Trust Us / Screw You is a rollicking two-man show (with supporting band) that explores confidence men and the art of the con: often with humor, but sometimes with honest vulnerability. The ensemble delves into the history of the con, focusing on a few key characters from Chicago, but also involves the audience in games of chance and deception, and brings the show home through reflections on personal experiences with con men. The co-creators blend all of these different pieces together, through the theme of the con, with consummate skill. The play keeps the audience well-entertained and a bit uneasy about where the next sleight of hand may appear.
Dan Kerr-Hobert and Phil Ridarelli, the co-creators and main performers of this piece, are a great pair with a sharp sense of comedic timing. Phil’s personal anecdotes, particularly one about being conned while buying his home, revealed a surprising vulnerability. These personal insights pushed the piece beyond comedy to a more complex questioning of why we have to watch our backs all the time, even when we’re among those we think we should be able to trust. Dan is a consummate performer, warm and funny, he builds a strong rapport with the audience through the production.
Musical direction by John Szymanski was excellent; the music was used to enhance the action on stage, and at times, to distract the audience along with excellent lighting designed by John Kelly. Misdirection abounds, and the lighting and musical elements were woven tightly together with the action on stage to great effect. The musicians, John Szymanski, Curtis Williams, and Alisa Rosenthal, were truly skilled and jumped in to fill any voids in the action admirably. The musicians went beyond background accompaniment to active participation in the action; Curtis pretending to be an ATM machine was a particularly funny moment.
While most of the pieces of the production fit well together and added to the whole, a few parts of the production didn’t work as well. At one point an audience member was sent out of the theatre and told to go to an ATM down the street to get funds to play a cup and ball trick. This was relayed back to the theatre through a chest-mounted camera, but technical difficulties meant we only got video and not sound of her trip. Even if we’d had sound, I’m doubtful that it would have contributed much to the show, and the audience member missed half the play while out on her “errand”. It seems to me like she fell too far on the “screw you” side of this production.
Overall, I found Trust Us, Screw You to be a great balance of history, comedy, and audience interaction centered on the con, and would highly recommend that you get tickets to this production.
Trust Us / Screw You is partnering with CH Distillery on Thursday nights for a pre-show “Booze and Beguilements” entertainment. The beguilement changes weekly, but includes vocalists, magicians, jugglers, and puppeteers. The comedy magician, James Sanden was the beguilement when I attended, and he was fantastic – just the right blend of wonder and revelation. Cocktails by CH distillery were delicious and put you in just the right mood to be amazed, deceived, and entertained.
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission
At the Neo-Futurist Theatre, 5153 N. Ashland Ave.
Written and directed by Dan Kerr-Hobert and Phil Ridarelli
Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30pm (may start late) through June 13
Buy Tickets at http://neofuturists.org/
General seating tickets are $20, $10 for students /seniors, or pay-what-you-can on Thursdays
Photo by Joe Mazza of Brave Lux