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THEATER Chicago's City Lit has anxiety on tap with 'Two Hours in a Bar'
by Scott C. Morgan
2024-03-21

This article shared 6906 times since Thu Mar 21, 2024
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Two Hours in a Bar

Waiting for Tina Meyer by Kristine Thatcher with material by Larry Shue

Text Me by Kingsley Day (Book, Music and Lyrics). At: City Lit Theater, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.. Tickets: 773-293-3682 or citylit.org; $34. Runs through April 21

Might City Lit Theater's Two Hours in a Bar lead to a string of future community theater licensing deals? If so, this show that conjoins a world-premiere musical onto a piece of '80s theatrical archeology could become a lasting theatrical legacy of outgoing City Lit producer and artistic director Terry McCabe.

Two Hours in a Bar is a double bill of comic one acts, which both deal with nervous romantic rendezvouses tinged with mystery. Up front is the "world stage premiere" of Waiting for Tina Meyer, while the contemporary gay dating musical Text Me rounds out the show.

At least one "big-name" author is attached, and he would undoubtedly attract attention from many a community theater producer scheduling upcoming theater seasons. But this playwright can't be given a top billing.

Waiting for Tina Meyer is credited to resident City Lit playwright Kristine Thatcher with material by Larry Shue (emphasis added). That's right! Larry Shue, the late author of the oft-produced hit stage comedies The Nerd and The Foreigner, previously teamed up with Thatcher back in their acting days at Milwaukee Rep to create Waiting for Tina Meyer.

In a recent interview with the Lansing State Journal, Thatcher said the estate of Larry Shue contractually insisted that she take top billing for their collaboration (Shue perished in a commuter airplane crash in 1985). Yet Thatcher said the billing really should be reversed, since she credits Shue with most of the work on what originated as an agent-requested script for the TV sitcom One Day at a Time.

The shortness of Waiting for Tina Meyer is likely what helped to keep it stuck on the shelf all these years. So, City Lit came up with a solution by commissioning Kingsley Day (Aztec Human Sacrifice, Tour de Farce) to write the book, music and lyrics to Text Me, which also deploys a five-member ensemble to appear in a similar tavern setting.

Waiting for Tina Meyer is set on New Year's Eve in a Connecticut Irish bar as two heterosexual actors in a touring musical await a woman who slipped a stage-door note to one of them during that evening's performance. Anticipation is also what fuels Text Me, which centers around a gay guy anticipating an IRL date from a torso-only online chatter.

Director McCabe's pairing of Waiting for Tina Meyer with Text Me is largely fun and fluffy, if a tad lightweight in the drama department (particularly in Day's Text Me, which echoes the 2013 Broadway musical First Date a little too strongly).

McCabe's casting for Two Hours in a Bar also isn't always ideal. Only some performers rise to the necessary character acting challenges of both a cuddly sitcom-style romantic comedy and a contemporary musical where the songs emerge from smart phone text messages.

Jimmy Hogan gets the flashiest acting opportunities, and is the most successful of pulling off both the narcissistic and chauvinistic star actor Walter in Waiting for Tina Meyer and the very tall and hook-up mishap-prone Ian in Text Me. Hogan is a delight in both pieces as he confidently inhabits his very different characters.

Kat Evans is also doubly great, particularly with her lovely singing voice as Ian's escape-plan gal pal in Text Me. Evans also provides wry comic support as the boss bartender Robin who revels in Thatcher and Shue's rejoiners to many of Walter's unsolicited flirtations.

Playing widowed characters in Waiting for Tina Meyer, marssie Mencotti and Freddy Mauricio don't quite plumb the necessary dramatic depths of Thatcher and Shue's script. Yet Mencotti is far more comfortable as an eccentric billed in Waiting for Tina Meyer as "The Lady" versus Mauricio as the anxious character actor Bob.

And like Mauricio, Shraman Ghosh needs to find more of an effortless quirkiness to the bar pianist Carl in Waiting for Tina Meyer. Mencotti's klutziness as "The Manager" in Text Me also would have been more believable if the show's uncredited sound designer had aurally illustrated the loud sound effects of her stockroom accidents with an offstage speaker rather than one pointed directly at the audience.

Right now, it's an unknown whether this conjoined creation of Waiting for Tina Meyer and Text Me will have the historic lasting power of other double bills (the famous operatic pairings of Pagliacci and Cavalleria Rusticana is scenically referenced via a Pavarotti poster in Text Me). But despite some minor imperfections, City Lit's Two Hours in a Bar (which ironically has a running time shorter than its title) is unquestionably a charmer. For less than two hours, Two Hours in a Bar is time well spent.


This article shared 6906 times since Thu Mar 21, 2024
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