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March 12, 2008

Pitching Penguins


Watching last Friday's performance of Pitching Penguins, a satire of the inner office politics of a Chicago public relations firm, one gets the notion that somewhere along the line the plot got in the way of the writing. The premise is a solid one; a former number one p.r. agency is fighting its way back to the top trying to place inane new products including delectable penguin wings, a giant cheese ball made of Swiss and Cheddar (SWEDDER) and eating utensils that voice Don Rickles insults. Just that on paper is enough to make one laugh. So the problem with the Flaxen Theatre's new comedy by David Brimm and Michael Rosenbaum, who themselves spent decades working at Chicago's top agencies, isn't the premise, it is the execution.

Pitching Penguins
At certain times the cast is so lack luster in energy, at least the night I saw the production, it was hard to understand the dialogue coming from their lips. Not to say that parts of the evening were not enjoyable. There are some nice comic moments from the five person cast, including Scott Cupper as the boss' inept son Billy, who is the agency's "idea" man with his alter ego, the Brainster and Jules Lamber does some nice manic work as the highly caffeinated Stephanie.

The problem is the script is so over-written, you loose much of the human spirit of the comedy and too often the piece descends into would be slapstick which director Karin Shook doing her best to keep control of the central plot line.

I was so looking forward to this production as I have to work with the public relation agents on a daily basis and know first hand the lengths they have to go to for their clients, especially when they are pitching something to the press they whole heartedly don't believe in. It is a very tough and dog eats dog business. Which is another problem in figuring out the exact function of the Brook's agency in the play; are they a public relations firm, a marketing firm or an advertising agency? The three are mutually exclusive jobs yet the ideas and schemes outlined in the plot seemed to confuse the three in the Pitching Penguins script.

Hopefully this script will get another reworking and some tightening up on the central plot. There is great promise for Pitching Penguins, not only on stage but as a television sitcom. Now there is a pitch for ABC.

Pitching Penguins plays through March 16, 2008 at the Victory Gardens Theatre GreenHouse, 225 N. Lincoln Ave, Chicago, Illinois. For tickets call (773) 871-3000 or visit

Pictured: Stephanie Ellis (Jules Lambert) describes her penquin wing disaster to Bob Morrison (Thom Goodwin) and Billy Brooks (Scott Cupper) in Pitching Penguins.

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