May we all just take a moment and agree that the Factory Theater is a goddamn Chicago treasure? In the homeland of scrappy ensembles achieving longevity on their own DIY terms, the Factory’s 18-year run and uncompromisingly weirdo aesthetic deserve praise. There may be no other company that so shamelessly, and regularly, dials up to 11.
Hey! Dancin’!, the company’s latest, sounds nightmarish on paper. It’s 1986, and two silly girls sneak onto their favorite cable-access dance show to hook up with their dreamy guys of choice. The host is named after a douche, the middle-aged station manager is a pillow fetishist, and there’s a magical black girl sent by Prince to save us all. Factory member Beyer and former ensemble member Pynchon, who’ve separately penned multiple scripts for the company, push the ridiculous further than you’d think possible, taking a Saved by the Bell premise to a cocaine-punched conclusion.
First-time director Graber makes sure the plot moves but wisely focuses on the far funnier ’80s stereotypes trapped inside it. The cast is stellar, playing parodies of parodies. Catherine Dughi infuses wanna-be slut Trisha with precision ditziness, while Aileen May’s resident mean girl has a soul as acid-washed as her fringe jacket. Rachel Sypniewski’s costumes are both far too much and just right, down to the purple suede, red vinyl and $14 shades. What could have been a pop-reference death march is, in the Factory’s hands, cheap, relentless and hysterical.