Reviewed by Jasleen Jaswal Vines
Big name theaters in Chicago garner a lot of attention (and deservedly so) for the quality of their productions and the stars that grace their stage (for a current example, check out the media frenzy over “The Iceman Cometh”). Often overlooked are smaller Chicago theater companies that fly under the radar: just as brilliant, but without the budgets or big names working to garner more attention.
One of those companies is Factory Theater, operating out of The Prop Theater on Elston. Every production the Factory has mounted has been written, performed, produced, and directed by members of the ensemble. Dark, witty, often obscene and always engaging, Factory shows are original in every sense of the word. (This would be a good time for some disclosure: my husband was the lighting designer for a number of Factory Theater shows in the mid-2000s.)
This season, the Factory is celebrating its 20th anniversary season with remounts of three of its hit shows. The first, “White Trash Wedding and a Funeral”, was originally produced in 1995 and again in 2001. The central plot is nothing new – boy and girl want to get married, girl is planning to kill boy and his mother after the wedding for money. The twist is the setting (an American Legion Hall), the characters (the more déclassé their behavior, the better), and the outright raunchiness that graces the stage at every moment of the show. Did I think that, at any point in my life, I’d witness a veritable fountain of fake semen spraying across a theater stage? No, I did not.
Believe it or not, the raunch, rude gestures, and vulgarity do serve the plot – these characters aren’t meant to be sympathetic – and the show is hilarious. The ensemble is adept at bouncing their manic energy around the stage without going overboard. A vivid flashback scene gives performers Phil Claudnic (village idiot Drew) and Ryan Oliver (war vet George) a chance to stand out with fist-pumping interpretations of rock and pop songs, and Jennifer Pompa (mother of the bride Gladys) stands out as a woman trying to hold it together on her daughter’s big day…when she’s not puking from overimbibing.
All in all, “White Trash Wedding and a Funeral” is a hoot of a play with a silly little twist of an ending. If this doesn’t sound like the show for you, don’t let it keep you from discovering one of the best theater companies in Chicago. The remainder of the anniversary season features remounts of “Ren Faire! A Fistful of Ducats!” and “Toast of the Town”, both of which are equally funny but remarkably different in tone, topic, and raunch. Those shows go up in July and November respectively.
THREE WORDS: Factory alum Geoff calls it “freewheeling raunchy fun”.
Running time: 1 hour, no intermission
At The Prop Theater
Written by Mike Beyer and Bill Havle.
Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm
Runs through June 2nd
Tickets available at www.thefactorytheater.com or by calling 866.811.4111
Christine Jennings as Leanne, Shannon O'Neill as Connie, Phil Claudnic as Drew and Jordan Hoisington as Lonnie. Photo by Paul Metreyeon.