ILLEGITIMATE PLAYERS COMEDY REVUE
at the Roxy
The glaring extremes of our mass-media culture are standard fare in today's Chicago comedy clubs: game-show hosts, television preachers, honest politicians. And while the Illegitimate Players certainly offer some of these expected bits, their current revue revolves more around the classics of English literature.
"Library" suggests an eerie future in which "readers" plug hand-held metallic orbs into their foreheads, thereby providing themselves with the outlines and condensed themes of the great novels. This scene has overtones of Reader's Digest meets 1984: the books are stripped of their subplots and "extraneous" details and electronically force-fed into people's brains (some books are offered in suppository style, a more direct method of gaining and holding knowledge). One reader plugs himself into Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises and begins chanting: "Contemplation, alienation, go for drinks." Meanwhile two others echo him with equally broad, equally twisted themes from Melville's Moby Dick and David Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago.
Most of the Illegitimate Players' literary targets are readily identifiable, and the players make lots of direct hits. In "Rapwoolf," however, based on Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, the aim seems to be to produce a clever takeoff, not something that's hysterically funny. This frenetic rap version of Albee's play about neurotic marriages, featuring Keith Cooper and Maureen Morley, elicited only sporadic laughs on the evening I was there. It may be that this skit is less accessible than most of the others, perhaps because it requires a better knowledge of the target. Still, it shows the Illegitimate Players' versatility, and with its rapid-fire timing and delivery, it was very skillfully done: the audience applauded at its close.
The longest piece of the evening is "On the Lakefront," a roughly stitched amalgam of Elia Kazan's On the Waterfront and Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie. Terry (Tom Willmorth) is a confused, discontented youth trapped in Chicago. But instead of working the docks, Terry rents paddleboats at the Lincoln Park pond. Overseeing the paddleboat concession is Cobb (Keith Cooper), a snarling old-style thug who runs a tight ship and suspects Terry of giving complimentary rides to local orphans. Cobb's tight rein only makes Terry more restless, and he yearns to emulate his father, who's a train conductor. Sister Malden (Maureen Morley) comes to Terry's aid: she plays the peacemaker by trying to cover the cost of the free rides by getting the sisters down at the orphanage to donate a jar of plasma.
At home Terry is beset by a chronically sweating mother (Kathleen Jensen) who entertains imaginary gentleman callers and a sickly sister (Maureen FitzPatrick) who clumps around the stage like a peg-legged sailor, admiring her miniature ice-cube animals. She says they sweat "just like Mother" in Chicago's oppressive summer heat.
While some of the caricatures wear thin--especially Morley's Sister Malden, who is more hard-boiled than any cop you'll ever meet--the story moves quickly, with none of the self-conscious winks or mugging that other companies use to signal their most recent pun. In fact these players move the story along so well that they earn the right to maul Marlon Brando's legacy: Terry complains to a friend (Doug Armstrong) that he "coulda been a conductor."
Employing little more than a few chairs and slight costume changes, the troupe transforms a cramped, bare stage into a showcase for their skewed worlds. The whole company acts well, slipping quickly in and out of numerous characters. But FitzPatrick and Willmorth stand out, with their exuberance and their seeming ability to change shapes and faces; FitzPatrick moves in successive scenes from a pasty, giggling teenager pulling impulsively at her pants to the middle-aged partner in a tacky husband-wife comedy team who wears pink floral bell-bottoms and laughs at her own jokes. Willmorth's equally broad range encompasses a pun-spouting Shakespearean prince and a wine-sodden flasher with crusty pants and a croaking voice.