I suspect that the longevity of the Waltzing Mechanics’ El Stories series can be attributed to a couple of different factors. For one, its casual, documentary-style monologues—which are based on real rider experiences on the CTA—are varied and open-ended enough in concept that, even after yielding close to a decade’s worth of anecdotes, the premise hasn’t gotten stale. And secondly, the malleable nature of the show’s casting has made El Stories‘s different iterations over the years a sort of rite of passage in Chicago‘s non-equity scene, like a post-grad showcase of fresh faces in the city’s industry. After a two year hiatus, El Stories returns to its Greenhouse home for another celebration of the Christmas lights and decorations-emblazoned holiday train. Directed by Carinne Uslar, this year’s edition features the usual mix of cringe-comedy, urban misadventures, and uplifting, unexpected acts of neighbors being good to one another.
A starstuck rider spots the retired Red Line “happy conductor” and engages in an impromptu interview; a vlogger makes a scene out of herself singing and dancing on a car she only thinks is empty; a commuter takes off his own boots to give them to a man in need. Piss, shit, and vomit make their usual cameos, but this being a holiday show, the vignettes lean more toward the hopeful. Even one story about riders battling the Lake Shore Drive tundra during the 2011 “snowpocalypse” is heartwarming. v