At Pride Films and Plays, Short Scenes Pack a Big Punch
In the past few years, new media like Twitter, Vine, and Snapchat have resoundingly reaffirmed an old truth. Sometimes a very brief message can have a tremendous impact. You could put up a giant neon sign announcing this in the heart of the city, but it wouldn’t speak as loudly as the new round of Pride Films and Plays’ late-night sketch show, 26.
Versatile Collaborative Anthology
The show consists of twenty-six short pieces, most around two-and-a-half minutes. These pieces are all original, written by the seven writer-performers of the ensemble, several guest writers, and the director. The writers were randomly assigned letters of the alphabet and instructed to develop a scene inspired by a word beginning with their letter.
The results are fantastically varied. There are funky off-beat music video-style song-and-dance numbers. There are vital conversations about the exploitation and erasure of women in our society. There are jokes you might find scrawled on a bathroom wall, jokes you might hear on SNL, and jokes that wouldn’t seem out of place at that the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. There is wit and despair and hope and silliness and insight and confession all interspersed with each other and rattled off at a breakneck pace.
You can only marvel at the performers delivering these sketches, jumping from one persona and emotional state to another in the time it takes to go from a cathartic, lovelorn monologue to “Y is for YOLO.” Or no, that’s not quite right: you can marvel, yes, but you can also laugh, cry, gasp, boo, snort, whoop, and do a spit take. The latter especially if you are the audience volunteer selected to undertake a challenge involving certain Chicago-made bitter liqueur in “F is for Fidget Spinner.”
Heart of Honesty Shines Through
What is really remarkable here is how each sketch—every single one—seems to come from a place of truth. From the puerile to the profound, the performers engage the audience in these stories, allowing you to feel the kernel of reality in even the most absurd or surreal situation. Perhaps especially in those.
In one of the most powerful pieces of the night, a young woman confronts and overcomes each of the major challenges she’s faced in life, cleverly illustrated by fistfights between her and the other ensemble members representing these events. The title is “U is for Unbreakable,” a nod to writer-performer Hannah Mary Simpson’s indomitable spirit and affinity for Ellie Kemper’s title character in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
Yet after defeating every outside obstacle, Simpson opens up and admits that although she wants to be resilient, after all she has survived and accomplished, she is so very tired. This moment of astonishing vulnerability comes at you sideways and takes your breath away. Seeing her defeated demons come together to offer her a comforting group hug is a beautiful final moment to the scene.
If you are a fan of dramatic acrobatics, actors ripping through a wide spectrum of roles and scenarios in a minuscule amount of time, you are likely to have a lot of fun at this Pride Films and Plays production. As Shakespeare wrote, “brevity is the soul of wit.” And also as with Shakespeare, even if you come just for the dick jokes, you’ll still be moved by the language and characters.
This is a splendid fit for fans of the Neo-Futurists’ The Infinite Wrench, Barrel of Monkeys’ That’s Weird, Grandma, and Whose Line Is It Anyway?
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO. Click here to read — Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Pride Arts Center
4147 N. Broadway
Chicago, IL 60613
Now through September 23, 2017
Purchase online at Pride Films and Plays Website, or by phone at 1-800-737-0984
Photos courtesy of Pride Films and Plays.
Full Disclosure:The author of this review is a personal friend of director Allison Heinz, and has a keen professional interest in her work.
Note: an excerpt of this review appears in Theater in Chicago.
About the Author:
Harold Jaffe is a poet, playwright, amateur trapeze artist, freelance greeting card designer, and now, unexpectedly, a theater critic. He earned a BS in Electrical and Computer Engineering at Olin College and since returning to Chicago has worked extensively with Cave Painting Theater Company and the late great Oracle Productions. His chapbook Perpetual Emotion Machine is now available at Women & Children First, and his reviews of shows around town are available right here.