If you're one of these people who lament the decline in knowledge of civic affairs, the first event in "The Game Show Show … and Stuff!" at the Mercury Theater on Friday night would have had you pulling your hair out. Fingers on the buzzer but fuzzy in the head, a pair of contestants struggled mightily to define the word "bill," or even cough up the three branches of U.S. government. Ah well, this is a late-night show. Perchance their early-evening activities had not been the best preparation.
Hosted by Anderson Lawfer (who has a certain Drew Carey-like charm) and James Anthony Zoccoli (the booming Don Pardo of these proceedings), "The Game Show Show … and Stuff!" is exactly as billed. With names drawn at random from a revolving drum, audience members parade onto the stage to take part in a variety of competitive amusements, ranging from the aforementioned, cringe-worthy quiz to a sillier game that involves freeing a plastic baby from a sea of Jell-O. Winners receive a gift certificate from a wine-bar sponsor. Losers get a Jeremy Piven air freshener as the kind of consolation prize that could render anyone inconsolable.
First produced at the Strawdog Theatre under the direction of Noah Simon, "Game Show" has come up from the Chicago fringe, where it's had a sleeper-like life as a grungy game-show parody sought out by those in the know. It's a great idea and affordably priced to boot — instead of spending the entire night in a bar, you and your date or friends can go to this attraction and have a few collective laughs in a good-nature setting. A live band and a pair of comely hostesses/singers (Nikki Klix and Anne Sheridan Smith, who both need more to do) are part of the troupe.
But the moment you move such an attraction to the Mercury Theater — a mainstream venue in the heart of the Southport Avenue entertainment district — expectations change. Here's what needs to happen for this show to work in such a space: It has to be much, much faster and funnier — Lawfer needs more material and he should have a lot more fun with his eager volunteers. One endless Friday game, something called "Stuck or Loose," involved guessing which objects were glued to a table; it died a lingering, terrible death. Several more games could be packed into the hour-long show. On Friday, the most original event involved contestants dressing up as bums and shaking down the audience for change (proceeds went to the Lakeview Pantry). More of such irreverent antics would help the show fly.
And care needs to be taken with special guests — Friday's attraction was a performer named Jyldo who sang an excruciating unfunny "Star Wars" song, if that's not a redundancy. These guys could add a few minutes of running time and find room for more between-game diversions, preferably of better quality.
The sweet spot here lies in adding enough action to fill a big stage for a party-minded crowd, but keeping the show's irreverent, outrageous soul intact. At the end of the night, this must be a Chicago-style show for those who hate, yet secretly love, game shows. And with no network police to worry about, "The Game Show Show … and Stuff!" could and should be able to take all the risks it wants.
When: Through Dec. 31
Where: Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport Ave.
Running time: 1 hour