After more than 20 years, the Neo-Futurist theater troupe has become one of the most venerable institutions of the far north side. On January 29, the group will be teaming with one of the newest, Metropolitan Brewing, to present Sean Benjamin and Steve Mosqueda's play, "Beer."
Mounted on a makeshift stage next to Metropolitan's fermenting tanks, "Beer" is the touching, quirky story of a ten-year-old boy named Boon, who, after illicitly drinking his first beer, a low-quality, mass-produced concoction, enters a surreal fantasy world of music produced by a band of "beer geeks" and beer ingredients brought to life by puppets, all of whom work to show young Boon the potential to be found in the ancient frothy beverage. The central antagonist is the none-too-subtly named Bud Millweiser, an evil purveyor of corporate beer. Boon must defeat him by learning the secret arts of brewery.
The show is a joyous celebration of quality beer, and a passionate denunciation of mediocrity, a philosophy its creators share with their hosts. When asked about the origins of the show, Mosqueda (who also co-created the popular Drinking & Writing Brewery with Benjamin) says "We were basically looking to tell people the story of beer in an entertaining way, and we came up with the idea of telling the story to a child." (While the idea of introducing a minor to the joys of alcohol might raise eyebrows, it must be remembered this is an adult show with adult actors and a lightly satirical tone.) Mosqueda also cites the psychedelic puppet show work of Sid and Marty Kroft from the 1960s as an inspiration for the play's visual aesthetic.
Mosqueda met Metropolitan Brewing co-owner Doug Hurst in an ancient brewing class some years ago, and they became fast friends based on their mutual passion. Hurst started out as a home brewer, and after some sucess exhibiting his creations at beer festivals throughout the Midwest, he began to desire a broader canvas.
He and his wife, Tracy, founded Metropolitan after laboring for years to lay the foundation for their own business. Their operation is just now getting started and, for the moment, is entirely run by the two of them. Doug is in charge of production while Tracy is in charge of "everything else," including business and marketing - although they both dabble in each other's areas.
Metropolitan's Ravenswood space has a warm and inviting vibe for what is essentially an industrial factory. It gives the impression of being exactly the kind of place its owners always dreamed of working in. The Hursts are big fans of the original Star Trek series, and their fermenting tanks are whimsically named after obscure characters such as "Zefram Cochrane."
Starting a business is always a tremendous gamble, but the Hursts believe they will be successful because Chicago is a town that is as passionate about beer as they are, an assertion borne out by the multitude of craft beer-purveyors in the city, such as Hopleaf and the Map Room. Bars like these, as well as some liquor stores, will be the main market for Metropolitan's product when it rolls out. Metropolitan's first major craft beers will include the Dynamo copper lager and the Flywheel bright lager. The brewery's major goal, Doug says, is to "take beer and go somewhere with it," combining reverence for Old World techniques with an American DIY spirit to explore uniquely Chicagoan flavor possibilities.
The Hursts' partnership with the Neo-Futurists came about not just because of friendship but out of a desire to connect to the community they will soon be serving. "Chicago has a great craft-beer culture," Tracy says, "And we want to do anything we can do to grow and foster that culture, because these tend to be adventurous people who want to try new things, and that will help us and anyone else who wants to do this kind of thing and participate in this culture."
"Beer" runs January 29 through March 7 on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. at Metropolitan Brewing, 5121 N. Ravenswood. For tickets ($15), call (773) 275-5255 or visit www.neofuturists.org. No alcohol is allowed at the performances, and warm clothing is encouraged. Note: There will be a special preview performance on Thursday, January 29 with complimentary beers and pizza from Apart Pizza Co.