Chicago Theater Review: CLOSER THAN I APPEAR (Steppenwolf)

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by Erika Mikkalo on December 7, 2012

in Theater-Chicago


Jeff Garlin, comedian and star performer in HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, appears in his one-man show Closer Than I Appear at the Steppenwolf Theatre Upstairs. Although it is possible to describe the evening through a seemingly free-associative list of objects – a suitcase, plastic jack o’ lantern, orange note pad, red shoes – the one truth of any of the following performances is that they will not be the same. Mr. Erika Mikkalo’s Stage and Cinema review of CLOSER THAN I APPEAR at Steppenwolf in ChicagoGarlin is an alumnus of Chicago’s own Second City, and remains dedicated to the practice of improvisation, candidly informing the audience that he does not have a script, a set, or any particular plan for the shared time.

On opening night, approximately half of the nearly ninety minute performance was dedicated to interaction with the audience. Individuals and couples become the targets of his good-natured critique, and Garlin gladly makes quick work with the available material. Topics covered include, but are not limited to, questionable footwear and its effect on the wearer’s romantic life, career advice for young comics, the perils of matrimony, whether straight male/lesbian duos would constitute the best married couple, and one lady’s possible personal history with LSD. No guarantees, but the evening also includes a chance at fun and prizes: the comedian graciously covered the plane fare of a couple that had impulsively jetted up from Hobe Sound, Florida, and threw in some gently-used luggage as a bonus.

Erika Mikkalo’s Stage and Cinema review of CLOSER THAN I APPEAR at Steppenwolf in ChicagoOnce the audience is exhausted, Mr. Garlin proceeds to some established material, inviting listeners on a tour of the ultimate absurdist strip mall, and analyzing both his performance and the audience’s response as he executes the piece. There’s a relaxed exposition of craft as the evening proceeds. The comic informs us when he’s thought of a new line, when it was inserted, why it succeeded – or failed – and the listener has a sense of seeing both the man on stage and the man behind the curtain.

The combination of set material and improvisation is balanced and lively, with one particular anecdote, “Creams and Lotions,” providing the highlight of the show. While Mr. Garlin lingered, the highly recommended evening still provides entertainment, some thoughtful conversation, and insight on the work of comedy.

photos by Michael Brosilow

Closer Than I Appear
Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago
scheduled to end on December 16, 2012
for tickets, call (312) 335-1650 or visit

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