Toast of the Town (Factory Theater): Chicago theater a-gag-gag

Toast of the Town (Factory Theater): Chicago theater a-gag-gag

Reviewed by Tom Lawler

In celebration of its 20-year anniversary – a grand achievement for any storefront theater company, let alone one as singularly proletarian, industrious and uncompromising as the Factory Theater – the ensemble has revived its 2005 Chicago satire, Toast of the Town.  As with any Factory production, the more context you bring into it, the more you’ll get out of it.

To call this a “backstage farce” undersells it. Based on an abundance of one-liners and cultural references stuffed into this script by Factory scribes Scott OKen and Ernie Deak (both also featured in the cast), the Factory should be doing nothing less than passing out tablets with fully-annotated Wiki pages before each performance.  Those slow on the uptake won’t be helped by director (and Factory veteran) Nick Digilio who pushes his cast through the paces at maximum volume and velocity. But I’ve come to praise a play that aspires to combine the pacing and wordplay of Preston Sturges with the flamboyant performance styles of after-school cartoons, the Marx Brothers and Judy Holliday, among others. Do all of the gags land? No. But is anyone in this production afraid to shoot the J? Surely not.

It helps to be familiar with old-timey speech patterns (or at least as parodied on The Simpsons) to properly enjoy the work of Dennis Schnell and Anthony Tournis as scheming theater producers. Likewise, it’s invaluable to summon the Hanna-Barbera oeuvre to fully savor the exquisite Dick Dastardly-like mustache twirling and clenched line readings of the play’s tortured villain (played by Tony Kaehny and his Muttleyish sidekick, Chas Vrba). At the center of this energetic ensemble is Laura McKenzie, who hits the perfect broad and zany notes as the eccentric and possibly delusional director hired by earnest playwright Goldie McJohn (Timothy C. Amos) and may think she’s actually directing a movie instead of a play. There are times when you wonder if Digilio has the same notion as you endure the fifth or twentieth scene change scored to another ‘80s pop song: Would he rather be making this as a movie?

As a showcase for some truly committed and live-wire comedic performances, TOOT is worth seeing. In fact, actually being in the 18-person cast may be the ideal vantage point here for enjoyment. As I watched the entire cast on stage conjure its madcap magic in the grand finale, I was convinced they were having a better time than me -- and I wasn’t having a bad time at all with this wacky bunch.

Running Time: 90 minutes without an intermission.

At the Factory Theater, 3504 N. Elston

Written by Scott OKen and Ernie Deak

Directed by Nick Digilio

Fridays, Saturdays at 8pm

Sundays at 3pm

Thru December 15

Buy Tickets at thefactorytheater.com or call 312-409-3247.

 

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