I've been meaning to blog about The Ville for far too long now and now I've waited until the last possible minute to promote its best episode yet. So if you're in Chicago, pay close attention and think about changing your plans for tonight.
The Ville is a continuing theatrical soap opera with a new episode performed and repeated throughout the month by Bare Boned Theatre Monday nights at Mary's Attic, the bar above Hamburger Mary's in Andersonville. When I first heard about it a couple of years ago, I was obviously intrigued. Long time readers know of my love of the soap opera format and that I even attempted an online version myself seven years ago or so. But it turned out that Chicago, being the large city of small neighborhoods that it is, I ended up not getting through the door to a show until I realized I had personal connection that got me there in a social obligation sort of way. And I'm glad I did.
This six degrees of separation (or three or two or one) is fitting when discussing the Ville because it is about -- in a large picture sort of way -- the close connections formed in a city -- telling Tales of the City for this particular burg in a Midwestern way for this century.
And like the original tales from 1970s San Francisco, I've founds its stories, straight and gay, humorous and dramatic, over-the-top and realistic to be hilarious and touching and happy and sad.
Among the many stories it tells is that of Lanie, a lesbian carrying a baby for her best friend and his partner who has spent the majority (maybe all) of this season on business in Japan -- which means his character has spent all of his stage time on screen via web cam. (This seems like some sort of decision that needed to be made for casting reasons, but many good soap twists have come about because cast lemons needed to be turned into lemonade -- and this is no exception.) Due to the stress of her pregnancy (and a fear of what may happen when she's asked to give up the baby she's been carrying to its gay dads), Lanie's girlfriend has left her and is spending time with her married co-worker with whom she has a past; to help out in the eighth and ninth month, Lanie's understanding mother who loves horror films and her not-so-understanding jealous sister have come to live with her. (All this led to a fantastically campy yet also frightening homage to Rosemary's Baby in October's Halloween episode.)
Among the other characters who may seem familiar in a Chicago archtype sort of way are the "sensitive" straight guy who manages to fuck up romantic relationships right and left, the obnoxious multi-ethnic gay dads who are ready to give the new parents-to-be advice and opinions whether or not it is ever asked for, and Alex the bitchy bartender who is carrying on a hot anonymous phone and net sex relationship with a girl she met on Craigslist.
As I'm writing this all from memory, I apologize that I can't give you much individual or character information, but the cast comes together as a true ensemble, so this feels right. Each actor plays multiple characters which allows them to display their dramatic and comedic talents in interesting ways, and I'm embarrassed to say that I've often not realized that certain characters were played by the same person.
The special holiday music episode that has been running since November is its strongest yet. With music written by Bare Boned's co-artistic director Jeffrey Bouthiette , it concludes the season in humorous and dramatic fashion -- tying up stories and giving you a killer cliffhanger that will certainly get me in a seat next year.
I won't spoil the story for you, but based on the strength of the music alone, I recommend you get your ass their tonight to see the final showing. (Over a month later, I still have some of them in my head after just one viewing.) As someone who's seen the previous three episodes, I was definitely involved in the twists and turns, but like soap geniuses like Agnes Nixon, Bill Bell, or James Reilly, Bouthiette and his co-artistic director Rebekah Walendzak* allow the story telling to unfolds in such a way that you can catch up to the plots without having ever seen it before but without previous viewers feeling like they are sitting through a bunch of expository recap.
So if you're in Chicago, get thee to The Ville tonight. It's entertaining theater and booze -- you can't go wrong with that.
* -- Like the actors, I'm also not too familiar with the writing team beyond those I know at Bare Boned, so I hope I'm not leaving anybody out. I think more than me getting it right, they'd rather have you just go and see the credits yourself.