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Sunday, June 24

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Airbags

Although I currently live in Columbus, Ohio, I lived in Evanston in the early '90s. I was working for Abbott Labs in North Chicago and my girlfriend was still living in W. Lafayette, Indiana, finishing her doctoral work. Occasionally, I would take the El to Broadway to hang out. One night, I had the urge to see a play. I love small theatrical productions; the intimate setting seems to bring out the intensity and raw emotion of the actors, and the performances are more engaging than larger scale theater.

"Cannibal Cheerleaders on Crack" at the Torso Theater on Broadway sounded like just what I needed to satisfy my need for entertainment. It's a fun, gory, full-of-bodily fluids, futuristic play about moral decay in society. From the opening dildo scene, I was hooked. It was a blast. The second time I visited, it happened to be their 300th performance and there was free beer! The cast bought a keg and beer flowed throughout the performance for all the lucky patrons. I'm seeing a play for less than $10, I get free beer and don't have to dress uncomfortably? Had I just gone to heaven? Chicago was theater.

My girlfriend visited one weekend and to her apparent horror (and eventual delight), I introduced her to "Cannibal Cheerleaders." A proud veteran of the performance, I watched again but with divided attention. I couldn't resist watching her reaction to the spewed fluids and antics. After some time had passed, I believe she realized she had learned something new about me and what I considered fun.

Another memorable theater experience was a performance in Evanston. My girlfriend had graduated and was then living with me in Evanston and my sister was visiting from Boston. My family members rarely venture west of I-95, so to celebrate the journey I was going to introduce her so something special. I certainly did. Having had some luck with theater, I turned to the Next Theater Company. They were performing "Killer Joe." It's about a dysfunctional trailer park family and an insurance scam. Sounded like something we don't get to see every day (no one I know admits to watching Springer). An intimate setting for theater, trailer park theme, dysfunctional, maybe violently disturbing -- we're there. The first scene opened with a trailer park cutie opening the door to a vigorous knock in the dark of night. As the scene opened and a light shone on the young actress, it was revealed she was wearing nothing but a skimpy cropped tank top. Nothing.

Lots of references to Kentucky Fried Chicken, full frontal nudity and a violent and disturbing plot. "Killer Joe" was the kind of performance you don't stand up and heartily clap for. You simply try to clear the image from memory and, when healed, admit it was a great performance. I loved it. My sister and girlfriend? Not quite sure. We never had the opportunity to go back.

My sister returned home, perhaps a bit off-center but with a memory of Chicago she would not soon forget. I'm not sure she'll ever be able to eat "K Fry C" again.

I looked up these plays recently and saw they are both alive and well in Chicago. In fact, "Cannibal Cheerleaders on Crack" (reviewed here) appears to have a cult following akin to the Rocky Horror Picture Show. It's still playing at the Chopin Theater on W. Division and is only $12 for tickets (up from about $8 in 1992). "Killer Joe" was originally performed in Evanston in 1993 (reviewed here) and is still around Chicago currently playing at The Theater on North Halsted. The performance has also been performed in 12 languages and around the world.

When I attended these performances, I was having fun in a fun city. In retrospect, I was enjoying a part of Chicago's pop-culture history.

David Scarpetti makes beer at Dave's Beer.

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