Jeffrey Sweet is a prolific playwright who, as a young, ambitious man, tried to shake off his hometown of Chicago, but now has come to almost define it. Although his works such as Flyovers and The Action Against Sol Schumann have become a staple of regional theater fare, Sweet is perhaps best known as the author of Something Wonderful Right Away, a 1978 history of the Second City troupe. And it is on that subject that he holds forth in a charming, if slightly rambling one-man show called You Only Shoot the Ones You Love, at the Studio at the Cherry Lane Theatre.
The piece is a combination thumbnail history of Second City and Sweet's own rise to success. Unsurprisingly, many of his early inspirations were Second City stalwarts like Alan Arkin and Nichols and May. And he dutifully notes how the lessons he learned while documenting that troupe helped inform his playwriting. Along the way, he shares some rich anecdotes, ranging from unexpected tales of Cossacks and pogroms to an amusing but gentle ribbing of the Russian comic Yakov Smirnoff.
This isn't the bristling edginess of Spalding Gray nor the epic narratives of Anna Deveare Smith. Instead, it's a nice night of storytelling by an aptly named guy who would probably be more comfortable spinning his narratives over a couple of beers rather than under a harsh spotlight. You can see this most at play when, after the show, Sweet emerges from backstage and -- standing in the lobby surrounded by friends and fellow luminaries -- proceeds to tell more stories.
On a recent night, David Henry Hwang, Sheldon Harnick, and the Emmy-winning director/choreographer Patricia Birch, who helms this production, were among those clustering around him. For future runs of this show, Sweet might even want to consider using that lobby klatch as the format of the evening.
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