The 17th annual Fillet of Solo Festival kicked off last week in Rogers Park and highlights, as always, the art of the monologue. The production values tend to be minimal because the focus here is storytelling. The fest continues through Jan. 19 at Lifeline Theatre and the Heartland Studio Theatre; tickets are $10 per show at 773-761-4477 or lifelinetheatre.com.
"How I Jack Master Funked the Sugar in My Kneecaps!"
As a teenager, Penelope Walker developed juvenile diabetes, which put a temporary chink in her self-assured poise, but really this is a story of a personality, a big, uncontainable personality of a woman remembering herself as a funny kid, growing up in Chicago and discovering house music and planning neighborhood parties.
Every time the beat kicks in, Walker can't help but dance. She is exuberant and cheeky when she moves. Confident when she moves. Something about that incessant groove of house music suddenly puts her in her most natural state.
Walker is a local actress who has appeared in several shows at the Steppenwolf and the Goodman, including multiple returns in the annual "A Christmas Carol" (this year as Mrs. Cratchit), but here she's entirely herself. Or, rather, lost in the memory of herself: adorable, moody, lost, full of something. A girl coming into herself.
And when she's not playing herself, she's playing versions of her over-enunciating father and her easily riled mother, the latter of whom hailed from Mississippi but told everyone she was from Louisiana, a detail Walker herself can't explain. Yet you understand who her mother is immediately.
Also 5 p.m. Jan. 19 at the Heartland Studio Theatre, 7016 N. Glenwood Ave.
Five From Rogers Park
There is a wide range of skill and experience on this bill of performers, some of whom would benefit from a seasoned mentor. Monologues need to be more than a forum for complaint, which is what we get, alas, in both Eve Brownstone's barely there material about being an identical twin and Amanda Rountree's piece about her sister's off-putting political leanings.
A good monologue should build to something, even if it is just a punch line. Liz Baudler attempts that with the story of losing her virginity, but her anecdote, though filled with details that suggest a revelation somewhere down the line, isn't the collection of monumental mishaps she paints it to be. There's not enough there there.
I'll forgive an awkward performance every time if the writing dances in your ear and is specific to a person's outlook on life. But strong writing is key. Otherwise you're just watching someone give voice to half-formed thoughts. That's not a show. That's not even an interesting bar conversation. With the live-lit scene exploding in Chicago, audiences expect a higher level of storytelling mastery.
On that front, Betsy Vandercook shows big potential with "Hot Norwegian Chicks in Logan Square" (about her grandmother's generation of young Norwegian women who worked as maids in turn-of-the-century Chicago). The story is nearly there. It just needs to go deeper and peel back more about Vandercook herself, or at least the expanse of her imagination.
The one to see here is Katherine Chronis' whacked-out piece of neurosis called "The Dookie Award" (accompanied by the tension-filled sounds of Katie Bender's violin), in which she describes, in a wonderfully rambling Woody Allen-esque patter, her descent into a kind of clear-headed madness as she moves back home to care for her father, who has health issues.
As the title makes clear, this is a story about human waste. Her father's distressed bowels leave a trail of excremental Jackson Pollocks throughout the bathroom, over and over again, which she cleans up, each time with a new philosophy on her lot in life: "I got skills, people!" she laments at one point. It is a scatological nightmare, but one that becomes increasingly absurd and profoundly comical, because what other response is there but to laugh? There's a lot of windup in Chronis' piece, but the payoff is worth it.
Also 5 p.m. Sunday at the Heartland Studio Theatre, 7016 N. Glenwood Ave.
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