Chris Gaines in...The Life of Garth Brooks

"From Ziggy Stardust to Luke the Drifter, alter egos have always been a staple in the music industry. But Garth Brooks's 1999 stint as Chris Gaines was one of the most confusing. Greg Ott's well-constructed parody turns that wonky era on its head, featuring Gaines as the "biggest rock star on the planet on the eve of the new millennium," who becomes dissatisfied with his career and turns to country music. Chock-full of 90s references like Tamagotchis, Judge Ito, and unlikely sex symbol Chelsea Clinton, the show is a nostalgic romp into a slower (i.e., dial-up) time. Wink Stone is hilarious as one of Chris’s cowboy "friends in low places," narrating the show with a twinkle in his eye and zingers in his back pocket. " — Marissa Oberlander

Chris Gaines in...The Life of Garth Brooks

Garth Brooks' short-lived attempt to broaden his career in 1999 under the pseudonym Chris Gaines has to be one of the most complete failures in recent history. Everything about the falsetto-warbling rocker alter ego (conceived as a way to branch out from country music) felt like a pose. Or an unintentional joke, since it appeared Brooks wasn't offering even a wink or two from under that emo haircut. Is it any wonder his fans found this hard to square with the image of the humble Oklahoma Everyman that he so lucratively cultivated throughout the '90s? The whole misadventure is such an obscure pop cultural footnote that playwright Greg Ott's comedy arrives as something of a screwball non sequitur, but it is one that works by flipping the script: What if Chris Gaines, with that ridiculous soul patch and hair falling over his eyes, was actually the real deal? What if "Garth Brooks country music star" was a character he manufactured to combat midcareer ennui? There is one glaring oddity here: Aside from a few chords of "Friends in Low Places," the man's music is nowhere to be found in the show. This is an easy fix, and by Annoyance standards (loose, shaggy and extremely lo-fi) the show does a far better job than most occupying that middle ground between professionalism and goofing around with friends. The running time is about an hour, which is just right; if it were any longer, the project would feel as self-indulgent as the Chris Gaines experiment itself. Inspired by the elaborate backstory Brooks created for Gaines, Ott (who stars as the Gaines/Brooks amalgam) and co-director Joe Avella instill in their cast a madcap sense of purpose, including a couple of awesomely faux maudlin flashbacks of father-son bonding. Tim de la Motte, in several roles but notably as Gaines' petulant limo driver, is the show's ace in the hole. Even better is the barrage of jokes that come at the expense of our not-so-distant past. "The year was 1999," says the show's laconic cowboy-as-narrator. "America Online was getting America online." He's played in Sam Elliot "Big Lebowski" fashion by Wink Stone. That's the guy's actual credited name, and as far as I'm concerned it doesn't get better than that. Nina Metz


"Annoyance offers a drinking game with pretty stellar results in "Hitch-Cocktails," a late-night Friday offering directed by Stephanie McCullough Vlcek. The premise is that the cast will enact a full-length improvised Hitchcockian thriller while drinking copious amounts of booze. The rule is that, if offered a drink in a scene, a performer must accept and finish by the end of the scene. A member of the audience is invited to taste test from the onstage pitchers of "brown" and "clear" to make sure no watered-down shenanigans are afoot. The audience is also invited to play along following take-a-drink rules posted in the theater. Those on tap include "someone makes a pun," "a woman screams," and "a gunshot." On the night I attended, the kickoff audience suggestion for an uncommon fear was "toenail clippings." This led into a convoluted story about a 1960 beauty salon in Louisiana, whose owners, played as guileless damsels-in-distress by Brit Belsheim and Mel Evans, were roped into a money-laundering scheme investigated by Caleb George's underachieving private eye. Rather than deliberately aping characters and scenarios from Hitchcock thrillers, Vlcek's nimble cast dove into the narrative with stylized aplomb, tying in earlier nuggets of information and leaving no MacGuffin unturned. When the largest portion of a drink ended up on his shirt, C.J. Tuor as the cowboy-hatted and Euclidean-geometry-spouting rival detective declared, "I take a lot of night classes, but drinkin' ain't one of 'em." But the focus and commitment in the "Hitch-Cocktails" cast suggest that this crew could pass any bar exam and still deliver the sly and high-spirited goods." — Kerry Reid

Exquisite Corpse

"In the 1920s, surrealists had a theory that stripping everyday associations of their context could imbue them with the unnerving hyperreality of dreams. The "exquisite corpse" method puts that into practice. In this sketch-comedy application, a cascade of non sequiturs are loosely connected by artifacts from prior bits. Rampant babbling, slurring, bizarre mouthing, and near-verbal jibberjabber make the show a technically exhilarating spectacle, and ingenious lighting adds fuel to the fantasy. Individual scenes can be anemic, or unrestrained—the setup hauls a corpselike figure onstage, for instance, and temporarily spoils the fun by naming the game. Yet these early missteps are redeemed by gripping juxtapositions." —Jena Cutie

Manic Pixie Dreamland

"Manic Pixie Dreamland is an amazing place with a glitter fountain and unicorn stables and a ukulele tree where quirky young women spend their time doing arts and crafts and live for the summers when they will go out into the world and transform the lives of morose young white men with their magical joy and vivacity and—this cannot be emphasized enough—quirkiness. The term "manic pixie dream girl" was coined by Nathan Rabin to describe this sort of flat movie character, who "exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors" (prototype: Natalie Portman in Garden State). This Annoyance production has the potential to be a tired retread of Rabin's essay and the million feminist blog rants that followed, but happily, it's far more inventive than that, and the extremely talented cast's high spirits are infectious." —Aimee Levitt

Messing With a Friend

"...will surely be the hottest improv show in town and costs a mere five bucks. Assertive, vulnerable, eloquent, acerbic and ---most important---complicated, Messing is a colossal talent."

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