Local humor is one of the great pleasures of Chicago theatre. Arguably the key to Second City’s formula is that their shows throw in just as many jokes about the Bears as they do jokes about politics and international affairs.
This also applies to the Waltzing Mechanics project “El Stories” which collects true anecdotes of the bizarre, hilarious sometimes scary and sometimes very sad things that one is likely to witness while traveling the rough seas of the Chicago Transit Authority. Their take on the Red Line, which I did not see, premiered last year. The current show focuses on the Brown Line.
The hour long show consists almost entirely of quick sketches, punctuated by authentic CTA audio announcing the next stop on the journey from the Loop to Kimball. The stories naturally tend towards the absurd. We see a man who runs from car to car convinced that he is a film director, speaking commands to invisible actors and crew. Another man is presented as loudly announcing that he is a meth dealer and showing off the cash he earns from his trade. The show also sprinkles in some more somber moments, such as a glimpse into the phenomenon of suicide by el train.
This show has gotten some flak for being very centered on a white, middle class point of view, and there’s no question that much of the humor here is driven by tensions of interaction between classes and cultures. However, this very funny multiracial cast does an apt job of demonstrating that being shouted at by aggressive strangers is a pretty universally uncomfortable experience.
This is a slight, not especially memorable show but its pitch-perfect verisimilitude, relatability and occasional warmth make it worth a look.