photo by Stephen Urchick

photo by Stephen Urchick

The crowd at last week’s installment of Solo Saturdays, a monthly storytelling and standup show in the South Loop hosted by the Chicago Solo Theatre, was a respectable mix of polite twenty-somethings and seemingly long-married couples. Appropriately, our performers started with respectable themes. Thematic leaps were frequent but initially comprehensible; the distance between prize-winning cows and professorial guide dogs, for example, was on the shorter side. But nothing readied me for the deep, yawning chasm between Galvin the Labrador and Charles the Sex Slave. Like: I did not see that monologue coming. And I couldn’t tell if the audience had either. Or, at least, not until these tales from the erotic underworld had drawn their first laughs. To my surprise, this respectable crowd was not so easily creeped out.

Solo Saturdays convenes at The Venue, a smallish auditorium space at 16th and Dearborn. The building houses, among other things, a church, an elementary school, and the Overflow Coffee Bar. When the theater’s doors opened at 8pm, the café was still doing brisk business. Naturally, everyone believed the elementary school’s classrooms were dark and locked. Imagine our collective surprise, then, as a sultrily lilting quotation from the third sketch’s vampish mistress–“Hey, kiddos”–was suddenly punctuated by a little boy’s faint, delighted scream. How happily accidental, how squirmingly excellent were the bright giggles that accompanied our protagonist’s scandalized description of a toy-closet for the hypersexual.

As it turned out, none of the five performances were straightforward comedy routines. For each moment of high enthusiasm and gratuitous side-splitting, there was some dark undercurrent or bold bait-and-switch that made us privy to an unfortunate reality. Jokes were made at the expense of a confused boy at the state fair, but also a father-son relationship and a scoliosis patient’s self-esteem (the latter avenged by a reciprocal “violation” of a jumbo bag of Skittles).

As the thin walls had juxtaposed the obscene with the innocent, the solos themselves paired the sobering with the merry, the upsetting with the uplifting. The first performer’s monologue included a line from her curmudgeon of a lit professor: “The darker the night, the brighter the stars; the deeper the grief, the closer to God.” I wouldn’t say all the storytelling was divine, but it vigorously applied this principle: make light of misfortunes, and find something to share in the strange and the sorrowful.