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Toast of the Town at Factory Theater

Published on 15th November 2012

★★★☆☆

Factory Theater. By Scott OKen and Ernie Deak. Dir. Nick Digilio. With ensemble cast. 1hr 20mins; no intermission.

Scott OKen and Ernie Deak’s high-energy farce, first produced by the Factory Theater in 2005, works its comic chops on a number of levels. Most straightforwardly, it’s an affectionately juvenile spoof of Chicago’s theater scene, with playwright Goldie McJohn (Timothy C. Amos) struggling to break through from modest successes at small theaters and into more prestigious institutions like the Lawdy Mama Theatre Company (chief selling point: “It’s by the lake!”). With his wife soon to give birth to their first child, Goldie’s about to give up showbiz when Lawdy Mama’s high and mighty (or just plain high) bigwigs Chief Floyd Rose (Dennis Schnell) and Commissioner Thurston deBladderhorn (Anthony Tournis) decide to give him a slot in their season. High jinks involving nutty actors, eccentric directors, douche bag day-job managers and tall- pouring theater bars ensue, with some solid tweaks of establishment attitudes (“Theater has no place for new talent!”) and of the city’s critical phalanx.

But Toast of the Town is equally an homage to old-school comedy, with tips of the hat to fast-talking funnymen from the Marx Brothers to Benny Hill. Exaggerated double takes and wacky props abound; apropos of nothing, Deak strolls through a few times playing Bob Hope playing himself. (Yes, Hope was already dead at the time of the show’s first run.) Deak, OKen and director Nick Digilio pack the runway so tight that not everything can land, and not all of the 18 cast members can keep up the pace without stumbling. But a few—Laura McKenzie’s deranged director, Tony Kaehny’s impossibly gay rival playwright and Chas Vrba as his jumpsuited henchman—more than deserve a toast.

Time Out Chicago issue no. 403, November 15–21, 2012