Chicago Slam Works’ “Incendium”: A Hell of a Show

Incendium 1 - Dru Smith Dru Smith as Drucifer in the opening of Chicago Slam Works' "Incendium"

"Everybody looks better once they die."

Welcome to your orientation to the afterlife. In a gritty, dungeon-like club, the cast of “Incendium” provides a cabaret-style evening of performance to acquaint you with “unmortality.” “Incendium” is the 6th show from Chicago Slam Works, an organization originally created by Marc Kelly Smith (so what?), which strives for “poetry forward theatre.” J.W. Basilo, the director of “Incendium,” says that the productions of Chicago Slam Works are meant to challenge common perceptions of poetry. With this “play within a play within a cabaret show,” Chicago Slam Works succeeds in proving that poetry isn’t just for college classrooms and bourgeois coffee shops.

Incendium 3 - Jyreika Guest, Shelley Elaine Geiszler, Teagan Walsh­Davis (Clockwise from left) Jyreika Guest, Shelley Elaine Geiszler, Teagan Walsh­Davis, Angela Davis

With a minimalistic set made of moveable black cubes and a small platform upstage, the responsibility of creating the world of “Incendium” falls to the 8 capable performers. From the moment smoke came pouring out of the trapdoor and Dru Smith’s Drucifer emerged in red socks and white face paint, I was bewitched. Angela Oliver’s humorous solo song “Emotionless Sex” was a powerful start to the show, setting the tone of hilarity and menace for the evening. Angelique Nelson and Nate Cheeseman’s team-up acrobatics were incredible and Teagan Walsh-Davis nearly brought me to tears during her song, “Time.”

There was a fair amount of audience interaction, which is always a winning attribute in my book. Every audience member was given a job for the afterlife on a slip of paper in their program (mine was “high end luggage sales rep”). The performers broke the 4th wall to directly interact with the audience in a playfully hostile manner a few times.

“Incendium” is a show that fights against conventional description. Is it theatre? Is it poetry? Yes and yes. The majority of the script was made up of poetry and original music. Following the tradition of cabaret, the show included a wide range of acts from clowning to sword swallowing, all masterfully executed.

Incendium 2 - Nate Cheeseman (below), Angelique Nelson (above) Nate Cheeseman (below), Angelique Nelson (above)

“I primarily want the audience to have fun and have it be as entertaining as a $10 Michael Bay movie ticket,” hopes J.W. Basilo.

The show plays with the audience’s expectations. Rather than providing an unexpected pay-off, it tends toward the anti-climax and there were some moments when the show seemed to forget what it was about, losing its thread in what sometimes felt like filler. It recovered by returning to genuine moments of revelation which explored themes of loss, time, memory, purpose, and individual identity which is more than can be said for Transformers 4.

If you like poetry, go see “Incendium.” If you want something to talk about over dinner, go see “Incendium.” If you ever wanted to watch a bunch of multi-talented scantily clad people contemplate the hopeful yet nihilistic fate of humanity and whether hot dogs are sandwiches, go see “Incendium.” You won’t regret it in this life or the next.

“Incendium” opened Friday, January 29 and runs through March 4 on Fridays at 8:15pm at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont.

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Brianna Kratz

Brianna Kratz has a B.A. in English Writing from Illinois Wesleyan University where she learned the importance of "the poetic turn," the difference between thee and you, and how to read Middle English. She lives on the Internet where you can find her on Twitter and Lens & Ink.