Defies Explanation, Fabulously
The best advice you will get about 26, the Pride Arts Center’s first late night comedy, is just go see it. With such a varied collection of performances, each with its own distinct spirit, this show can’t be simply labeled or categorized. You need to experience it for yourself.
Grief and Humor Intertwine
The 8 writer-performers and 10 guest writers of 26 were given letters of the alphabet at random and free reign to interpret their letters however inspiration struck them. These different sensibilities shine through and make for a sometimes staccato ride.
“A is for Announcement” is a master class in gallows humor, portraying a hapless cult member so disorganized he shows up late to the congregation’s mass suicide. “D is for Depression” straddles the border between psychic pain and body horror, while “G is for Gesundheit” is a pure dose of sitcom goofiness. And you’ll find yourself wishing you could send a letter back to your own 12-year-old self after watching the unsparingly honest “V is for Vulnerable.” From beginning to end, this production does not let go of your attention or emotions for a moment.
Just Keep Laughing and Making New Observations
In a show of 26 very different sketches, songs, plays, and poems, some are more fun and accessible. Others are more thoughtful or challenging. Still others are absurd, bizarre, or even dadaistic.
But as you get used to the alphabetic conceit and the letter—title—piece—repeat structure, you might be surprised to find your yourself drawn into stories you wouldn’t normally go for. Heavy imbibers and teetotalers alike will cheer their heads off as Kallie Rolison attempts a single-player drinking game fueled by the bitter liqueur Malört in “T is for Three.” Sexism is the object of both satirical punching up in “I is for Indecent” and a very literal beatdown in “C is for C***.” The rom-com meet cute gets a magical, queer twist in “X is for Xena.”
Not every piece will resonate with every audience member. Some parts might discomfit, horrify, or offend more sensitive viewers. Nevertheless, this is a terrific example of a show that will make you laugh and make you think—often both at the same time.
Pride Films and Plays Questions Reality with Strong Talent
As clever and creative as all this is, marching through the ABCs is the kind of journey that could easily get predictable or tiresome. Fortunately, that is not the case here. The writer-performers throw themselves into every piece with gusto, inviting the audience to get just as invested in their characters.
With little furniture and few props or costume pieces, this commitment makes the actors pop. The alley staging of the theater lets them breathe out these stories in 360°, entirely at ease in their space and skins. It also makes you wonder what all of this looks like from the other side of the room. Don’t be surprised if you leave tempted to come back and watch the whole 26 from another angle.
The author of this review is a personal friend of both writer-performer Alyssa Ratkovich and assistant director Allison Heinz, and has a keen professional interest in their work.
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, where it will remain until the end of the run. 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 July 14, 2017
Fridays at 11:00PM
Purchase online at http://bit.ly/pac26 or by phone at 1-800-737-0984
Photos by Brian Gore
Note: An excerpt of the review appears in Theatre 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.