In Performance: chronicles of a funny bunch | Calendar | Chicago Reader

In Performance: chronicles of a funny bunch 

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"The sound of laughter to me is better than sex," performer Marcia Wilke says, laughing herself. "I've been working on the road as a stand-up comedian for about a year now, and I really enjoy it. But the problem I have with it is that you really don't get to make a statement or say anything that's in your heart. You have to concern yourself with making people laugh because that's what you're paid for. There's pressure to not let too much time go by before you get that punch line in there."

That's why Wilke has carried her brand of humor one step further and put together an evening of longer monologues. Hers, playing at Club Lower Links this weekend and next, is a collection of pieces she has performed at various performance-art venues around the city.

Wilke studied improv at Second City in 1987, and she's has done stand-up routines at several clubs, including Catch a Rising Star and the Improv. She started writing monologues about a year and a half ago, while she was with the troupe Chicago Women in Comedy. Her material was geared to female audiences, and she has continued to focus on women's issues.

"Mostly I'm interested in talking about things that women can own for themselves, that don't always relate to men's issues or to a place in the family or sexism or any of that. . . . It's all about a woman dealing with herself and her own issues, her sexual identity, her career choice, her childhood."

"Theirs Is the Kingdom," for example, is the story of a nun who wants to go to some faraway place like Rumania or Ethiopia, so she can help people who are truly suffering. Then she gets assigned to a cushy job teaching on a worship committee at a private Catholic college.

"That piece I labored over for four months, because I wanted to say things without it being burdensome," Wilke says. "It is about assessing human suffering and the realization that everyone has their own level of suffering. The nun thinks she has to go far away because that's where true suffering is happening, but in fact it's right around her. The woman sharing the room with her, that person's suffering."

Another piece she does, "Four or Five or Six Times," is about a couple who stay in a passionless relationship because it's comfortable. She says she worries about the piece spurring breakups among people in the audience, but at the same time she feels her audience can relate to her characters, which pleases her. "They're not abstract characters. They are your neighbors, they're your mom, they're your niece, they are people that we know. And I like that, because I think we all look for what we recognize."

Acting out the lives of different characters is something Wilke has done ever since she was a child in upstate New York. She used to like to pretend to be characters from books she was reading. One summer she decided to be Pippi Longstocking and tried to pick up her neighbor's horse.

In spite of her New York upbringing, Wilke is a real fan of Chicago, maybe because she risked her life to get here. Five years ago on April Fool's Day, she packed up her Volkswagen Beetle in Kansas City, Missouri, where she went to college. As she backed down the driveway, her car caught on fire. The friends who had gathered to see her off scrambled to rescue her things, saying, "Oh, Marcia, that's a sign you're not supposed to go to Chicago." She told them, "Well, now I have to go because I don't have a car." She laughs. "It could only happen to a comic on April Fool's Day."

In her monologues, Wilke uses minimal props and gimmicks. She prefers to think of herself as a storyteller. Her main goals are to make people laugh and to make them realize things about the human race as a whole. "I just want everyone to see that, you know, we are an odd people--the way we handle relationships, the way we grow up, how we view our peers, all the way through life. It's funny."

Although Wilke claims she isn't a "serious-minded feminist," she hopes her monologues inspire the women in her audience to reexamine their roles as women. For example, she feels it's time for women to denounce such finery as high heels, because they are unhealthy, cause pointy feet, and "hurt like hell."

"I know a lot of women who are ages 25 to 38 who are just really in the process of redefining, changing courses in their lives. We're the Barbie Doll generation. We were raised [to think] what you work at is being pretty and having a good friend named Midge . . . and you have to find the 'Ken' boy and live in your dream house. I feel like women are trying to find a balance and say look, we can stand alone, we are individuals, our identities are separate from that of being with a man, or from being with a lover, or being with a child."

Her ultimate goal is to create a performance-art space for women that would "give them the freedom to express themselves," she says. "I think that would push women in performance to the cutting edge," she explains. "Because sometimes if you dig down deep in a woman, she'll come up with something really genius, that she might otherwise be afraid to say."

Marcia Wilke will be performing Hers at Club Lower Links, 954 W. Newport, Thursdays and Saturdays, February 7 through 16, at 8:30 PM. Admission is $6. Call 248-5238 for more info.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Kathy Richland.

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