Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Review of PlayMakers Laboratory’s THAT’S WEIRD, GRANDMA: Travels Through Time

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PlayMakers Laboratory Presents
Travels Through Time
Directed by Artistic Director Brandon Cloyd
January 19 – February 16, 2020 at the Neo-Futurist Theater

An Original Sketch Show that is Written by Kids, 
Performed by Grownups, and Enjoyed by Humans

Tom Malinowski, Nancy Casas and Jasmine Henri-Jordan perform “Pizza People” in PlayMakers Laboratory’s revue THAT’S WEIRD, GRANDMA: Travels Through Time. All Photos by Evan Hanover.

Guest Review
By Catherine Hellmann

“It’s better than online dating or doing your taxes!” 
---opening of the Barrel of Monkeys/PlayMakers Laboratory show

(Now known as PlayMakers Laboratory, Barrel of Monkeys is more fun to say...but I wasn’t consulted…) 

Now in its 18th year, THAT’S WEIRD, GRANDMA performances are inspired from creative writing workshops held in Chicago Public Schools by professional actors who take kids’ wacky ideas and set them to music and create crazy sketches. Shows are first performed in schools for the young authors, then are shared with the public at the Neo-Futurist Theater at 5153 N. Ashland. Like most improv, the scenes are very hit-or-miss, but the ones that are truly funny are absolutely hysterical and inspired. 

The original thoughts could only come from school children. It’s difficult to imagine a grown-up repeating that they “do NOT want to go to George Washington’s house!” “I do not want to go to his house!” “I don’t want manners!” “Do you have to like someone just because they are the President?” (Ok, I know a LOT of adults who actually wonder about that, especially in the last three years. Fair.) 

(pictured) The cast of PlayMakers Laboratory’s revue THAT’S WEIRD, GRANDMA: Travels Through Time performs “Me and George Washington.” 

The theme for the current show is Travels Through Time. An “Audience Member,” identified by his t-shirt that read “Audience Member,” was pulled from the audience to participate---luckily, he happened to have a “Flux Capacitor” on him (fun Back to the Future reference) to enable the time machine to activate! How lucky was that?!

(left to right) Ale Ramirez and Mary Tilden perform “Blast to the Past” 

(left to right) Elisa Carlson, Jasmine Henri-Jordan, Nic Park and Nancy Casas perform “Malcolm X and the Monster and Zombie Infection” 

Sketches run from Malcolm X fighting zombies, featuring the awesome line: “When your mind is a weapon, you are never unarmed!” to finding a child’s grave while “digging for treasure” and becoming cursed from the deceased. Some of the jokes are so quick and clever, it’s hard to keep track of them all. In one sketch, a couple had 8 babies, which were “conceived” by the two actors hilariously wagginging their tongues at each other and making gurgling noises. Single doll babies were tossed into the arms of the “mom,” for the first few, until a “bundle of babies” duct-taped together all appeared to add up to eight.

(pictured) The cast of PlayMakers Laboratory’s revue THAT’S WEIRD, GRANDMA: Travels Through Time perform “The Cowboys Who Fighted.” 

Two of the most clever sketches were “Lazy Jenny” and "Pizza People. Actress Mary Tilden manages to make this scenario about a girl who never leaves her house absurdly funny! The “Pizza People” from the US Olympic swim team who prove “you are what you eat” were another standout. 

(left to right) Elisa Carlson, Jasmine Henri-Jordan, Taylor Galloway and Mary Tilden perform “Lazy Jenny”   

(left to right) Tom Malinowski, Nancy Casas, Jasmine Henri-Jordan, Ale Ramirez and Nic Park perform “Pizza People”

Kids’ universal desire to be super heroes was the basis for another clever sketch as two boys prayed their thanks before dinner yet kept asking God for super hero traits, to their father’s growing consternation. They also thanked the Lord for things like “plastic” and “wool and other textiles.”   

The sketch that nearly made us cry from laughter involved a mad scientist who was creating an evil robot. He keeps being thwarted by three clowns/mimes who undermine him. (undermime him??) Taylor Galloway was an absolute hoot as the crazy scientist with his beeping machines and over-the-top sound effects and reactions. 

After the talented cast finished, audience members are asked to vote for their two favorite sketches they “can’t live without.” It was tough to narrow our choices down to only two. The winning sketches are kept in the show for the next rotation. Each performance changes, so it would be fun to see what the show looks like at the end of the run in mid-February. 

(left to right) Nic Park and Taylor Galloway perform “Blast to the Past” 

Directed by Artistic Director Brandon Cloyd, he joined the crowd in the audience and was laughing along with the rest of us. Those lucky students who have PML work with them must love having their stories brought to life. The entire crew must have a blast putting this delightful spectacle together, and it shows. Your whole family will get a kick out of this one. 

Catherine Hellmann wishes for two super never need sleep and to eat anything at all and never gain an ounce...

(center) Elisa Carlson and the cast of PlayMakers Laboratory’s revue THAT’S WEIRD, GRANDMA: Travels Through Time perform “Crazy Rockers.” 

PlayMakers Laboratory, formerly Barrel of Monkeys, is pleased to continue its 2019-20 season with THAT’S WEIRD GRANDMA: Travels Through Time, directed by Artistic Director Brandon Cloyd, playing Sundays at 3 pm from January 19 – February 16, 2020 at the Neo-Futurist Theater, 5153 N. Ashland Ave. in Chicago. Tickets are currently available at or by calling (773) 506-7140.

Journey with PlayMakers Laboratory as Grandma takes a time machine to visit student-written stories set in the past, present and future. Can Grandma repair the space-time continuum and return to the present? With the help of PML’s students’ stories, anything is possible. 

The cast includes Elisa Carlson, Nancy Casas, Taylor Galloway, Jasmine Henri-Jordan, Tom Malinowski, Nic Park, Ale Ramirez, Graig Tertulien, Mary Tilden and Rawson Vint.

(left to right) Elisa Carlson, Graig Tertulien and Jasmine Henri-Jordan perform “Pirate Time/Creepzy Queen Victoria!” 

(left to right) Mary Tilden, Taylor Galloway and Tom Malinowski perform “Pirate Time/Creepzy Queen Victoria!”

Now in its 18th year, THAT’S WEIRD, GRANDMA features adaptations of stories written during PlayMakers Laboratory’s creative writing residencies in Chicago elementary schools. PML’s ensemble of professional actors, comedians and musicians bring the young authors’ stories to life as raucous sketches, songs and movement pieces, performing first for students in their schools and then for the public. These stories – from hilarious dialogues between unlikely characters to poignant pleas for social change – resonate with adults while celebrating the imaginations of young people. Every week brings a new line-up of stories, and PML invites audiences to vote on their favorites at each performance.

(left to right) Nancy Casas and Mary Tilden perform “Johny’s Revenge and The Bull Boy” 


Title: THAT’S WEIRD, GRANDMA: Travels Through Time
Written by Chicago Elementary School Students
Adapted for the stage by PlayMakers Laboratory Company Members
Directed by Artistic Director Brandon Cloyd 
Cast: Elisa Carlson, Nancy Casas, Taylor Galloway, Jasmine Henri-Jordan, Tom Malinowski, Nic Park, Ale Ramirez, Graig Tertulien, Mary Tilden and Rawson Vint.

Location: Neo-Futurist Theater, 5153 N. Ashland Ave. in Chicago
Dates: Preview: Sunday, January 19, 2020 at 3 pm
Press performance: Sunday, January 26, 2020 at 3 pm 
Regular run: Sunday, February 2 – Sunday, February 16, 2020 
Curtain Times: Sundays at 3 pm

Tickets: Preview: $10 for adults, $5 children 12 and under, $8 groups of 10 or more. Regular run: $20 for adults, $10 for children 12 and under. Discounts: $12 for students with ID, seniors, veterans and groups of 10 or more people. Teen Arts Pass (TAP) members: $5 with ID. Tickets are currently available at at or by calling (773) 506-7140.

(center) Jasmine Henri-Jordan and the cast of PlayMakers Laboratory’s revue THAT’S WEIRD, GRANDMA: Travels Through Time perform “The Fire King.” 

(left to right) Mary Tilden, Nancy Casas, Jasmine Henri-Jordan and Tom Malinowski perform “Crazy Rockers” 

About the Director

Brandon Cloyd joined PlayMakers Laboratory in 2007 and has been deeply involved in many facets of the company ever since. Prior to joining PML, Brandon graduated from Northwestern University with a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre and a minor in Business Institutions. Within PML, Brandon has served as an actor, teaching artist, lead teacher, a member of Teacher Corps, as well as directing shows for schools and public performances of That's Weird, Grandma. Before becoming the company’s Artistic Director in September 2017, Brandon served as PML After-School Program Coordinator at Loyola Park from 2014-2016 and Program Director from 2016-2017. Outside of PML, he worked as the Associate Director of Camp Echo, where he has spent 13 summers managing campers and staff at a co-ed sleep away camp in Upstate New York. Brandon has worked with other theatre companies including Urban Theatre Company, American Theater Company, Filament Theatre, InGen Productions, ACLE's Teatrino in Italy and Purple Crayon Players at Northwestern University. Brandon recently joined the Board of Directors for the League of Chicago Theatres.

(left to right) Nic Park, Taylor Galloway and Ale Ramirez perform “Crazy Rockers”

About PlayMakers Laboratory
Since PlayMakers Laboratory’s inception in 1997 as Barrel of Monkeys, its teaching artists have served more than 60 Chicago Public Schools. Over 15,000 elementary school students have participated in the PlayMakers programs, which aim to build students' writing skills, improve self-esteem, and instill confidence in their ideas and abilities.

PlayMakers Laboratory is sponsored in part by Wintrust Financial, Allscripts, Inc., Ernst and Young and Punchkick Interactive. It receives generous support from the Illinois Arts Council Agency; the National Endowment for the Arts; a CityArts Grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events; the Chicago Community Trust; Crown Family Philanthropies; Alphawood Foundation of Chicago; the Maurice R. and Meta G. Gross Foundation; Polk Bros Foundation; the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation; the Robert and Isabelle Bass Foundation, Inc.; The Saints; The Topfer Family Foundation, and many other generous individuals and foundations. 

(left to right) Mary Tilden, Ale Ramirez and Elisa Carlson perform “The Good Witch”

 (left to right) Nic Park, Elisa Carlson and Taylor Galloway perform “1994” 

(pictured) The cast of PlayMakers Laboratory’s revue THAT’S WEIRD, GRANDMA: Travels Through Time perform “Space.” Photo by Evan Hanover.

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