Review: Love and Longing Are in the Spotlight in City Lit’s Two Hours in a Bar

City Lit Theater has a long and illustrious history in Chicago starting in 1979. They take works of literature and make them into staged works. They are often musicals or plays with music in them. Two Hours in a Bar is just what it sounds like—performed as two one-act plays. Artistic director Terry McCabe produces and directs these poignant and funny slices of life.

Waiting for Tina Meyer is the first play. On New Year's Eve 1984, two actors step inside Finnegan's Bar. Walter (Jimmy Hogan) is ready for action and wants to head over to Club 90 where two sure-thing dates are available for him and his buddy Bob (Fred Mauricio). Walter is quite the '80s guy and an actor to boot. Bob is more of a romantic who wants to stop by Finnegan's to meet a woman who slipped a note to the stage manager where he and Walter are starring in a Richard the III musical comedy—Oh You Humpback.

L-R Freddy Mauricio, Jimmy Hogan, Kat Evans, marssie Mencotti, and Shraman Ghosh (at piano). Photo by Steve Graue.

The dialogue by playwright Khristine Thatcher with material from the late Larry Shue crackles with snappy comebacks. Kat Evans plays Robin the bar owner with a great Chicago-style take-no-BS attitude. Shraman Ghosh is quite funny as the bar pianist Carl who sees the miracle in cement truck sightings. marssie Mencotti plays The Lady who has not been in because her husband recently died. Mencotti is a firecracker with one-liners and asides.

The Lady mourns her husband but gets on with life. She plays the ponies and is a regular at Finnegan's. She observes Walter and Bob shrewdly and cuts Walter down to size when he makes crude comments about women. "Not from the Alan Alda school," she quips, which places the action firmly in the '80s when Alda was the ultimate nice guy/perfect husband. Walter keeps egging Bob about this mysterious woman who wants to meet him. Hogan plays Walter with great '80s energy. His character would be a guy who couldn't wait to go out to the bars and would call a stripper an ecdysiast to make it sound more suave.

Jimmy Hogan and Kat Evans. Photo by Steve Graue.

Mauricio and Hogan do a number from Oh You Humpback that is tastelessly hilarious. "I know deformula for love de Plantagenet" is but one of the lines that should have a rim shot. The set by Ray Toler is spot on and would need only a pool table to be Cunneen's on Devon back in the '80s. The jumping fish tequila decanter is another delicious set piece from when everything was marketed as a collector's item.

Does Tina Meyer ever show up to meet Bob or does he head over to see Phoebe the Pancratiast? Will Walter make any headway with Robin with the "insult a chick to make her like you" rap? The answer to that is no but you may want to make note of the comebacks that Robin delivers to deflate his ego. I highly recommend this one-act Waiting for Tina Meyers from Two Hours in a Bar. It runs for about one hour.

Text Me is the second one-act in Two Hours in a Bar. The setting is a rustic bar establishment. Once again Toler's set reminds me of being at Barnaby's and if they added a truck of sculptures it could be the gone and never forgotten Gulliver's on Howard Street. The book, lyrics, and music are written by Kingsley Day. This one-act delves into online dating and how people get lost in the technology so much that they don't recognize what is real.

L-R Kat Evans, marssie Mencotti, Freddy Mauricio, and Jimmy Hogan. Photo by Steve Graue.

marssie Mencotti is the clumsy Manager and Freddy Mauricio is the Waiter who can't get Carol (Evans) or Ian (Hogan) to order food. A crash from the back room is heard when he asks if they want to see a menu or order. It is a fun sound effect and a wonder that someone doesn't emerge in traction.

Carol is there as Ian's wingman as he sets out to meet a man who may be the one. They have a funny back-and-forth exchange with fun lyrics as Carol reminds him of some of the doozies he has met. Evans and Hogan are capable singers but could use a bit of modulation on the volume. The music leans into standard musical fare with a possible homage to Sondheim. It could have been just spoken as far as I was concerned. Just as texting is not the best way to build a relationship, it is not the best lyrics to build music on.

Evans sparkles acting out the emojis and Hogan is sweet as the lovelorn Ian. The premise is good but the timing could be tightened up if there was less singing. It would be better if the music did not reach for a traditional musical sound. I would love to hear either Evans or Hogan stretch into a more contemporary sound. Shraman Ghosh is the piano accompanist for Waiting for Tina Meyers and Text Me. City Lit commissioned Text Me from Kingsley with the caveat that he could not read Waiting for Tina Meyers.

I see a kinship between the writer of both with an O. Henry or Guy de Maupassant influence in both pieces. I would add irony to the themes of love and longing for these works.

Two Hours in a Bar plays through April 21 at City Lit Theater in Edgewater Presbyterian Church, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr. For tickets and more information, please visit www.citylit.org. Artistic director Terry McCabe announced last spring that he will retire at the end of this 43rd season for City Lit. Brian Pastor is incoming artist director.

For more information on this and other plays, see theatreinchicago.com.

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Kathy D. Hey

Kathy D. Hey writes creative non-fiction essays. A lifelong Chicagoan, she is enjoying life with her husband, daughter and three dogs in the wilds of Edgewater. When she isn’t at her computer, she is in her garden growing vegetables and herbs for kitchen witchery.