Funnyman Review–Wendt Shines in Northlight Performance

Photo/M. Bresilow

The notion that comics perform to mask pain isn't new, but is explored deftly in the world premiere of Bruce Graham's play Funnyman.

Chick Sherman, an aging, formerly famous comic who after 40 years on Broadway is now best known for either being the "Mad Hatter or a guy with indigestion" comes to life in the deft hands of George Wendt. Wendt, of Cheers fame is perfectly cast in the title role as the hypochondriac comic who is best known for his trademark "Wowza!"

The play, set in 1959 explores some dark territory–Chick's life growing up as a child vaudeville star forced to perform to support his family, tragically losing his wife, and his inability to forge a relationship with his daughter, all the while trying to remain relevant as an artist.

Photo/M. Bresilow

Yet Chick, for all his sullenness, inspires an almost fierce loyalty from his daughter Katharine (Amanda Drinkall). Drinkall brings a matter-of-fact sensibility to the role while at the same time delivering an undercurrent of sadness at the missing pieces of her life. She continues to search for answers about her mother and her own upbringing, desperate to understand how her father could send her away to boarding school on the heels of her mother's death. Forced to resort to her own research when he refuses to answer, she makes some surprising discoveries about her mother, her father and her place in the world. A lighter subplot serves to defuse some of the darkness, introducing Nathan Wise (Michael Perez) as Katharine's coworker and lover.

Photo/M. Bresilow

Chick's agent, Milt "Junior" Karp (Tim Kazurinsky) is, like Katharine, loyal nearly to a fault. At this point in their relationship, they are more friends than agent and client, and Junior is anxious to protect Chick from the truth–that he hasn't had an offer for three years. So, he pushes Chick to reinvent himself in an off-Broadway absurdist drama, a desperate Hail Mary attempt to revive Chick's flagging career.

Titled "In Lucy's Kitchen," the play is written by gay Southerner Victor LaPlant (Rob Lindley), who is beside himself with joy that Chick Sherman is in his play, and directed by Matthew Baroni (Steve Haggard), who could care less and in fact is convinced Chick is wrong for the part. Chick, being the consummate performer, throws himself into the role, though he can neither understand nor relate to the story he is supposed to tell.

Photo/M. Bresilow

Over the course of an hour and fifty minutes, Wendt takes us masterfully through Chick's transformation from an aging has-been unable to form real relationships to a character filled with emotion he's now ready to express–proving that he is capable of so much more than just being a Funnyman.

Funnyman continues through October 25th at Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, IL.

 

 

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