Saturday, September 14, 2019

American Maniacs Unlimited at Elgin Fringe Fest

History, Politics, Geography, Business — everything gets skewered* in "Manifest Destiny," the latest production by your friends from last year's Robert Frosty Theater Company.

Who says pirates can't attack your Montana hat shop? Who says the world market can't run on rutabagas? Who says you can't combine pitch day in the writer's room with the 1994 hit "Breakfast at Tiffany's" by Deep Blue Something? This is America, dammit, and it's our destiny!

(And this is what happens when you reorganize a small Chicago theater company which is interested in exploring other media and has a tight Instagram following ... and you don't have a mission statement.)

But once again, the award for "Best Anachronistic or Cross-Species Stage Violence" goes to ... you guessed it, American Maniacs!

Don't be the Saddest Boy in Illinois —put on that adult diaper and get down here to see their last show Sunday at 3pm at the Elgin Art Showcase. We know for a fact that people have been disemboweled for lesser reasons. What we don't know: was it horsemeat steaks? or horseburger?

* No crocodiles, cowboys, fishmongers, pirates, vikings, horses, little ponies, poets, puppeteers, führers or senators were physically harmed in the production of this show.

Chasity Gunn at Elgin Fringe Festival

First premise: We can't separate ourselves from our skin color. It's a coat we cannot take off and put away in the closet. And our coats aren't necessarily tailored for us — they may not flatter us.

Second premise: The world says that lighter is better.

This is the essential conflict of "The Sin in My Skin," by Elgin Poet Laureate Chasity Gunn, who uses original poetry, songs, found texts and character cameos to comment on her experience as a woman of color. This is no plain vanilla poetry reading; it's a powerful theatrical performance by a great writer whose speaking and singing voice is as clear and beautiful as her literary voice.

The costumes in this piece are more than just character accessories. They are symbolic skins that can be put on and taken off at will. Some can shed the weather, some can accentuate the figure, some can signal identity.

But when the coats come off, the last layer remains. To paraphrase another poet addressing the Great Bag Stuffer, "I am fearfully and wonderfully Brown."

Chasity Gunn presents this work one more time at Elgin Fringe Festival, Sunday at 1:30pm in the Exhibit Hall at the Hemmens Cultural Arts Center.

Thank You So Much For Coming at Elgin Fringe Festival

Note: the views expressed in this review do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editor or publisher of The Elgin Review.

Bonanza! This show has everything you love about perceived reality: song, dance, surveys, talk shows and headline news! It's called performance art because it defies standard classifications.What do you call a piece that begins with an audience assessment and ends with a campfire?  It's called "There Will Be a Test."

By way of a series of vignettes without clear boundaries, you'll travel from slow motion talking heads to a talking body to singing cowboys, and discover that reality is absurd at both extremes of space and knowledge. But fact, fallacy and fiction have one thing in common: it's all great material.

If it were possible to create a didactic piece of art whose agenda was the anti-agenda, it might look like this. And if the thing you remember most about a performance is the ending, then when Dad says it's bedtime, you trust him.

"This just in: Objectivism has been downgraded from Threatened to Endangered."

Maddy and Scott of Thank You So Much For Coming are just what this Fringe Festival needs. If only they had one more segment on Sunday ... but it's so hard to capture the 18-54 demographic in that time slot when the NFL is on another channel.

T.J. Regul at Elgin Fringe Festival

He's a bit of a ham, and just a little corny. But what did you expect from "The Quad Cities Magician," T.J. Regul from the Land of Ham and Corn?

How about drinking milk, making puppies, and collecting coins? Those are some of the excellent sleight of hand magic feats you'll see, performed seamlessly behind polished, old-fashioned showmanship.

And as T.J. points out: it's not about fooling you, nor about "believing" in magic, it's about having fun. And it is fun, funny, and fundamentally traditional, clean magic that all ages will enjoy.

"I'm a very big nerd," he says at one point in the show. But he is a charismatic nerd with a fringe heart of gold that every kid in the audience (and the kids at heart) fell in love with in 55 minutes or less.

Last chance to see Elgin native T.J. Regul is Saturday at 6pm at the Exhibition Hall at the Hemmens Cultural Center.

Your Silent Partner at Elgin Fringe Festival

There's been more talk about "Your Silent Partner" at the Elgin Fringe Festival than maybe any other show. If you're reading this and haven't seen it, then don't miss your last chance on Sunday at 3pm at the Exhibition Hall, downstairs at Hemmens Cultural Center.

The program description is mostly right: it's an interactive show featuring a silent clown with a showcase of collected objects. But leave your preconceptions behind and trust the Fringe buzz. You've never laughed so hard at giraffes, making a paper airplane, or blowing up a balloon.

For an act with no speaking the sound track is crucial, and the upbeat music in "Help Me Help You Help Yourself" blends with non-stop giggling, occasionally interrupted by uproarious outbursts of laughter.

Without spoiling anything, let's just leave this with two observations: (1.) sometimes the funniest things are what doesn't happen, and (2.) art is messy.

Tangi Colombel at Elgin Fringe Festival

In a Fringe World of queer-positive art, it's refreshing to see an act that dares to trip your trigger with old school humor, piano bar classics and a necktie.

Tangi Colombel is l'Amiricain en Miami in "Pardon my French," an hour-long cabaret show filled with music, light comedy and a captivating French accent that reminds you of everything you've ever seen in a movie set in a 1960's Parisian bar, complete with piano accompaniment.

Colombel is sweet and funny, and seems honest in his patter poking fun of French stereotypes. He might trample a little on your wokeness, but you'll forgive him because he's so cute and well, he's French!

Vraiment il se vend ... mais il est une bonne affaire ... pour seulement dix dollars!

This show is Frenchie and Fringey as hell. Come laugh and sing along with l'Amiricain!  Saturday at 6pm or Sunday at 4:30pm upstairs at Elgin Public House.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Melanie Moseley at Elgin Fringe Festival

In this autobiographical trip through modern relationship structures, "the gospel of sex positivity" is just one of the unexpectedly real expressions that may confront the more Puritanical of you. And yes, it's explained in "the Bible of ethical non-monogamy."

In "Sexology: The Musical," Mel Moseley combines storytelling, songs and humor to explore her evolution from traditional — but dysfunctional — monogamy to solo polyamory. It's part teaching and part confession, but those are really two sides of the same coin: truth telling.

She portrays three parts of herself with distinct props, posture and accents which serves to illustrate the delicate balance of integrity and compartmentalization that is necessary to thrive in a social milieu of fluid sexuality and fragile partnerships.

Her voice is bold and folksy like a preacher because she is a true believer: a believer in love, consent, good sex, equality, and enjoying our bodies while we can. Prepare to be "comperted." 

Check out Mel at the Fringe!

Madeline O'Malley at Elgin Fringe Festival

Snapshots of post-divorce dating, swimwear shopping, colonoscopies and mammograms scroll past you like an Instagram album of life after 40 as Madeline O'Malley knits together humorous personal stories in "This is 40." Which is not to suggest that knitting is something that "older ladies" do.

She is generous with relatable details that her female audience can appreciate, and resists almost all temptation to man-bash in this very funny and obscenity-free show. As a teacher by day, she must be fearless in front of a room full of people, fearless enough to wear white pants after Labor Day.

With a natural delivery free from over-rehearsed stiffness, she makes it look easy to reel off her vignettes and one-liners, so easy that one audience member shouted "you make me want to try stand up!"

She is easy to listen to, and it totally helps when you have original bits like "Spanx for Men," "Two Alexas," and "Buying Weed for Dad in a Home Depot Parking Lot." But beware: you'll see about 50 minutes of material, while sitting in a 45-minute chair. Predose with ibuprofen!

Catch "This is 40" Saturday at 9pm and Sunday 3pm at The Loft of Elements Preserved.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Marga Gomez at Elgin Fringe Festival

The moment Marga Gomez walks on stage, you recognize the natural talent for subtle comedic movement, character voices, great timing and a practiced, self-conscious command of space on a stage consisting of only a chair and a mic stand.

She is tweaking a "work in progress" at the syllabic level; but look beyond the professional dazzle to see a brilliantly paced, complex story that draws on gay Catholic Cuban-American identity (why isn't Gay capitalized?) to explore complex relationships that flash backward and forward across genders, latitudes, and generations.

Titled "The Spanking Machine," the bit uses a childhood friend as a humorous adult foil, but there's a point, accompanied by the sound of "so many locks in those New York apartments." This show is just like a perfect grownup spanking: all joy, with just a little bit of sting.

See it Friday at 6pm and Saturday at 7:30pm at the Theater at Side Street Studio Arts.

Cyrano-a-Go-Go at Elgin Fringe Festival

Forget about the nose ... Cyrano de Bergerac is the classic embodiment of a surrogate voice and unrequited love. By this definition he is essentially the archetype for all actors.

In this one-man show, Brad McEntire uses the landmark play as a device for sharing personal stories, history and commentary — combinations of purported fact, impressions and opinions that combine, as art always does, to deliver truth.

Moving in and out of different discourse worlds like distinct scenes in a play, McEntire alternately recites from the original 1897 Edmond Rostand play, relates anecdotes and even comments on the piece he is presenting. One message is "We're all just story tellers." Another is that poetry and warfare are just two separate mediums for declaring love, loyalty and freedom.

Complete with a printed study guide, it's a 70-minute think piece that deserves your attention. See McEntire as Cyrano Friday at 9pm, Saturday at 10:30pm and Sunday 4:30pm at the Theater at Side Street Studio Arts.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

This "Blonde" is Gold

With a sorority, a salon, a murder trial, #meToo, two dogs, two proposals and a massive Irish line dance, the story is almost too big for one night. But it was told in dazzling fashion by Fremont Street Theater Company as Legally Blonde, The Musical opened Friday at Cutting Hall in Palatine.

Based on a character from an original novel made famous by the 2001 film, Legally Blonde follows the journey of Elle Woods, a Delta Nu from Malibu, who evolves into a scholar and an unlikely legal genius.

It's a great leading role for Sarah Inendino (herself a doctoral student and music educator) in which to portray such a powerful combination of fashion, femininity and intelligence. She was fearless as Elle, tackling the lioness's share of singing, dancing and acting through numerous costume changes.

But the talent ran deep in this cast. In huge ensemble numbers with more than 20 people on stage, every artist was performing fully and consciously from head to toe. There were no mezzo-forte moments on this night: just a fortissimo fire hose of music and movement, electrified by outstanding costumes, lighting and set designs.

With vocal mics optimized for straight dialog the sung lyrics were hard to follow at times, but even if you don't already know this contemporary classic story you'll be blinded by the sheer spectacle of beauty and professionalism in this show.

Our favorite standout performance was by Jessica Means as Paulette, a salon stylist with high heels and a Boston accent who outperformed all the other tech and talent in the hall with bold and melodious solo lines and endearing comedic flair.

(The men in the show weren't bad either.)

Powered by a cast and crew numbering into the sixties — plus an 11-piece live orchestra — it's an astonishing production by Director Madeline Franklin, whose vision for this audacious, nonstop musical juggernaut seemed to come together flawlessly in front of a sold-out audience.

Tickets are still available for its second weekend, but act quickly because only three performances remain, September 13 and 14th at 7:30pm and September 15th at 3:00pm. Go to or