The backroom of a dive bar is hardly where one expects to find fresh voices in contemporary performance art. Then again, The Hideout has never been just a dive bar. An unassuming outpost on the Elston Industrial Corridor, the nearly hundred year old establishment has maintained a reputation for quietly fostering experimental entertainers of all stripes under the tenure of its current owners, Tim and Katie Tuten, while also serving as a beloved neighborhood tavern.
Mrs. & Mrs. Wednesday Night (the alter-egos of real life husband and wife Charlie Malave and Lily Emerson) are the flamboyant co-hosts of a wild variety show that revives the best aspects of the couples-comedy style for the next generation. Not, perhaps, since Sonny & Cher, has a live show featuring duets, outrageous eveningwear, and―yes―even a ventriloquist dummy, been so relevant. This is owning in equal measure to an impeccable sense of comedic timing and the genuine musical talents of the co-hosts and their band, The Wednesday Night Specials. The latter being a supremely deadpan consortium consisting of half a dozen musicians (who collectively seem to play about two dozen instruments), each apparently self-styled, wearing everything from Larry Beers on the drums’ antler-bedecked fez , to Bob Garrett, the percussionist’s, face-obscuring scarf perpetually resting over his head, to (my personal favorite) Dave Smith a.k.a “Lord Hornblower,” the band’s bespectacled combination saxophonist, flutist, and bassist, decked out in a full ship captain’s ensemble, replete with a wooden pipe clenched perpetually between his teeth when he isn’t playing. Nick Davio on keys with his penchant for loud sweaters, and the comparably tame Rich Clark on the guitar round things out.
The shows are often loosely thematic in nature. On the occasion of last Wednesday’s summer solstice, the program took a turn into the occult. There were special guests, like Ghouldini, whose caricature makeup and goofy antics (including recruiting audience members for a good old-fashioned egg-and-spoon race around the tiny, overcrowded stage, ostensibly to help send his soul back to the Great Beyond), make for a charming homage to the great late night B-class horror hosts that will leave anyone who grew up in Chicago watching Svengooli on Saturday nights giddy, and the Shame Fairy (co-producer and recurring guest Sharon Lanza, in a homespun costume as ridiculous as it was genuinely unnerving), who comes around, uninvited, a couple of times a year to encourage everyone to dwell on what they feel worst about. Songs were sung. Lots were cast (by Erick Deshaun Dorris, as a divinely flippant psychic). Souls were lost. An actual, living dog (courtesy of Chels Harvey) was retrieved from the astral plain. And, in one of the sharpest bits from the evening, all members of the packed house were invited to join a cult.
Jim Cooper, as Dr. Atop (along with the incomparably stoic Chris Salveter as his reverent assistant, Joey), in what appeared to be welding goggles, lead the audience through a collective spiritual vision, a metaphysical surrealist road trip down a highway of tongues, the likes of which felt as though it had been conjured up by Hunter S. Thompson. The narrative progressed with Dr. Atop’s description of a series of darkly absurd billboards, delivered with the matter-of-fact timbre of a 1950’s newscaster, culminating in a brilliantly sincere and abbreviated rendition of Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” that left you wanting to laugh, and wanting, even more, to know why you were laughing. Rare is the comedy show that knows how to flirt with the avant-garde.
Rare too, in a time when the majority of performative art (be it in institutions, galleries, or alternative spaces) is plagued with heavy-handed sociopolitical overtones and delivered by humorless, self-important artists who eagerly brand themselves as “social justice warriors,” is it to see clever, quick-witted, well-crafted work that values humanity and artistry, and knows how to leverage it all for the sake of comedy.
Mr. & Mrs. Wednesday Night, of course, is no mere comedy show. It is the collective vehicle for the talents of a wide range of experimental performance artists, it is a sentimental throwback to the golden age of American entertainment, and―above all else―it is very, very funny
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You can see Mr. & Mrs. Wednesday Night every month at The Hideout (1354 W. Wabansia Ave). The next performance will be Wednesday, July 26th. You can follow Mr. & Mrs. Wednesday Night on Facebook, or visit their website for additional dates and appearances elsewhere around town.