Wednesday, June 25, 2008

And speaking of schadenfreude...

My buds in the sketch comedy troupe Schadenfreude headline the Theater on the Lake this week.

Theater on the Lake is an annual tradition here, an urban version of summer stock in which the City of Chicago books a slate of successful plays from the previous year's theatrical season for one week each. Shows get a new life and a new audience, and showgoers get to see live theater at the corner of Fullerton and Lake Shore after a pleasant dinner in Lincoln Park or a walk along the lake.

The theater itself adds to the charm. It's a a drafty old Chicago Park District building right on Lake Michigan that was built decades ago as... I'm guessing here... a barn? An ice-skating warming house? A stable? North Avenue Beach equipment storage?

Whatever it was, it weren't no theater then, and it barely is now. It's a pretty makeshift affair what with the ambient noise of passing Lake Shore Drive traffic, quieter dialogue dying in the high rafters and curtains passing for walls. But it works well enough.

The shoestring budget, casual concession stand and impromptu vibe suffuse the whole enterprise with the old Andy Hardy "let's put on a show" spirit. It's endearing and likeable, and dependent upon community support; going there feels like good citizenship. But it's far from a chore because the shows are solid, proven local hits.

Performing at Theater on the Lake is considered a prestigious gig. To the City's credit, they spread it around to different theater companies, of which there are far more in number than slots available. They also mix it up, combining mainstream crowd-pleasers with quirkier stuff. There's usually one straight-up comedy show in the mix. Last year Second City brought the bits and this year Schadenfreude handles the ha-ha.

It's the latest résumé-builder for a world-beating crew that has played Lollapalooza, sold out the Steppenwolf and Goodman Theaters, headlined the Chicago Improv Festival, toured college campuses around the country, created comedy shows for WTTW-TV and Chicago Public Radio, and written a hot feature film script now making the rounds in Hollywood. (Yes, they pay me a modest stipend every time I rattle off their credits.)

To celebrate their ten years together, Schadenfreude's show this week is a retrospective of early sketches from their now-legendary late-1990s run at the Heartland Studio Theater, back when they were a bunch of funny kids making their bones. After this week they're retiring these scenes from their large repertoire.

Schadenfreude at Theater on the Lake starts tonight and runs through Sunday. Tickets are selling briskly but some remain available from the Theater on the Lake box office at (312) 742-7994. In case you just started reading at this sentence, the show is highly recommended.

To get you in the mood, here's their classic sketch "Crazy Pants," which they translated into Spanish for some reason (apparently boredom with the tiresome exercise of getting big laughs in English). Rechristened "Loco Pantalones," it's still funny:

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