"Black and Blue" ***
It's no coincidence that so many of the comedies created by the Factory Theater take place in a barroom setting. This motley group of writer-performers have a keen appreciation for tavern culture and alcohol-soaked camaraderie, and when they play it relatively straight — as they do here — the result is a familiar yet entirely welcome variation on a formula perfected by "Cheers," whereby two brothers (Anthony Tournis and Greg Caldwell, who legitimately look and sound like siblings) convene at the bar run by their old man to watch Chicago's baseball teams duke it out on TV.
One brother is a Cubs fan, the other a Sox fan, and their friendly (and occasionally not-so-friendly) ribbing becomes a riff on their deeper family dynamics. The city's divided MLB loyalties become a metaphor for their own complicated bonds.
There is, naturally, the requisite dressing down of each team and the fans — arialike zingers that hit their targets in equal measure without getting personal. That's worth noting. A Chicago play through-and-through (director Nick Digilio and Tournis are co-writers), the narrative needs more momentum and focus but it is anchored by a Midwestern decency that I found hugely affecting.
That's a departure from Factory's typically gag-heavy aesthetic, and I can't help but wish the company would go in this direction more often, especially when you see what this ensemble is capable of, acting-wise.
Pop (Brian Amidei) is testosterone personified in his buzz cut and mustache, a gruff, hardnose type who quite obviously loves his sons. It's a role that could have easily turned into caricature, but Amidei and his fellow cast members (including Ernest Deak as the seen-it-all bartender) are giving human-sized performances that make up for the script's deficiencies. The bar is a neighborhood joint that feels very much rooted in Chicago's drinking culture, where you won't find any Old Style. But old-timers? Plenty of those around, offering up non-sequiturs and commentary and played with just enough salt and idiocy by Zach Bloomfield and John Moran.
Through Sept. 3 at Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston Ave.; tickets are $15-$20 at 866-811-4111 or thefactorytheater.com
"Put My __ In Your __" **
Channeling Andy Warhol in everything but name, the newest show from The Mammals, titled "Put My __ In Your __ aka Your 15 Minutes of Finger," gets points for its sardonic resurrection of 1960s-era poseurs. But there is little else in this show to grab your attention.
Warhol's Factory (not to be confused with the theater company referenced in the review above) was as distinctive an ecosystem as any, but what writer-director Bob Fisher aims to say about this particular moment in pop culture history remains a blur. Not quite skewering Warhol's scene so much as recreating it (Ann Sonneville's take on Edie Sedgwick is especially good), the show becomes a wearying repetition of underdeveloped characters cycling through ideas and faux-disturbing tableaux that don't add up to much more than eye candy.
Through Aug. 27 at Zoo Studio, 4001 N. Ravenswood Ave., suite B-1; tickets are $20 at 866-593-4614 or firstname.lastname@example.org