Stage 773's Comedy Ensemble Unlikely Company Finds Their Footing in Farce

Photos courtesy of Unlikely Company

Unlikely Company’s talented ensemble finds both the humor and the melody in adult life, urging us to laugh at our own indulgent banality.

Unlikely Company
Director: Brian Posen
City: Chicago, IL
Venue: Stage 773
Date: 2016-07

In their summer residency in the Box Theatre at Stage 773, the sketch comedy ensemble Unlikely Company mines the gross, banal, and even absurd in Chicago life. Vibrant choreography and exuberant music set Unlikely Company aside from other comedy ensembles, but they find their surest footing in absurdist farce.

Unlikely Company’s latest show features sketches that range from musical parodies to topical news sketches to one-punch set pieces. Buoyed by enthusiastic physicality, the six-person ensemble embraces its self-proclaimed opening philosophy -- Fuck it! -- taking risks that include a sketch on gun control that misfires and a brief but hilarious wordless interlude of physical comedy from standout Liam Gallogly.

The sketches that work best feature Gallogly and fellow ensemble members Katie Nixon and Mollie Rehner. All three share a confident, controlled physical presence and impressive musical chops. Gallogly’s long-limbed gawkiness convincingly embodies characters ranging from an embarrassed teen explaining sex to his over-eager parents to an absurdist crab scuttling silently across the stage. Where Gallogly excels in physical comedy, Nixon and Rehner ground their solo sketches in the emotional beat of their characters, whether the unwarranted self-confidence of Rehner’s would-be balladeer or the misanthropic frustration of Nixon’s ditty on singledom.

Unlikely Company taps into its most powerful ensemble alchemy when they showcase their superb musical comedy. Mixing genre and farcical content, Unlikely Company performs everything from a country song celebrating the all-too-comfortable grossness of couples (exploiting the vulgarity of shared bodily functions) to a self-indulgent synth pop song about giving up (using Michael Bay’s film career as a hilarious parallel -- Armageddon was a good film!).

The ensemble’s trio of women combine forces to sing-shout a faux-feminist punk anthem about banishing bras and a rhythmic celebration of wearing leggings as pants (complete with requisite comedic commitment to camel toe). Like the other songs throughout their performance, these musical numbers are a delightful combination of mundane thoughts, banal experiences, and a sophisticated musical sensibility. Coupled with joyous choreography, Unlikely Company is at its best -- solo or ensemble -- when accompanied by music. It’s hard not to laugh even when the cast is just dancing along to incidental music.

And yet, the show stumbles when it trades in music for set pieces. Only a joke reimagining Chicago’s striking teachers at a bowling alley really succeeds, relying on the scene’s built in pun to carry the joke. Like their strongest songs, this sketch combines the banality of bowling with the now familiar refrain of Chicago’s striking public school teachers. It manages to point to the absurdity of Chicago’s politics without underlining it for the audience -- a sketch both Chicago-natives and visitors to Chicago can chuckle at.

After a rough and heartbreaking week (and summer) of tragic news around the world, however, the ensembles’ two most topical sketches proved dull and underwhelming. In “Good News”, the opening sketch of the show, newscasters (played convincingly by Nixon and Rehner) enthusiastically recount the good news of the day, throwing it out to reporters in the field for sports and weather. But where the sketch could become a sharp commentary on the onslaught of the “bad” news we seem to be inundated with these days, the jokes turn towards individual idiosyncrasy and bawdy, self-deprecating humor. Perhaps the sketch felt tone deaf given its place in my own news cycle, but it seemed like a missed opportunity to skewer either the kind of news that seems “good” compared to 2016’s relentless headlines, or the kind of self-indulgence it takes for someone to ignore the bad news.

Similarly, the ensemble’s take on gun control seriously misfired. Compared to the sharp brevity of the bowling teachers sketch, it sprawled pointlessly. Nixon and Ryan Kappmeyer play scientists investigating politicians’ reactions to the words “gun” and “control”. The rest of the sketch proceeds too obviously from there, as the politicians faithfully repeat each word individually but devolve into confusion and absurd paroxysms to avoid actually saying “gun control”. Despite Nixon’s scientist’s admirably snide curiosity, the sketch relies on quick cuts to cast members’ physicality. While their stage presence works elsewhere in the show, here, it falls short as the butt of the joke. Even the most dedicated bodily contortions can’t save this sketch. It’s a feel-good nod to the current political climate in the United States, offering obvious observation, but no new insight. Again, it feels like a missed opportunity for a tighter, sharper take on the gun control stalemate, particularly against the background of Chicago’s own swelling gun violence.

Still, Unlike Company’s talented ensemble finds both the humor and the melody in adult life, urging us to laugh at our own indulgent banality. If the show stumbles, the cast’s palpable enthusiasm frequently carries them through. Brian Posen’s excellent direction and sketch-stealing turn as a disgruntled piano man keep the show tight and fast-paced. At their best, Unlikely Company provides an exuberant evening of comic relief.

Unlikely Company will be playing at Stage 773 on Fridays at 10:30PM through the end of July.







In Amy Seimetz's 'She Dies Tomorrow', Death Is Neither Delusion Nor Denial

Amy Seimetz's She Dies Tomorrow makes one wonder, is it possible for cinema to authentically convey a dream, or like death, is it something beyond our control?


The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.


John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.


Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin

Jazz Trombonist Nick Finzer Creates a 'Cast of Characters'

Jazz trombonist Nick Finzer shines with his compositions on this mainstream jazz sextet release, Cast of Characters.


Datura4 Travel Blues-Rock Roads on 'West Coast Highway Cosmic'

Australian rockers Datura4 take inspiration from the never-ending coastal landscape of their home country to deliver a well-grounded album between blues, hard rock, and psychedelia.


Murder Is Most Factorial in 'Eighth Detective'

Mathematician Alex Pavesi's debut novel, The Eighth Detective, posits mathematical rules defining 'detective fiction'.


Eyedress Sets Emotions Against Shoegaze Backdrops on 'Let's Skip to the Wedding'

Eyedress' Let's Skip to the Wedding is a jaggedly dreamy assemblage of sounds that's both temporally compact and imaginatively expansive, all wrapped in vintage shoegaze ephemera.


Of Purges and Prescience: On David France's LGBTQ Documentary, 'Welcome to Chechnya'

The ongoing persecution of LGBTQ individuals in Chechnya, or anywhere in the world, should come as no surprise, or "amazement". It's a motif undergirding the history of civil society that certain people will always be identified for extermination.


Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.


Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".


The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.


The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.


Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.


​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.