On Wednesday I had a discussion about geriatric audiences at Chicago's well-established theater companies. On Thursday I went to the Neo-Futurarium, where I was the only person over 40 and the only person with gray hair ( well, salt-and-pepper ) . Two things were apparent: ( 1 ) I was a duck out of water, receiving suspicious 'What's he doing here?' looks, and ( 2 ) I was the only discerning member of the audience.
Playwright: team written; conceived by
Dean Evans, Jay Torrence and Ryan Walters
At: Neo-Futurists, 5133 N. Ashland
Phone: 773-275-5255; $15 ( Thursdays pay-what-you-can ) Read more story below....
Runs through: May 17
The Neo-Futurists' current show has a great gimmick. Duplicating the process of a weekly sitcom, they gathered a team of writers each of whom played Lead Writer for two weeks, guiding the others into crafting six half-hour ( roughly ) scripts for sitcom pilots. Bookended by a wicked framing device, they are presenting the six pilots for one week each, with the audience voting as to whether or not the pilot should be 'picked up' by the network.
I saw the Week 4 pilot, No Place Like Home, for which Lauren Sharpe was head writer and director. It drew heavy laughs from the twentysomethings and thirtysomethings, and sometimes was funny in a macabre and/or offensive way, but for the most part was lame. I gave it thumbs down and was outvoted 49-1. As I said, I was the only discerning member of the audience.
The essential problem is that No Place Like Home made no effort to be a viable sitcom pilot. Rather, it condescended towards sitcoms. It purported to be about a young woman who returns to her small-town roots after disappointment in the big city. What it was, instead, was a country-fried burlesque of Southern gothic, and a rather broad one at that, tossing into the hopper dream sequences, lots and lots of gay jokes ( every man in the pilot was gay, including the heroine's father, and not in a positive way ) and even a murder—which one always sees in sitcoms, of course. A typical gag line: 'You guys hear how Mr. Beamer dry-humped that dead pig?'
It's a challenge indeed to craft a true sitcom script that establishes a consistent context, if not always a believable one, and manages to be funny through character. Creating a Shock Theater version is just lazy; you always can draw attention by dropping your drawers. In fact, the framing device—which remains the same for each pilot—nearly does that as three men strap polystyrene phalluses to their legs and joke about Charna Halpern, Del Close and 'the next dead bloated Farley.' This material is tasteless insider stuff for improvisational actors, but at least it's true lampoon.
No Place Like Home is over; perhaps the final two pilots, Too Much and The Mime, will be better. Or maybe I'm just too geriatric to get it.