Phillip Lewis is a freelancing director and playwright native to Chicago. He has worked with companies such as Silent Theatre Company, Pegasus Players, Oracle Theater, and Prop Thtr along with a number of Deaf theater companies. He primarily focuses on the aesthetics of storytelling involving the representation of intersectionality and accessibility for all. He hopes to soon be a part-time American Sign Language Interpreter and a full-time impactful director.
(left to right) Colleen DeRosa, Lance Spencer, Courtney Dane Mize, Jaron Bellar, Dixie Lynn Cartwright, Roy Samra, Maggie Cain, Cody Talkie and Emilie Rose Danno. Photo by Carin Silkaitis.
By Phillip Lewis
To describe Other Theatre’s annual BARNEY THE ELF in a nutshell: it is ridiculous. For those in the market of ridiculousness, this is a show to add to the holiday bar crawl following piano bar night at Scarlet or Roscoe’s. The show is stuffed and padded with a pound of overzealous camp. Writer Bryan Renaud shamelessly cashes in on a swearing Mrs. Claus, embodiments of black women by white gay men, and easy jabs at political figures such as the bystanding Mayor or the controlling President.
The show is simple nostalgic fun for most queer-identified musical theater enthusiasts. Those unfamiliar with Chicago’s gay bar scene or musicals like Wicked might find themselves lost at times, but overall, the message is made undeniably clear that being labeled “the other” is merely an opportunity to flip-off mundanity. Having that motto ring throughout the play, It can get to be a bit heavy-handed on the after-school special, which adds to the camp but leaves quite a few plot holes. This is patched, maybe too neatly, by the main act Zooey, played by Dixie Lynn Cartwright, who effortlessly breaks the fourth wall to throw shade at the show’s flaws with a cadence that resembles Karen Walker and a poise that resembles Trixie Mattel.
The show’s standout, however, is the energetic Lance Spencer who plays an ensemble breakout star in almost every scene. Never is there a moment when Spencer is not prepped and ready for the high kick or smolder leaving the audience preaching “Yas, queen!”
Some of the songs and jokes work hard to land here and there while others find a good mesh of crassness and adorableness. Roy Samra as the titular character has charm and quirk that pairs well with Zooey’s more dominant personality.
For this holiday season, if you are looking for a ridiculous campy musical, BARNEY THE ELF is a good pick after a Sunday-funday brunch.