The lobby of Stage 773 for Just for Laughs on Saturday night was reminiscent of a can of sardines or perhaps a cattle herd, but once in The Box theater for The Playground presents Alone: Chicago’s Best Solo Acts, patrons got a bit of breathing room. The audience for the evening of one-person showcases was a modest but supportive one, who received the nine featured performers (plus host)—all of whom regularly appear in Gimme 5 and other sketch shows at comedy co-op The Playground Theater—warmly.
The show was off to a somewhat shaky start as host Gary Richardson battled with a faulty microphone and a caffeine buzz, but when he cast the microphone aside and read tweets from the fictional @travisthecowboy, the one man in Montana on Twitter, all was well. Chris Redd opened with a pop culture-heavy set. His standout premise celebrated mundane work accomplishments with the same enthusiasm as professional athletes, fist pumping and firing a mimed rifle in the air after he successfully waited on a table. Sarah Shook then performed a variety of diverse, character-driven material, including a stellar Keira Knightley impression that involved reading from the actress’s diary.
John Reynolds sported a new pair of glasses for each character he played. His quick but effective standout was a man who couldn’t say “Psst!” at a funeral, who whisper-shouted and made a scene as he tried to catch someone’s attention for a program. Patrick Rowland offered a gay divorce commercial (“Are you a bottom looking to be on top…financially?”) and a rap about breastfeeding from the POV of a baby gangster.
Claire Mulaney was unassuming as she took to the stage with her “Albanian woman whose television just broke” character, but had the audience cracking up as she apologetically recounted the plot of an episode of Friends. Her other offerings possessed that same subtle absurdity, including “The person using Yelp who just didn’t get it,” who panned her experience at Baja Fresh because that’s where she learned Whitney Houston had died.
Matt Barats stole the show with a mixture of brainy, silly, incredibly polished material. He opened with “Your favorite uncle,” who recounted his world travels with clever wordplay for every country at lightning speed. He also dropped literary jokes about The Great Gatsby and To Kill A Mockingbird, but before things got too highbrow he incorporated his mother’s suggestion to do funny walks as he switched characters. If he isn’t already on Saturday Night Live’s radar, he should be.
Ted Tremper tackled the difficult task of following Barats’s performance with gusto and a handful of glitter. His highlight was the waiter at a jazz-themed restaurant who sang Billie Holiday songs in customers’ faces. Asher Perlman closed out the evening on an absurd note, first soaking the floor in cheap champagne, then embodying a creepy water slide attendant who is always hanging loose (because the water slide cost him three fingers). The show came to a close abruptly, but the audience went away buzzing.