Chicago actor Andy Eninger does a weirdly brilliant one-man improv dubbed Sybil. Working from a suggested setting -- on opening night, he got a combo diner-gas station -- he paints a picture with words, vividly transforming the bare stage into a 1950s den of Commie activity called Daisy's Diner.
Then he fills it with the people he plays: Aging and forgetful matriarch Daisy; her son Pedro; Pedro's beading-obsessed gal pal Claire; an elderly ham vendor named Martin, who courts Daisy both before and after his death.
With the story augmented by period-perfect music and sound effects, Sybil and Eninger take the audience on a provocative journey into a more challenging kind of improv.
Glenn Sumi's Top 10 Comedy Shows, Now Toronto, Dec. 26, 2002
by Glenn Sumi
"10. Andy Eninger (The Tranzac Club/Jamboree 2002: Toronto Improv Festival, August 18)
Chicago's improv poet laureate devised an entire multi-character show on the spot. Set in a dilapidated playground outside an urban tenement, the astonishing piece examined sexual freedom and loneliness, as full of humanity as it was of humour."
Experimentation With Forms, Performink, Dec. 20, 2002
by Lucia Mauro
"Following are my top choices for the most inventive and empowering productions of 2002: ... Andy Eningers One Man Seen at WNEP Theater"
TheatreChicago review, Sept. 10, 2002
by Fred Mowrey
One Man Seen features Andy Eninger, who takes an audience suggestion and then proceeds to create a full one act play. Those who are familiar with improvisation will tell you that having a partner, if not a full team, is essential to performing good scenes. Eninger's work, which is a further development of his Sybil form, requires that he support himself. With the exception of a few well placed light and sound cues from Elam, he is alone on the empty stage - no one to bail him out if a scene goes bad, no one to give him a breather in almost a full hour of performance. While this is impressive, even more so is Eninger's performance of as many as four characters the night I attended. These characters were very distinct and unique; female and male, they were emotional, funny and ultimately endearing. Amazing still is the amount of detail Eninger gave to his environment; after getting the suggestion from the audience, he proceeded to give a guided tour of the imaginary set on the blank stage, with so many details that whenever a character moved from one part of the stage to the other, we all immediately knew where they were, and the set pieces and objects that Eninger had mimed before. Better than some written one-acts, and brilliantly executed, One Man Scene is one must see. It takes improvisation to a whole new level.
Chicago Reader review, Sept. 14, 2002
by Nick Green
ONE MAN SEEN, FuzzyCo, at WNEP Theater. For the past few years improv savant Andy Eninger has been performing and teaching a solo improvisational style he devised--the Sybil, a one-person version of the Harold loose enough to excuse any lack of continuity. But in his latest effort, a completely improvised solo one-act, he's aiming for the kind of coherence and narrative arc unlikely to be achieved when the performer's flying by the seat of his pants.
What's great about Eninger is that he trusts his gut: after getting a suggestion from the audience and setting the scene, he treats each minute as precious and dives right in. He also has great stage presence. On the night I attended, he offered a gently warped investigation of sex, lies, and intrigue at an underwater hot dog stand, a setting he established and used flawlessly. But his blissfully lowbrow characters were somewhat underdeveloped:you could see him struggling to give them shape, a problem that's easily circumvented with the quick-change format of the Sybil. And the way Eninger delivers the dialogue--shuffling around the stage and plunging in and out of character--is one of those things you tolerate in a performer who inspires absolute allegiance. "You can trust me," he said during his introduction, and it's true: the form is far from seamless, but Eninger is capable enough that he succeeds through sheer force of will.
Windy City Times article, Sept. 11, 2002
All Eyes are On Improver
Andy Eninger in His
Solo Show 'One Man Seen'
by Kennette Crockett
Andy Eninger is one busy man. First, he is preparing to leave for Las Vegas with the Chicago Comedy Company (a company which teaches improv techniques to businesses). Secondly, he is teaching a class tonight at Second City. Thirdly, he is putting in mega hours practicing for his new solo show One Man Seen...an improv show that places Eninger in the spotlight where he creates a one-act play based on the audience's suggestions. Did I mention there is also the piano lesson thing? Being busy is not new for Eninger (pronounced like vinegar without the v); he has acted in countless GayCo productions and he is constantly touring.
Kennette Crockett: I saw you in GayCo's Behind Bars. You sang "I'm Gay So I Over Compensate" You have a nice voice.
Andy Eninger: Thanks. That is really me; it is completely true. My friends said that was the saddest scene they had ever seen.
KC: What was the inspiration for One Man Seen?
AE: A few years ago, I worked with another GayCo cast member, Kathy Bianchi, and we did a two-person show called Sybil. Sybil being a call back to the movie about the woman with the multiple personalities and then Kathy got a great job in London and moved away. I joked that I was going to do it without her but then a few months passed and I really got the bug. I began to work with an improv coach...people who do improv call their directors coaches...by the name of Tim Schueneman. About two years ago, I started to do it and it went well. At the time it was the perfect challenge for me to grow as a performer.
KC: Do you take suggestions from the audience or are these your characters?
AE: I do take suggestions and One Man Seen is the result of my working with a new director and retooling it. It is like Sybil 2.0. I have an amazing director, Gary Ruderman. I get a suggestion of a location from the audience and I create the set rather than simply creating a [character]. So it is a little expressionistic. The audience begins to visualize this whole location. Having your imagination stretched is delightful and you will remember the play so much more vividly because
you created it.
KC: I was wondering how you got the audience to see the same thing. I really like the poster for One Man Seen. I was reading the credits and it seems like you do it all. You are the animal wrangler as well as the caterer.
AE: I do, do it all. My producer Shaun Himmerick had the idea for it; the idea being that I am stuck in the spotlight.
KC: The title One Man Seen is like a double entendre like scene and seen. Why do you think that it is important to be seen?
AE: I have noticed that it gives me better teaching ability and when you are improvising solo and creating something from scratch in front of an audience it forces you to go deeper into your own perspective. So really your own voice comes out and there is always something incredibly engaging when a competent performer has to go deep into themselves.
KC: Have you ever been surprised by your own voices?
AE: (Laughs) Yeah. I would say a French Canadian assassin [surprised me most], and it was really fun to inhabit that character because I don't know where it came from. ... I have also discovered a few crazy characters in One Man Seen because these rehearsals have been more intense than anything I have ever done because the length of the show is between 45 and 55 minutes.
KC: What is your favorite audience?
AE: They laugh really loud and pay double price (laughs). I like a smart audience who is willing to wait for the laugh and go with the character.
KC: So I read that you started piano lessons and you're not a prodigy?
AE: (Laughs) No I'm not a prodigy.
KC: Why the piano over the guitar?
AE: I already play it. I have to keep up with those lesbians. I love music.
KC: I read that you are a teacher. What do you enjoy about teaching?
AE: The thing I enjoy about teaching is I get to see someone else grow. To contribute to another's improv growth is incredibly satisfying for me because I can remember people who influenced me either by giving great advice or inspiring me by their performances. My day job is that I work for the Chicago Comedy Company and it is corporate improv and it is a competitor of Second City.
KC: And you teach for Second City?
AE: I love teaching. Actually starting in October, I'll be teaching a 6-week workshop based on my one-man performances with Playground Theater.
KC: Why do you think that Chicago loves improv so much?
AE: Because of its playfulness. It certainly is an art form where selling out your character is rewarded by the audience.
KC: Does your sexuality effect your career in the improv world?
AE: If you are a talented performer, you are regardless. In terms of the commercial world, it may effect it. I know that I have lost gigs before because I am out doing an effeminate read of something. But in the improv world, it doesn't hurt at all.
KC: Karaoke yes or no?
AE: Oh yes, talk about your imagination you can dream that you are a star.
Chicago Free Press review, Sept. 11, 2002
1 hour, 1 man
by Jennifer Vanasco
Andy Eninger, an ensemble member of the gay-themed sketch troupe GayCo since 1996 (and, in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that he's my neighbor), has invented his own kind of long-form improvisational comedy--a scene with multiple characters all played by one person.
In "One Man Seen" (get it?), his solo act, he improvises an entire, hour-long play.
Each week a new play is built instantaneously around a single audience suggestion of a location (a weiner fast-food restaurant was the impetus for the show I saw). Eninger sets the mental stage with the thoroughness of Martha Stewart, describing the general setting (for us, a novelty restaurant in a submarine off the coast of Provincetown, Mass.), the materials used (antique white trim) and costumes worn (they range from a cap with an emblem of a narwhale to a tiny thong).
He then creates the characters -- which turn out to be easy to differentiate for the audience, because they are all oddballs. In Eninger's hands, a janitor isn't just a janitor, he's a 19-year-old with a lazy eye, a quirky amble and a crush on the male boss. The female love interest is a French blackmailer who writes bad poetry. The brother of the boss is a sleezy letch who is missing an eye. Only the boss himself seems to be normal -- until he starts requiring his employees to wear flippers. Heather Elam, the technical director, does a fine job of improvising sound and lights as Eninger creates comic mayhem on stage.
The play I saw, of course, will never be seen again, since it's different every week (the preview performance revolved around a Mayan temple), but Eninger shows a gift for the telling detail and for wild creativity that is sure to be present in future shows. Because the play isn't scripted, however, it can sometimes feel slow, especially when Eninger is trying to create dialog with himself. An hour might be just too long for this kind of experiment, though it's astounding to see Eninger tie up loose ends into something that feels like an actual play, not just a wandering linkage of jokes.
Improvisational comedy is fun not just because it is funny, but also because it is surprising -- "One Mqan Seen" is the kind of production that will never be predictable, because it is being created as you watch.
ChicagoTheater.com review, Sept. 16, 2002
by Lucia Mauro
Audiences imaginations act as a pivotal character in solo improv-artist Andy Eningers spontaneously self-generated show, "One Man Seen," produced by FuzzyCo at WNEP Theater. No detail goes unchecked in this 60-minute one-act play, which Eninger creates on the spot based on an audience suggestion for a location. This engaging performer who pioneered the quick-change, multiple-personality improv style called the "Sybil" describes the setting for his "zoo" locale right down to the textures of the bars used for his abstract cages and their metaphoric intent, along with the artificial animal fur covering patrons seats.
Under Gary Rudermans influential but notably hands-off direction, Eninger is free to riff in uninhibited bliss on his zoological theme while maintaining meticulous control over the material. He creates a complex flashback structure in which he maneuvers across two time periods and even travels to the afterlife.
Eninger plays all the characters and between his quicksilver and, at times, moving dialogue describes with obsessive exactitude the sets and costumes. Heres what transpired over the course of Eningers very clever and witty zoo story, which also brought a tear to my eye.
Shortly after the second world war, two inseparable siblings -- Ed and Edwina -- converted a wildlife park into a zoo and veterinary clinic for mild-mannered animals (like cats, dogs, fish, cows, sheep and an irresistible turtle that roams freely about the grounds).
When Edwina falls for a charming sheepshearer, Ed reminds her that the zoo is her true calling. In an odd way, these entwined twins echo the creepy co-dependence of Norman Bates except they dont murder anyone in the shower. Edwinas horrifying discovery of the sheepshearers womanizing ways, however, reinforces Eds warnings and convinces her to dedicate herself to the gentler beasts she tends. Meanwhile, Eninger creates a subplot involving a beleaguered little boy named Tommy, who wants to be a veterinarian but is sent off to a military school by his parents.
Jump ahead to 2002, and we meet Sylvester, a slightly dim-witted teenage volunteer at the now-dilapidated zoo about to be taken over by the state. He receives a phone call on the zoos pay phone from the deceased Ed (Edwina died a few years earlier) ordering him to find the now-grown Tommy the only person Ed believes can save the animal haven to which he devoted his life.
Eninger is guided and inspired throughout by the expert lighting/sound design skills of technical director Heather Elam, who smoothly tosses the performer into the 1940s with a quiet Big Band music cue or places him in a more reflective state with the flick of a soft spotlight. All the while, Eninger inserts riotous descriptions of the characters into his spirited impromptu script lingering on the sheepshearers bushy moustache, Sylvesters baseball cap thats curved in front or Tommys Indian headdress topped with a construction-paper feather.
The set also gets more elaborate with a variety of gleaming surgical equipment dangling from an overhead shelf in the veterinary clinic; a poster featuring a cat with electrified fur that states "Bad Hair Day"; a rock wall that rises from the ground; and an overall scenic sense that "humankind is being pent up."
Some of the best exchanges happen between the dead Ed and flummoxed Sylvester. One in which Sylvester attempts to record Eds phone conversation, only to find that like vampires who dont appear in photographs his voice does not register, is right out of a "Twilight Zone" episode. And Eninger is so skilled at the minimalist barb that, when Sylvesters cell phone rings, all he has to say is, "Shit! How did he get my cell phone number?," to make a profoundly funny statement.
Eningers on-the-mark ability to end scenes with a gentle punch is evident throughout the show especially one in which Edwina frantically reviews her marriage options while casually sewing up a cat, then looks down and frets, "Oh, no, dont wake up."
By the end, I felt like I really got to know and feel for these impassioned characters. And any performer who can transform a turtle into a noble and loyal animal on the level of Old Yeller proves that comedy is more about revealing the humanity in a character or a situation than getting laughs.