"I think," said David Schwimmer over breakfast the other day, "that this may be one of the funniest plays Lookingglass has ever done."
Frankly, that's not a high bar.
One associates Lookingglass with drama, insight and beauty, for sure. But raucous comedy? Well, there have been a few lighter shows over the years. And as fans of "Friends" well know, Schwimmer knows his way around comedy. But laugh riots generally have not been the entertainment of choice in the Water Tower Water Works.
One might say something similar about Keith Huff, the highly accomplished Chicago playwright who has turned into a big player on the TV-writing scene, what with stints in the writers' room for "Mad Men" and "House of Cards" under his belt. Huff, whose father-in-law was a Chicago police commander, is known for intense, crime-related dramas — most especially for "A Steady Rain," which transferred from Chicago Dramatists to Broadway with stars Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman.
So "Big Lake Big City," a sprawling, brawny, fast-paced, pulpy, Chicago-based comedic epic with nods to romance, film noir and screwball, as penned by Huff and directed by Schwimmer, is something of a new direction. Previews began Wednesday; opening night is slated for June 29.
Actually, the new direction is true in more ways than one. Huff's shows to date have all been small-cast affairs. He has been known for monologues and duologues. But underneath that sense of theatrical practicality, it seems, a dreamer lurks. "Ever since I saw 'Balm in Gilead' at Steppenwolf in the 1980s," Huff said, "I've been interested in writing a big play for an ensemble."
Huff and Schwimmer first hung out together after Schwimmer saw Huff's "Steady Rain" on Broadway. "I asked him to please keep us in mind if he had anything else," Schwimmer said.
Turns out Huff did, although the TV stuff delayed things a little. He sent Schwimmer the unproduced script.
"Right away," Schwimmer said, "I knew this was the next thing I wanted to direct at Lookingglass."
These days, Schwimmer has become a busy director. One of the next things on his plate is the New York premiere of "Sex With Strangers," as penned by his fellow Lookingglass ensemble member Laura Eason. At Lookingglass most recently, Schwimmer helmed "Trust," a play about Internet predators.
Although it started out with a bigger sprawl, both men say that "Big Lake Big City" has been streamlined during various workshops. But, Huff said, it still requires 10 actors and 37 scenes. "Thirty-eight," corrected Schwimmer. "No one ever sits down."
The plot of "Big Lake Big City" centers on a detective with a slew of assorted problems, both personal and professional, not the least of which is the need to catch up with a criminal with a screwdriver attached to his head. Huff also said that he was intrigued by the Navy Pier Ferris wheel (a location in the show, which is set in Chicago streetscapes) and the annoyance it famously gave to the residents of Lake Point Tower, a posh skyscraper whose residents suddenly were staring out at a carnival.
Huff got pretty excited (well, for a breakfast interview) when he started talking about his screwdriver-in-the-head thing, noting the choice that one gets in the event of such a mishap. Do you walk around with this thing in your head, given that you'd probably do OK for a while? Or do you get it taken out and take your chances (good luck with that)? Such are the questions of "Big Lake Big City," which the men say is a summer tribute to Chicago's underbelly.
Comedy, Huff said, does not mean you can't be honest. On TV, cops always seem to be working on one big case only. In reality, they feel like their heads are about to explode. That, Schwimmer and Huff both allow, is the modus operandi and general feeling of "Big Lake Big City."
'Big Lake Big City'
When: In previews, opens June 29, through Aug. 11
Where: Lookingglass Theatre, 821 N. Michigan Ave.
Price: $28-$70; 312-337-0665 and lookingglasstheatre.orgCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun