EL Stories @ Waltzing Mechanics

3 out of 4 stars

Live in the city long enough and you’re bound to have a few good CTA tales. Winters ago my brother and I were on our way home after a long night when we hopped a bus headed to the blue line. We sat in the back where it was a bit more sociable and got to chatting with our bus mates. As it turned out, there was another couple of brothers turning in for the night. Their night didn’t see them at a pub but as caters for some event at McCormick Place. As it also turned out, they managed to swipe a couple liters of vodka from the event as they left, and they were more than happy to share the warmth on so cold a night.

EL Stories is a compilation of similarly short slices of Chicago life, particularly about Winter and her holidays, from all sorts of Chicagoans (and a couple Wisconsinites) who have their own tales to tell. The ensemble (Alli Braun, Alison Donnelly, Jordan Golding, Ryan Jendrycki, Darnell Jordan, Josephine Longo, Jonathan Taylor, Kianna Rose, Joe Sergio) plays through twenty-one of these stories, from leading an expedition through the Snowpocalypse, to freestyling over some annoying drunk’s singing, to serendipitously meeting and interviewing perhaps the most famous (and most nice) CTA conductor, Michael Powell.

Taking place in a small theater at the Greenhouse Theater Center, they did a nice job evoking the EL’s Holiday car (thanks to Tom and Jan Murray’s design, and Kaitlin Taylor and Brian Uslar’s scenic and lighting design). The iron rods which create the frame of the EL car were wound with little Christmas lights which played a nice little role tieing the stories together, each seat was decorated, and Christmas gift wrap adorned the walls. Performance-wise I did notice a couple stutters here and there, and the attempts at Chicago accents were a bit off, but by and large it went off without a hitch.

The stories on display here are a bit more tame than what you might expect from the CTA. The only story to involve a weapon was a comical tale about a sleepy drunkard who could barely hold his knife. There are still masturbators, to be sure, and the occasional fecal story, but by and large EL Stories serves up a tonic to restore at least a little faith in humanity. Given everything going on in the world today, this is quite nice. Waltzing Mechanics’ EL Stories serves as a refreshing reminder that people (mostly) don’t suck.

El Stories runs from now until December 22nd at Greenhouse Theatre Center. Tickets are $25 and can be bought either at the door or at greenhousetheater.org/holidaytrain. Shows start at 8pm Thursday through Saturdays, with 3pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays.

I've had the fortune of being born to a painter, and since childhood have been involved in the arts in some form or another. After attaining degrees in Music Performance and Cognitive Science from Northwestern University, and after being exposed to the wonderful theater scene there, I realized I'd benefit as an artist if I continued contributing to the community. I believe an important part to being an artist is having exposure to as many sorts of Art as possible. Theater is one of the most variegated arts, and I feel all the richer for playing the small role I have in the Chicago theater scene (hopefully, Chicago is all the richer for having me!)