Sweet’s one-man show pays tribute to Second City
Playwright Jeffrey Sweet pays tribute to the people who made up Second City throughout the years in his one-man show, "You Only Shoot the Ones You Love."
Jeffrey Sweet in ‘You Only Shoot the Ones You Love’
at the Wilmette Theatre, 1122 Central Ave.
8 p.m. Sept. 21
$18 advance, $20 at door
(847) 251-7424; www.wilmettetheatre.com
Updated: September 12, 2012 3:26PM
How Sweet it is!
The author of such plays as “The Value of Names,” “The Action Against Sol Schumann” and “Court-Martial at Fort Devens,” will make a rare appearance onstage when he brings his one-man show, “You Only Shoot the Ones You Love,” to the Wilmette Theatre.
Evanston native Jeffrey Sweet created the piece at the urging of Second City friends. More on that later. First, let’s follow Sweet’s artistic journey.
The playwright achieved early stage acclaim in a production of “Inherit the Wind” at Evanston Township High School, winning a Best Actor award. “I was the best 17-year-old Clarence Darrow you could imagine,” Sweet said, playfully adding, “I hope you haven’t wasted too much time trying to imagine a 17-year-old Clarence Darrow.”
Following graduation, Sweet attended Film School at New York University, “partially to escape to New York because at the time there wasn’t a lot going on in Chicago theater,” Sweet said. “As I was hanging around NYU, taking film classes with Martin Scorsese and a songwriting class with Paul Simon, all these interesting things started happening and made me look back to Chicago.”
Inspired by its innovative improvisation work, Sweet decided to write a book about the Second City. Through his friend, cartoonist Jules Feiffer, Sweet was introduced to Sheldon Patinkin, who wouldn’t help Sweet unless he agreed to attend an improvisation workshop.
“It was quite an eye-opener,” Sweet said. “I learned so much about how you build scenes and how you build characters.”
With a good word from Patinkin, Sweet was able to interview many Second City performers, including Mike Nichols, Alan Arkin, Barbara Harris, Joan Rivers and Gilda Radner. “I spent three or four years running around, talking to these amazing people, and watching them rehearse, workshop and build material,” he noted.
After “Something Wonderful Right Away: An Oral History of The Second City and The Compass Players” was published in 1978, Sweet returned to playwriting — with new insight. “What I had learned from them about creating scenes on your feet ended up informing how I wrote plays,” he revealed. “But also, they became a surrogate family.”
Fast forward to 2009, when Second City celebrated its 50th anniversary and a New York Times article about the milestone neglected to mention Paul Sills. “This seemed to be ludicrous to me because Second City was Paul Sills’ idea,” Sweet said. People from Second City told Sweet that he had to do something about that.
Sweet’s response was to create, “You Only Shoot the Ones You Love,” filled with “funny anecdotes and insights into strange and wonderful people.”
Last year, he presented it at the New York Fringe Festival, receiving praise from the New York Times. And now the long-time New Yorker is bringing the show to his home turf.
Although a large portion of the solo show is about his experiences with Second City performers — including an explanation of that title — it also goes off in an unexpected direction.
“One of the things that I was learning as I was putting together the show was that I was telling a story that I didn’t know that I was telling,” Sweet explained, “which was the story of people who fled oppression in Russia and in Europe and came to this country—mostly Jewish immigrants.”
When the McCarthy Era began, the people on that committee reminded the children and grandchildren of those immigrants of the Cossacks, Sweet believes. “I think that led to the explosion of American satire in the ’50s. It began a tidal wave that is still influencing American comedy.”~