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September Solo Shorts

By Justin Sondak in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 21, 2005 1:10PM

On the heels of this summer’s Fillet of Solo and Single File festivals, one-person shows are blanketing the theater landscape. The solo production represents a great opportunity for companies to pocket some change while performers stretch their muscles, feed their egos, and occasionally fast-track their talented selves to stardom. But to truly succeed, the solo performer needs to meet a particular standard: could we stand to be trapped in an elevator with them? We know that praise or blame also rests with the director, designers, and crew. But if we’re going to fork over the cash and spend an hour or two with one actor, they’d better bring their “A” game. We put four performers to the test.

yurilane.jpgActor, human beatbox, percussive wizard, and funky dancer, Yuri Lane is an undeniably talented dude. Four years ago, he conceived “Soundtrack City” as a hip-hop love letter to his native San Francisco. Chicago (and Chicagoist) was introduced to his breakneck style and verbal dexterity in 2004, when From Tel Aviv to Ramallah: A Hip Hop Journey rocked the Around the Coyote Festival. The thoroughly engaging and very fun Soundtrack City Chicago is more concerned with the epic struggles between greedy developers, movers, shakers, and stubborn tenants that you won’t see on the nightly news. Most impressive (and hardest for a humble review to do justice) is how Lane produces every note of music and all sound effects on his own. How does he double track his own voice? How does he keep his vocal beatbox and harmonica solo in check? How does he maintain enough focus to improvise dialogue and sound effects mid-scene? At a certain point, we stopped asking and simply enjoyed the show.

TracyEgan.jpgOne question we couldn't help asking later in the week is why parents are considerably more fascinated by stories of their children than everyone else. It's the problem at the heart of Tracey Egan’s Who’s Driving the Bus: My Year as a Kindergarten Mom. As writer and star, Ms. Egan portrays herself, her daughter and 15 other people who made this milestone year funny and meaningful enough to adapt for the stage. We don’t doubt that her experience was harrowing to live through and humorous in retrospect. But her gently comic observational humor has rather limited appeal beyond parents, educators, and possibly a very sharp grade schooler. The opening night audience comprised mostly the first two groups, and they clearly enjoyed themselves. An experienced actress and a mother of two, Ms. Egan invests her characters with fluid movements and an amusing range of facial expressions. She brings warmth and personality to those characters she feels strongest about—her family, a self-righteous social worker, and her kooky friends—at the expense of some of the kindergartners and other parents, not so much characters as types providing an easy laugh.

Delores Dogan, a showcase for the talented and endearing Emily Churchill, focuses entirely on its title character. Seeing Ms. Churchill inhabit one awkward teenager was an intriguing change from the more frenetic paced multi-character shows we’d seen earlier that week. For close to an hour and a half, Delores recounts stories of puberty, first love, humiliation at the hands of her peers, and embarrassingly graphic tales of her bodily functions from her bedroom (a meticulous recreation of mid-1980s suburbia). Churchill’s seemingly effortless comic timing and naïve charm kept her audience interested. But the show is a ‘Dear Diary’ confessional masquerading as a character study, never quite excelling in either department.

celisagrayer.jpgIt’s easy to assume that Personal Assistant, Celisa Grayer’s one-act about paying dues as a Hollywood gopher while working towards that elusive big break, is transcribed from her own life. Truth is Grayer’s never lived in La La Land and the people she’s worked with aren’t quite as eccentric. Like a good personal assistant, this Second City Conservatory alum knows how to keep her eyes and ears open to other people. Her sly wit illuminates over a dozen “it’s funny cause it’s true” character monologues, recognizing that people will look foolish if you let them prattle on enough. The best of these characters—a self-righteous Pakistani plastic surgeon, a domineering friend, and a tough yet sensitive hip-hop star—are so endearingly bizarre we would have liked to see her spend more time with them. And while this is Celisa’s show and story, an awkwardly staged climax suggests that a supporting actor could help this material. Regardless, this is an impressive breakout show that puts Grayer’s enthusiasm and intelligence on full display.

Yuri Lane’s Soundtrack City Chicago plays at the Viaduct Theater, 3111 N Western Ave, Chicago, Thursdays – Sundays through October 29. Tickets are $10-20. More information at

Tracey Egan’s Who’s Driving the Bus: My Year as a Kindergarten Mom plays at the Apollo Theater Studio, 2540 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, Thursdays – Saturdays through November 5. Tickets are $30. For more information, visit

Delores Dogan starring Emily Churchill plays at Strawdog Theatre, 3829 N Broadway, Chicago, Wednesday – Sunday, September 25. Tickets are $15. More information at

Celisa Grayer’s Personal Assistant plays Sundays at 8pm through Oct 2 at Second City’s Skybox Studio, 1608 N Wells St., 4th floor. Tickets are $8 general, discounts available for students with ID and Second City training center students. More information at