-Go-Go!/The Return of Newman & Cline Grand Follies 

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DANNY'S SHOW-A-GO-GO!

Corn Productions
at Danny's Tavern

Billed as nouveau vaudeville and performed in what is obviously the living room of the apartment over Danny's Tavern in Bucktown, Danny's Show-a-Go-Go! wants desperately to be an evening of sophisticated vaudeville in the vein of the New Variety Theatre or Rob Riley's Cabaret Rebob. Unfortunately, the show is far too sloppy and uneven to compare with either of these late, lamented cabarets.

Directed by Robert Bouwman and hosted by Elizabeth Porter--whose relaxed, welcome-to-our-living-room manner would be more welcome if the material were better--the show consists of a couple comedy sketches, a couple musical sets, and (oddly enough) a couple old Terrence McNally one-acts: Tour and Bringing It All Back Home.

About the comedy sketches, the less said the better. Michelle Renee Thompson's monologue about a woman who bores her encounter group with her first LSD experience could frankly use a few jokes.

Bouwman and Todd Schaner's ongoing drag act, Tiff & Mom, about a mother and daughter's bitchy love-hate relationship, is hobbled by the fact that the two actors take far too long to relax into their characters. Once they do, they're quite funny; Schaner, as the sharp-tongued mom, is particularly adept at quick, sly, cutting remarks. Unfortunately even when they're at their best--as in their hilarious guest appearance during Shawn Martin's musical set--they still lean a bit heavily on getting cheap laughs from the sight of men in dresses.

The show's two musical sets, on acoustical guitars, are better than the comedy sketches, though neither set rises above the sort of mediocre folky playing everyone I knew in high school in the early 70s indulged in. To his credit, Martin mocks his folky tendencies by performing a wonderfully subversive version of Blondie's "Picture This."

The McNally one-acts--both written in the late 60s, both protests of a sort against the Vietnam war--are the best and worst this show offers. Tour, about a couple of nasty, boorish Americans lost on a tour through Italy, is not one of McNally's better efforts. His satiric point, that tacky and self-satisfied Americans know little about the world, is painfully obvious within the first five minutes. There must be a way to do this play without underscoring its lack of depth, but director Bouwman's cast, with their sub-community-theater acting, didn't find it. Andrew Sten in particular sleepwalks his way through his portrayal of a loutish loud-shirt-wearing tourist.

Yet McNally's caustic spoof of the perfect sitcom family, Bringing It All Back Home, last on the bill, receives such a fine production that it almost makes up for having to sit through an hour or so of flat-out bad theater. I'm sure the Republican Party's regressive obsession with mythical families helps make McNally's clear-eyed satire of fictitious "family values" as relevant and biting today as it was in 1969. But I don't want to shortchange the performers, who show a degree of professionalism all but missing from the rest of the show. Charlie Wimmer and Maria Stevens in particular are hilarious as siblings trapped in a neurotic, incestuous, love-hate relationship. Mark Alexander Clover also shines as the cruel, testosterone-crazed father. And Dean Dedes delivers a finely nuanced performance as Jimmy, the son recently killed in Vietnam, whose ghost, speaking directly to the audience, comments on the action in the play.

If I were Bouwman, I would ditch the whole nouveau vaudeville idea and spin off Tiff & Mom and Bringing It All Back Home as separate shows.

THE RETURN OF NEWMAN & CLINE GRAND FOLLIES

Canapeas Productions
at the Funny Firm

At least Bouwman has something worth salvaging. Tom Dorfmeister and Dave-id Dunlosky's The Return of the Newman & Cline Grand Follies is so stupid, vulgar, and lacking in redeeming social value that if you were to cut everything that misfires or is offensive there would be virtually nothing left.

Part of the problem is that this show is based on a false premise: that what this country really wants and needs is a revival of the burlesque-hall entertainments popular when our grandparents were in their prime--broad, baggy-pants comedy acts interspersed among bits featuring scantily clad chorus girls, some of whom also perform striptease.

Dorfmeister and Dunlosky are wrong. The last thing the Neanderthals who frequent topless bars and peep shows want to see are a couple of schmucks in funny clothes trying to win a few laughs between acts. And I can't think of a worse place to take a woman on a date than a strip club, unless I wanted to guarantee it was the last date.

It doesn't help that the show is inept and humorless, or that Dorfmeister and Dunlosky don't seem to have an iota of awareness of how many sexist ideas are encoded in burlesque performances. But then this is a comedy team that can't even get its comic timing right. The only bit these two manage to perform without muffing their own lines or stepping on each other's is a videotaped sketch played halfway through the first act.

The Newman & Cline Dancers, reminiscent of the Solid Gold Dancers, displayed a similar ineptitude, stiffly performing choreographer Pat McDonald's silly production numbers with all the grim determination of people forcing themselves to eat liver. Only the two strip artists in the show--Ursula Sanchez and Quinn Callahan--perform with any relish at all. Ironically, both strips turned out to be far tamer than the ones shown in the 1962 movie version of Gypsy. Quite an accomplishment that--being both sexist and not very sexy.

All in all, The Return of Newman & Cline Grand Follies is a great folly, but probably not the kind Dorfmeister and Dunlosky had hoped to create.

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