3 out of 4 stars
As you enter the mainstage, a kind of cabaret setting, at the Annoyance Theatre, the stage for Ben Hollis’s latest offering Sex,Booze and Candy Bars is very Spaulding Gray, which dates me I suppose. But it’s a good reference point for this autobiographical journey of prose and original music (with the occasional cover and a lot of borrowed riffs thrown in) Unlike Gray, Hollis has a friend on stage: guitarist John Siegle is the perfect accompanist for this middle aged musing on maturing.
Hollis starts the show with his recent brain surgery, a brush with death that makes everything stand out in high relief, then takes us back to his childhood and his coming into adulthood. His middle class search for meaning, a job, and the eternal quest for belonging is the one where men confound connection with sex and mask pain with alcohol or drugs and drown themselves in music- plot points that seemsto be the hallmark of a certain kind of baby boomer male coming of age narrative. What Hollis adds to the mix that makes it original is a sense of curiousity and a sort of jump off a cliff innocence—the same spirit that made him the beloved star of WTTW’s Wild Chicago many years ago. His original lyrics are worth an extended listen and the show has a solid structure where the hero is redeemed. The hour and 40 minute running time could use a bit of pruning to keep it spicy, and the candy on the tables lets the audience participate in the overindulgence that is a signature part of Hollis’s story. It would be interesting for director Paul Quinn to have a woman director have a go at this material, since the female characters are so important to the progression here,and in this era it might be fresh to inject a female gaze into the mix…… It’s a fine night of entertainment and Sex, Booze and Candy Bars reminds me of Adam Langer’s 2005 novel Crossing California: a perfect dive into a certain kind of Chicago life at a certain time.
Sex, Booze and Candy Bars: A Wild Man’s Musical Memoir plays Sunday nights at 7pm through December 2 at the Annoyance Theatre. For tickets and information go to https://theannoyance.com/events/event/sex-booze-candy/