Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Day 4: Defense wins championships

Lost a close one today, but close doesn't matter.

1. Identify the American Neo-expressionist artist and filmmaker responsible for this work. 

Getting this one right felt pretty great because it took me a few hours to get there. Contrast yesterday, when I might have remembered ammonia (whose chemical formula, NH3, I knew was the right answer) if I hadn't immediately thrown in the towel and made a guess I knew was wrong. Today I kept thinking about it and played later in the day, which made all the difference.

When I first read the question, I thought of the name Renoir, as in the filmmaker Jean Renoir whose father was the well-known painter. But the answer had to be an artist and filmmaker, same person, and it had to be an American. Next I started thinking about people who make films as expressions of art, not necessarily narrative films, people like Pipilotti Rist whose work I have seen as installations in art museums. But she for one is not American, and I don't know if she creates any art other than films.

The answer felt like it had to be a visual artist who also makes films, and it seemed to me that the films should be well enough known that the person can be legitimately labeled a filmmaker in addition to an artist. By that measure the best-known example has to be Andy Warhol, who though he never lit up a box office was certainly an active and prolific filmmaker. But he's dead, I thought the question was probably asking for a living person, and even if not the artwork didn't look too Warholian to me. As for prominent American artists like Eric Fischl, Chuck Close, Cindy Sherman and Jeff Koons, I didn't know any of them to be a filmmaker, or for that matter a Neo-expressionist, and the artwork didn't particularly look like any of their work either.

The most commercially successful filmmaker among visual artists, in that his films have been widely distributed to movie theaters, is the artist Julian Schnabel. I couldn't tell you the first thing about his art, which could be why the image in question did not look familiar, but I did know he directed the movies Before Night Falls and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. I remember when the latter was released a few years ago, how cool I thought it was that a famous visual artist was working the film festival and award show circuit promoting his movie. It just took me a few hours to think of the guy, which is why it felt so good to finally come up with a guess I didn't know was right but I did know was at least respectable.

The point of all this, beyond that I type fast, is that it's worth setting aside and coming back to a tough but gettable question later in the day if you don't immediately think of a decent guess. You have a roughly 24-hour window in which to play. If you're impatient, like I was yesterday, you might cost yourself a right answer, and possibly a win or a tie. It's like when you go down 5-2 in a tennis set or in the late innings of a baseball game. If you give up you've beaten yourself, but if you dig in and keep trying, you might surprise yourself.

2. In modern usage, the term bulge bracket refers to a group of investment banks considered the world's largest and most profitable. During the financial crisis of 2008, three bulge bracket members ceased to exist as independent entities -- name any two of the three.

I've read fairly extensively about the financial crisis, not only because I find it highly interesting but because I deal with the real estate mortgage world at work, and I've already marked my calendar to hear Michael Lewis speak at a dinner in June. I also recently saw the HBO movie Too Big To Fail. My feeling on this question wasn't, I hope I get it, but rather, I will feel like a complete idiot if I somehow find a way to blow it. I knew for sure that Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns had not survived the 2008 meltdown. I also knew that Merrill Lynch (...Pierce Fenner and Smith) had been forced to sell itself to Bank of America and CEO Ken Lewis.

The problem was that, with so many big banks in play, I couldn't swear to which ones were technically investment banks as opposed to commercial banks. I was pretty sure Bear and Lehman had been I-banks, but I didn't want to screw up this question on that issue. I also couldn't remember for sure whether Morgan Stanley, like Merrill, had been made to accept a cash infusion from an outside company and give up control of its own fate. If so then maybe it was one of the three companies in question. I started to second-guess my feelings about Merrill. Given its enormous Main Street retail presence, maybe it had been set up as a brokerage house and not an investment bank. I knew it wasn't a commercial bank but maybe it also wasn't an I-bank so its loss of autonomy wasn't the one I thought the question was going for.

Ultimately I went with Bear and Lehman because I knew for a fact they had both melted down in 2008, I felt fairly confident they'd both been investment banks, and the question was only asking for two such banks. Merrill did indeed turn out to be the third company in question.

3. In 1994, three films were released starring Jim Carrey which became box office hits: Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Dumb and Dumber, and what other film, which was also Cameron Diaz's feature film debut?

Total gimme. A mask turned Jim Carrey from a nudnik into a zoot-suited superhero and The Mask turned Cameron Diaz from a model into a movie star.

4. What is the term in geometry, Latin for arrow, which is defined as line segment drawn perpendicular to a chord in a circle, between the midpoint of the chord and the circle's arc?

This one was frustrating because I did know what a chord was in geometry, but that did absolutely nothing for me. I guessed vector, even though that is a physics term, but because vectors are generally indicated on paper by arrows and I didn't have a better guess. The answer was sagitta. Sa-what-a?

I'm guessing sagitta ties in to Sagittarius, but that's not one of the zodiac symbols I know something about, and in any event I've never heard of a sagitta. Major props for anyone who used the zodiac to get this one.

5. This is a promotional photo of the cast of what television series? 

Watching it, loving it. Smash. The pilot was terrific, episodes 2 and 3 also very good. Haven't seen the new one yet.

In case you somehow missed all the hype, including during the Super Bowl, Smash recounts the high-stakes process of creating a new Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe. Steven Spielberg is the executive producer, there's a star-studded cast, and the creative team is a theater Who's Who: the director of the pilot directed Spring Awakening and American Idiot; the primary writer penned a number of Broadway hits including the current Seminar with Alan Rickman; the songwriters wrote the music for Hairspray and the South Park movie; etc. You can catch up on the NBC website. Check it out.

6. The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council are also the five countries recognized as nuclear-weapon states under the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Russia and the United States are two; name the other three.

Argh! Thinking of the ongoing tensions between India and Pakistan, I went France, UK, India. I forgot that as populous as India is, China is bigger, richer and more militaristic. At least I didn't say Israel, which I actually thought about doing. Still, feel like I should have gotten this one. Had I listened to my own advice about not rushing into a dumb answer, I would have had a better chance. I didn't spend enough time thinking about this question. It was way gettable.

My opponent today was the estimable Dan Feyer, two-time defending champion of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament and plenty tough in the trivia world as well. Dan is strong across the various categories of questions in the league so it wasn't clear how I should play defense.

And yet there were ways to do it better than I did. Let's face it, even to a math person, the sagitta question was awfully hard — only 12% of players leaguewide answered it correctly — and math didn't look like one of Dan's rock star categories on admittedly thin evidence; he was 2 for 4 on previous math questions. I should have assigned Dan the 3 for this one instead of a 2. (Of course, if it had been called an agitta then he would have probably seen it in a few dozen crosswords by now.)

Likewise, I gave Dan a 1 for the Bear Stearns question, the other one he missed. I figured that, especially as a New Yorker, he'd know this widely covered story well enough to get this question even if he didn't particularly take an interest in the financial world (I had no idea whether he did or not). Wrong again. I gave Dan a 2 for the nuclear weapon question, which although probably more widely known, I deemed tougher because we had to get all three countries. With the Wall Street question we only had to name two of three.

I was so pleased with thinking of Julian Schnabel that I gave Dan the 3 on that one. But the guy lives in New York City, makes his living in the arts, and his stats show strength across the creative world. To his credit, he joined me among the 15% of players leaguewide who nailed the Schnabel question.

Dan and I each managed 4 correct answers out of 6 but he beat me by a point thanks to his superior defense and ended my undefeated start to the season. Had I played perfect defense, I would have won by a point. Had I not choked on China vs. India, I would have tied. But in the real world, I lost a close match to a worthy opponent. Nice one, Dan!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Day 3: Can we get partial credit?

On Day 3 of the current LearnedLeague trivia season, I had a couple of near misses.

1. Ten youngsters tell ten stories each over ten days in what 14th c. allegory, whose name comes from Greek and alludes to the nature of this peculiar frame story technique?

Even if I didn't know this was the Decameron, I might have been able to guess it from the "Deca-" prefix what with all the hinting going on here. Of course, it helped that I had heard of the Decameron. (A buddy of mine, who hadn't, multiplied the three 10s and guessed "Millipede" just for a laugh.)

Do you ever notice how a given random thing will sometimes come up repeatedly within a short span of time? This just happened to me in re the Decameron. A few weeks ago I had a medical test performed at the University of Chicago's outpatient hospital known as the Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine, or DCAM. A friend of mine has a U. of C. PhD and continues to work with DCAM, so I texted her a pun/riddle about a 14th Century allegory whose answer was "The DCAMeron." Hey, I never said I was funny.

2. The Haber process is used industrially to react hydrogen and nitrogen (using a catalyst) for the manufacture of what?

This one was frustrating because I knew they were going for NH3, I just couldn't remember its common name. Failing to think of anything else with a nitrogen-derived name, I guessed nitroglycerin knowing it was wrong. I tend to play first thing in the morning, and maybe this time I should have thought about it further through the course of the day — it might have come to me eventually, which has happened before — but I didn't. The correct answer was ammonia.

3. In addition to the tenuous Muslim Dervish state in inland Somalia, at the turn of the 20th c. (early 1900s) there were only two independent states on the continent of Africa. Name them both.

I was out to sea on this one, perhaps off the coast of Madagascar. The only thing I did right here was to figure that the Boer Wars in South Africa might have extended into the 20th Century, so South Africa might be a bad guess. (Of course, I was wildly guessing that the autonomy of South Africa was even at stake in the Boer Wars.) Thinking "old school Africa," I guessed two countries with ancient cultures: Egypt and Morocco. Apparently I should have gone with Ethiopia and Liberia. If you say so!

I did know that, as others have pointed out, Liberia was founded by freed slaves as the name implies, so I should probably have at least thought of that one. But I took one look at the question and was all, "I'm not getting this one right." With that wrongheaded approach, I didn't.

4. The historical region of Transylvania is located within what modern-day European country?

A gimme I've known since I was a kid: Romania. I actually had a restaurant server at O'Donovan's Pub last Thursday evening who recently moved from Transylvania to Chicago. We briefly discussed Bram Stoker and Vlad the Impaler. (She didn't seem like a vampire until she bit my neck.)

5. The 2000 Year Old Man is a comedy skit created by what two comedy writers and performers?

Another gimme: Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner. Did you see the Brooks-Cavett special on HBO a few months ago? Good stuff.

6. Chevon is a term used in culinary circles occasionally to refer to the meat of what animal?

Second frustrating one of the day. I happen to speak French, which helps from time to time with this trivia league. Much like mutton, i.e. sheep meat, takes its name from Romance languages (mouton is French for sheep), I figured the same was true of chevon. I thought of cheval, French for horse, and chevalier, horseman or knight, and although you don't often hear of people eating horse meat, you also don't often hear the term "chevon" either. It seemed so obviously correct that I didn't think past this guess. I should have, though, as chèvre is French for goat, which was the correct answer.

My opponent had a rough day, going 0 for 6, so despite my bumpy ride I escaped with a win.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Day 2: Running the table

So much of the LearnedLeague trivia contest turns on what they happen to ask when. For my part, I average between 3 and 4 correct answers per day out of 6 questions.  But on any given day, I can get 5 or 6 and feel like a rock star, or 1 or 2 and feel like I don't deserve a spot in the league.

Today was one of those good days:

1. In late 1982, this rock band, which won the Grammy for Best New Artist for that year, became the first (and still only) Australian act to have a simultaneous #1 single and #1 album in the United States.

Given the timing and nationality, it could only be Men at Work. AC/DC was big before that, INXS rose to prominence a few years later, and that time period of late 1982 into 1983 was, for me, a personal golden age of pop culture. Michael Jackson's Thriller also came out in late 1982 and got huge in 1983. So many other classic albums were released around then too. Let's Dance. Synchronicity. The list goes on. Don't even get me started on the singles.

As for Men at Work, my cabinmates and I at North Star Camp in Hayward, Wisconsin were heavily into them. We had Cargo and Business As Usual posters on the wall. We didn't just know "Down Under" and "Who Can It Be Now?", we played the entire albums. We knew every word to "Overkill," to say nothing of the story of Dr. Heckyll and Mr. Jive. They are a person who feels good to be alive.

2. Since September of 1982, there have been only two productions hosted at New York's Winter Garden Theatre, both of which are now among the top ten longest-running musicals in Broadway history. Name either one.

If you had just said, "Winter Garden Theatre. Name the last two plays." I would have confidently said Cats and Mamma Mia!. Cats ran there forever, and anyone who read the New York Times during that time had to see the ads that simply said either "Cats / Winter Garden Theatre" or had the two yellow eyes and just "Winter Garden Theatre." Then after it finally closed, the also heavily advertised Mamma Mia! opened there and doesn't look to close anytime soon. I infer from this question that I was not the only person who noticed the rarity of one long-running Broadway hit immediately following another in the same theater.

Even if you didn't know any of the above, you might well have gotten this one simply as a function of walking by the Winter Garden's prominent marquee a few times over the past 20 years. This is relatively easy to do since it's right there on Seventh Avenue, unlike so many Broadway theaters jammed in next to each other a block or two off the actual Broadway (and heavily trafficked Seventh) on smaller east-west streets.

3. The highest frequency of visible light, at about 8 x 10^14 Hz, is perceived by a normal human eye as what color?

Since the ROY G BIV scale is the range of visible light, the correct answer had to be either red or violet. I briefly considered white light, on the theory that as the combination of all visible colors it might add up to a higher frequency, but decided that was less likely to be true than my initial ROY G BIV theory.

I knew that beyond red was infrared and beyond violet was ultraviolet. From here, some Latin from my law school background helped. In an appellate brief, a reference to a citation supra means one found above, and infra means below. Therefore, I figured, infrared meant "below red," not to mention ultraviolet sounded more or less like "bigger than violet." So I guessed violet and it was correct.

4. The name of Dr. Bruce Lambert, a UN expert in geodesy and cartography and director of Australia's Division of National Mapping, lives on today as the name of what is widely believed to be the world's largest what?

This was the best play of my young LL season. Given Dr. Lambert's Australian pedigree, it took me a while to get past thinking about coral reefs, specifically the Great Barrier Reef. Having been lucky enough to dive the Reef, I felt fairly confident that the entire reef chain, over 1000 miles of it, was known collectively as the Great Barrier Reef. I didn't remember anything about smaller reefs within the larger chain having their own names. Finally I got past my American provincialism, conceding that UN experts could come from anywhere and giving Dr. Lambert more credit than simply assuming that Australians study only Australian things.

So what else might he study? I tried to think of things that were both big and/or significant enough to be studied by the United Nations, but still so marginal to everyday life that I hadn't even heard of the guy the biggest one was named after. I was only able to think of two things in this category:  fjords and glaciers.  I liked the latter for two reasons: 1, it seemed likely that if the biggest fjord was named after anyone, it would be a Norwegian, and 2, glaciers seemed a lot more likely than fjords to be studied by the UN since that global warming issue from a few years ago may still be a problem. So I guessed glacier and to my great satisfaction it turned out I was right.

5. Name either of the NBA teams that waived New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin before he was picked up by his current team on December 27, 2011.

Pretty easy if you've paid a modicum of attention to Linsanity. I watched "SportsCenter" a few weeks ago for the first time in a year or so specifically to catch up on all the Linternational Lintrigue. They interviewed former Davidson guard Stephen Curry, who told how Jeremy Lin had had trouble getting off Golden State's bench given the team's solid guard play. I'd also heard a quote recently from the coach of another team ruing how he'd cut Lin from his lineup, and I was pretty sure that guy (whom I couldn't name in a million years) coached the Houston Rockets. But I was sure about the Warriors. Sure enough, the two teams turned out to be the Warriors and Rockets.

6. The Angel Moroni is a pivotal figure in the theology of what religious denomination?

Some things you just know for no good reason. Even before FOBB&B Jeff Marx started working on The Book of Mormon before his eventual departure from the creative team, I knew some random things about Mormonism: Temple Square, missions, the angel Moroni, Brigham Young, Joseph Smith, Deseret, the founders' westward travel across the nation, the golden plates, the sacred undergarments, the no caffeine or tobacco consumption. This was pretty similar to a question from last season, where I happened to know what movie the song "Moon River" came from even though I'd never seen the movie. Some things just stick in your head, and in my case the angel Moroni is one of them. (The fact that "Moroni" is more or less the word Mormon doesn't hurt.) The inability to forget these things, even when you are not trying to remember them, is a handy trait when you play in a trivia league.

So with some solid reasoning on infrared, and a combination of good reasoning and good luck on glacier, I managed to "drink the beer" by getting a correct sixpack today.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Day 1: Let's do this

The new LearnedLeague trivia season is underway. Here's how it started.

1. Of the 46 women who have held the position of First Lady of the United States, how many of them are still living?

OK, you’ve got Marie Antoinette, i.e. the Mrs. Bush who said Hurricane Katrina refugees being housed in the Superdome were “underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them” and didn’t want to waste her “beautiful mind” thinking about “body bags and deaths” in a war her son provoked; the Mrs. Bush who killed a guy when she drove through a stop sign; Michelle Obama; Hillary Clinton; Nancy Reagan; Rosalynn Carter. Anyone else?

I knew Lady Bird Johnson had lived to a very old age because I once heard Bill Clinton speak at a dinner where I was seated at a table of mostly Secret Service agents. This was shortly after 9/11 but Clinton still enjoyed federal protection, and our dinner conversation touched on the theme of shielding former Presidents and their families. Some of the agents present had been assigned to guard Mrs. Johnson into her 80s or 90s before she passed away. In her final years she was confined to a bed on the family’s enormous Texas ranch, hardly a target for anyone. The agents chucklingly referred to that waste of taxpayer money as the “Weekend at Bernie’s detail,” and explained that it was examples like this that eventually shortened the Secret Service protection of the families of former presidents. By the way, Clinton spoke about terrorism, Al Qaeda, etc. for over an hour without notes. He knew the subject cold and held 2800 people in rapt attention, many of whom surely shared my regret that he was now a mere ex-president.

So I knew Lady Bird Johnson was gone. Same with Jackie Kennedy, whose May 1994 death was a major news story, but one I remember extra clearly because I happened to walk through a pack of news reporters on the sidewalk outside her apartment building at around 80th and Fifth Avenue as she lay on her deathbed upstairs. I was headed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art across the street. I also knew Betty Ford had died in the last few years.

This question, then, for me at least, boiled down to a referendum on the issue of whether Pat Nixon is still alive. I wasn’t 100 percent sure but felt like she was already gone when her husband died, and even if not, I felt like it was fairly unlikely she was still around. So I guessed six and I was correct.

2. The character from Shakespeare (and from earlier English folklore) named Robin Goodfellow is nowadays better known as what?

Total gimme for this English lit major. Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

3. In 1862, an American company named Chase & Sanborn became the first to pack and ship a now common form of what food commodity?

The only things I know about Chase or Sanborn didn’t help. I know Salmon P. Chase was a Chief Justice of the United States. I once read The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. I know Sanborn Western Camp is or at least was an overnight camp based in Florissant, Colorado. And I know David Sanborn used to play sax every Friday night on NBC’s Late Night with David Letterman. I think the Letterman show used to air new episodes Monday through Thursday, with Friday Night Videos in that time slot on Friday. Then Dave was given all five nights, with a rerun Mondays and new shows Tuesday thru Friday, with Sanborn on Fridays, and Friday Night Videos was I believe pushed back an hour before it was eventually canceled. Wait, there’s a trivia game going on?

No clue on this question. I considered guessing either sugar or table salt before I eventually guessed ground beef (the worst of these three guesses, so poor strategy). The correct answer was coffee.

4. Tahoma is the name of a computer font developed in 1994 for Microsoft Windows, and also an original Native American name for what mountain?

To me, Tahoma said Tacoma, as in Washington State. It was easily plausible that these were variations on the same Native American word. Not having anything else to go on, I just went with the best-known mountain in the Sea-Tac area, Mount Rainier (which I think is in the Cascades, maybe?). Its name was strongly reinforced in my mind at the 2010 National Puzzlers’ League convention in Seattle, where a number of people independently wrote puzzles involving wordplay on how Seattle and Washington were “Rainier” than other places. Mount Rainier proved to be the correct answer. Other people later pointed out the local Microsoft angle to this question that I’d overlooked.

5. Identify the actress in this photograph.

Whenever LearnedLeague asks about a recently famous celebrity, I seem to drop the ball. In my rookie campaign last season, I mistook Danica Patrick for an actress since she wasn’t wearing a racing jumpsuit in the given photo. I also guessed Lady Gaga as the singer of an audio snippet of Adele’s “Someone Like You” even though I knew Adele was on to the next single after “Rolling In the Deep.” I'd even heard of it. I just hadn’t heard it enough yet.

I didn’t know who this person was so I guessed Zooey Deschanel with little confidence. Maybe if I’d thought about the Oscar nominations, or if the photo had shown jet-black bangs, ghostly white skin and piercings, I would have known it was Rooney Mara.

6. While most steel is manufactured using carbon as the alloying material, stainless steel is formed by alloying iron with what other element (at a minumum 11% content by mass)?

I wasn’t sure but I felt like the answer was chromium. I took AP Chem in high school so maybe I remembered it from there. It made sense since chrome is generally shiny and doesn’t rust as far as I know. And I felt like if it was the only other silvery element I could think of, silver, I would have known that. (I now realize mercury is silver-colored too, but I didn't think of it, and even if I had, it's toxic so it's probably not the answer.) Lacking a better guess, I guessed chromium and it was correct.

Friday, February 24, 2012

"I've got no time for trivialities"

My trivia league, LearnedLeague, kicked off its new season yesterday.  This would be a perfect time to write about Match Day 1, but I have to get a suit on and drive through a six-inch overnight snowfall to a 9am court appearance about 25 miles outside of the city. For whoever's interested (both of you), I'll write about Thursday and Friday LL action in this space over the weekend.

Until then, here's a trivia question to keep you occupied. Who is the only major league baseball player to hit All-Star Game home runs for three different teams? (Real teams, not National or American, smart guy.)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Sentence of the week

The hourlong half-season finale of "Talking Dead" in November boasted more than one million viewers, a drop-off compared with the 6.6 million who watched the preceding episode of "The Walking Dead," but a huge number for a midnight cable talk show centered on zombies.
The New Water Cooler Is a TV Show

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Theater watch

Looking for some fun this weekend around the city? I've previewed a handful of the best shows in town for Flavorpill Chicago. (Not in Chicago? Get on a plane!)  The first two close on Sunday, so don't wait around.

Click the show titles for theater information, ticket links and more.

Broadway In Chicago
Ford Center for the Performing Arts, Oriental Theatre
through Sunday

American Idiot is the latest in a hard-rocking string of hit Broadway musicals. But while Rent and Spring Awakening boast trendy 19th Century literary pedigrees, they can only envy its secret weapon: Billie Joe Armstrong. The poet laureate of the 1990s pop-punk explosion brings more hooks than Kevin Van Dam, and his catchy songwriting translates well to the theatrical idiom. This portrait of three struggling nihilists from the suburbs is somewhat thinly drawn, but the familiar score from Green Day's chart-topping American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown LPs provides vivid color.

Mr. Rickey Calls a Meeting
Lookingglass Theatre
through Sunday

This entertaining piece of historical fiction posits a secret 1947 summit meeting in which Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey seeks the blessings of Paul Robeson, Joe Louis, and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson before calling up Jackie Robinson to play in the major leagues and thereby break their color barrier. To its credit, Ed Schmidt's lively script is more nuanced than the antiracist sermon he might have delivered, exploring the conflict even among those with the shared goal of an integrated America. It's a spiritual companion to Jonathan Eig's Opening Day, the bestselling chronicle of Robinson's first big-league season that, although published after this play was written, nonetheless informed Lookingglass Theatre's current production.

The Foreigner
Provision Theater
through March 18

Before his tragic death in a plane crash at age 39, playwright Larry Shue penned two hilarious farces that have grown into American classics, The Nerd and The Foreigner. In the latter, a painfully shy British traveler is mistaken for a visitor from an exotic faraway land during his weekend stay at a backwoods Georgia fishing lodge. Since he's presumed to speak no English, he overhears the secrets of the local cast of characters and finds his own inner extrovert as he sets out to right some wrongs. Provision Theater Company's winning production serves up Shue's life-affirming crowd pleaser with a sure hand and a light touch.

Signal Ensemble Theatre
through March 3

In the finest Law & Order tradition, Ronan Marra's Motion draws inspiration from recent sports headlines. A hotshot NFL agent named Drew (read: Drew Rosenhaus) struggles to help his star client remain the projected top NFL draft pick after the blue-chip quarterback prospect runs afoul of the law, while a labor dispute threatens to shut down the entire league. It all rings familiar, yet to its credit the Signal Ensemble Theatre throws it downfield in this snappy new drama. Adding verisimilitude: Glenn Stanton, who plays a college football defensive back, also did so in real life, and Tim Martin, as the wayward QB, looks a great deal like one Jay Cutler.

at IO Theatre
Sundays 10:30pm through March 11

As you might infer from their choice of infamous eponym, the Mary Kay Letourneau Players are not particularly concerned about offending people; if anything, they'd be disappointed if they didn't. With in-your-face material exploring such cultural sideshows as monkey attacks and HIV-positive puppets, Second City veterans Katie Rich and Kate Duffy grab the audience's lapels with four hands and shake vigorously. It's a risky path they travel, but with a heady mix of clever jokes, uncomfortable moments, and zaniness for its own sake, their knowing late-night crowd gets what it came for.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

And speaking of football...

If you're already going through pigskin withdrawal, you don't have to wait until the NFL draft in April. Check out Signal Ensemble Theatre's production of Motion, a less mawkish Jerry Maguire on a sandlot budget.

My Flavorpill Chicago preview is here.

Thursday, February 2, 2012