Theatre in Review

Wednesday, 02 August 2017 12:14

"The Food Show" a unique take on cooking

As a cook and a big fan of Ina Garten, I was excited to see “The Food Show” on opening night by The Neo-Futurists theatre. The main plot of the story is about family, which is brilliantly defined through cooking. Rather than hold the show at the Neo-Futurium, there was a last-minute change in location as the theatre company is partnering with Metropolitan Brewing in Avondale. 

Upon entering the venue, we were greeted by gentleman who offered us a beer before heading to our bleacher-like seats, similar to what one would find in a football stadium or gymnasium. Yes, this was going to be a different theatre experience.

As we sat down, I noticed Tif Harrison kneading some dough that will later be used to make pasta, which was interesting to watch in itself – and pleasantly strange. I was also happy to see Spencer Meeks who starred in “We Are Going to Die” at Den Theatre earlier this year, who puts on yet another steady performance in this very unusual, yet entertaining, production. The play is divided into seven sections with an opening by Kyra Sims who was visiting from New York. 

One of the most identifiable performers in “The Food Show” is Oliver Camacho who happens to be a chef in his days before acting. He is easy to connect with and, in this particular performance, made what looked to be a perfectly seared salmon. Bilal Dardai is another intriguing character impressed upon the audience who engagingly talks about Islamic constraints of eating pork and his kid's food allergies. 

I want to be clear. The style of cooking in “The Food Show” is not refined like that you would see Ina Garten cooking up in her Hamptons home. Actors before cooking professionals, these chefs were a bit messy and their chopping skills (sorry, Bilal) need some help. But that is all part of the fun in “The Food Show”. After getting past the fact that we are not watching Gordon Ramsay, it’s easy to appreciate what the play really is - sharing life experiences over food and reflecting on where our food comes from. 

The Neo-Futurists' “The Food Show” is being performed at 3031 North Rockwell, right next to the Metropolitan Brewing. Tickets range from $10-$25 and can be purchased at www.neofuturists.org. The show will be playing until September 2nd. My tip to those planning to see this production - wear something light and breezy as there is no air conditioning in the warehouse. 

 

Published in Theatre in Review
Wednesday, 12 April 2017 14:27

The? Unicorn Hour? Come and Get Your Joy!

Leah Urzendowski and Anthony Courser have created a show that is part comedy, part play therapy that is truly a joy to behold. Don't skip the opening steps. When you enter the lobby, you will be asked to write down one of your fears and place it in an envelope. Then you will be asked to think of something that brings you Joy and bring that thought with you as you enter "The Joy Womb". The Neo Futurium has been cleverly lined with mismatched sheets, colored lights beneath to create a lovely, cozy joy womb effect. 

 

The? Unicorn? Hour? begins with an awesome light show in the "womb" accompanied by terrific music and sound effects to which Leah and Anthony (who are a couple in real life) enter wearing dark capes and much smoke, which is soon thrown off to show that they are actually dressed in beautifully crafted, silvery unitards as Unicorns of Joy! 

 

"The mighty rumpus that defeats the evil!" They cry out then ask if we are feeling scared, defeated etc. by what's going on in the world, inviting the audience to join them in their journey to transform fear into real joy. 

 

Both actors are fantastic physical comedians (having been creators together on the popular play "Burning Bluebeard", the unique show in which actors from the deathly 1903 Iroquois Theater fire where over 600 audience members were killed), and try to get through the show without killing their audience this time, as well. But Leah Urzendowski is a real dancer in every sense of the word, expressive, muscular, sensitive and flexible. Her dancing as the Unicorn takes the show into another realm of professionalism and put of pure clowning. 

 

There is a special guest from another show, I won't reveal because there will be a new special guest each week but this Eeyore-like character enters to the music "Lonely Boy" and the audience sees clearly that joy is a choice, as the pair tries to get him to cheer up using a bubble machine. He keeps insisting over and over, "Those bubbles are just gonna pop. There goes another one and another one, they are all popping!" 

 

There is a "swear square" where tensions are released by letting out swear words, but when Courser gets too carried away after starting off with innocent words like “dang” and “darn it” and the swearing turns mean and scary i.e. "I've got a bag of dicks and I'm going to stir it in a pot to make myself a dickwich to…," she eventually stops him. It's a tiny little feminist statement that many miss because in today's anything goes type of political correctness sometimes things just go too far in that dark "pornographic" way and women and children end up feeling threatened instead of empowered to express their own anger however gentle it may be. 

 

There is a fabulous physical bit where Courser pantomimes a journey to the top of a mountain that includes horseback riding, to flying, to parachuting to snow climbing among other fun-tastic feats. But as they both reach the top, the audience is suddenly enveloped in darkness and fear again. 

 

This is where the cast members come around and start asking us to name our fears and if we’d like to give them to the players to take away from us. Some of the fears in our audience were loneliness, fear of being alone in the dark, a pet or loved one dying, failure, never being more than I am now and drowning in cold water. But by the end of the show we are all asked to shout out our joys - the sound of a dog drinking water, a fresh piece of buttered toast, easy money, cuddling in bed all day, etc. and the room is restored to feelings of Joyous Surrender to the music and dancing these two have created. 

 

Their dance numbers really are both comical and extraordinarily demanding and professional, with the two winding about each other like seahorses made to fit as one beautiful, silvery creature with Leah's legs wrapped around Courser’s waist or even his neck as she peers out between his knees to whisper "JOY!" 

 

I have to say this is the MOST fun and joy I have had in recent years at any comedy in Chicago and promising an audience as stressed out as Chicago audience members are now by the political disasters and death unfolding around us every day, delivering a dose of real JOY in the theater world, is a REAL achievement! 

 

I highly recommend this hilarious, thought-provoking and most of all FUN, delightful, refreshing, exciting, comforting and colorful piece of work to anyone who is seeking to remember how to have a little joy in their lives right NOW. 

 

The? Unicorn? Hour? Runs just over an hour and is currently being performed at the Neo Futurium in Andersonville through May 13th (hopefully an extension will take place). For tickets and more show information visit www.neofuturist.org.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

 

 

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