SOME QUOTES FROM REVIEWS
"Sometimes people are misguided or undiscerning enough to praise you for your way with words. Which - don't get me wrong - you totally, totally appreciate. But which also rings a little hollow when you know that such a person as Barrie Cole exists in the world, and has this wizardly, alchemical capacity to break language into its constituent parts and wring its juices into a bucket of her own devising and to stir the contents of that bucket with a vigor and intensity that you feel like might leave your poor brain in a smoking husk were you to attempt it. Then she pours that resulting concoction into your ears with that voice that hovers in the air between you like a jet trail, and the reconstituted language burrows into your brain and nests there. And you maybe forget about it for a while, but then its chrysalis splits and it flies around inside your brain, and even though you know you can't work the kind of magic that she does, you look with new eyes at the words before you, and you by God try."
Founder/ Producer of Write Club
"Another unmitigated triumph of perversity is Barrie Cole's Elevator Tours. Its premise is the stuff of pure, mainstream rom-com: fresh from a traumatic divorce, Will camps out in the apartment of his lonely platonic friend Ruth. Naturally, we expect them to hem and haw and fall into each other's arms. But Cole mounts a powerful attack on our expectations. Her script becomes a kind of microtragedy, about two people using every ounce of their intelligence, creativity, goofy comic sensibilities, and vast immaturity to defeat whatever seems to make most sense. It helps greatly that Will is played by Colm O'Reilly (a son of Beau), who's very good at manifesting a sort of dynamic unassertiveness. And Carolyn Hoerdemann is fun to watch as Ruth—not to say refreshing, inasmuch as this is one time she didn't get cast as a prostitute."
What an unfortunate fate, to miss Tom Wolferman describe, heartbreakingly and hilariously, giving a bath to his Alzheimer's-stricken mother, and to not hear Barrie Cole explain, gut-splittingly, the ways in which a one night stand is nothing like a nightstand."
Alexia Elejade Ruiz
"Projects" at Story Sessions
"Barrie Cole is one of Chicago’s brightest playwrights. Her specialty seems to be the doomed relationship. Her script is smart without being snarky, and its dialogue manages to feel natural."
J. Scott Hill
Chicago Stage Review
"I Love You Permanently."
"A fascination with words — their sounds, their meanings, their rhythms — has long been a defining quality of playwright Barrie Cole."
"I Love You Permanently."
"Barrie Cole is fabulously insightful writer and actress, and an astute observer of human quirks and foibles. "I Love You Permanently is full of hurt and hope, and a joy to see. There are true nuggets of brilliant insight on the human condition, and dating in particular, and enough challenges and obstacles to support a classroom full of acting students. I particularly loved how cell phones on stage became part of a game as well as a distraction and a source of jealousy and conflict, much as they can be in modern day life."
Bonnie Kenaz -Mara
"I Love You Permanently"
"Playwright Barrie Cole loves to play with words and conceptual themes like a child loves to play with Legos. In Fruit Tree Backpack, a tiny, taut and daffy trilogy, her characters like to do the same. Clove Productions has teamed up an excellent cast and Eric Ziegenhagen’s simple direction keeps out of the way of Marisa Wegryn and Michael Kessler’s subtle and satisfying comic interaction. This is the charm of Cole’s work: even when uncertainty threatens to bring misery or instability, her characters still try to retain some kind of upper hand through the use of language. It’s inventive and loaded with emotional meaning.
Chicago Theater Beat
"Fruit Tree Backpack
""Playwright Barrie Cole creates an examination of abstract personal conceptualizations that is casual, frantic, contemporary, absurd, accessible, sincere and ridiculous. In the seemingly silly conversations of a darling yet detached couple, Cole uncovers extraordinary analysis of art, art analysis, and the anti-analysis of artistic expression. Delightfully intellectual without being academic, Cole uncovers humor in places that few bother to look. The writing is self-aware, self-assured and self-aggrandizing; balancing in the perfect dose of silly so as not to take its serious revelations too seriously. Cole uncovers the idiosyncratic psychosis of human interaction at its most brilliantly funny and cleverly revealing by rendering absurd analogies that are dead on."
Chicago Stage Review
"Fruit Tree Backpack"
"Fruit Tree Backpack""Barrie Cole's trio of short one-acts are written in a faux-naif style that should be cloying, but her script is a terribly smart and engrossing depiction of a highly verbose young couple negotiating the boundaries of their relationship. The effect is something like a brief indie film about a difficult woman and her doofy boyfriend scripted by Diablo Cody and Dave Eggers."Nina MetzChicago Tribune"Fruit Tree Backpack""She believes public beaches are the earth's genitalia, considers her writing "an investigation of punctuation," and wraps an orange in packing tape to "see what it means." He's exhausted by her fanciful impenetrability even as he secretly devises his own "mansion of love" with "dancing on Thursdays, crying on other days." In lesser hands, it could be Sarah Ruhl-esque tripe. But Chicago playwright Barrie Cole uses her hyperliterate quirkiness with disarming seriousness, to investigate the burdens of intimacy. Director Eric Ziegenhagen employs the lightest of touches, encouraging Marisa Wegrzyn and Brad Smith to do almost nothing except attend to the subtlest emotional nuances in Cole's unconventional dialogue. They're so in tune with the material and each other that these 45 minutes approach the epic."
"Fruit Tree Backpack"
"Cole has chosen a well-balanced selection of humorous sketches for this concert reading. A marriage threatens to flounder on the husband’s obsession with haiku (“Look at these dishes/I need to wash them right now/Then they will be clean”); a reader encounters an unimaginably captivating book; three roommates speculate with amusement and anxiety on the packages accumulating in their upstairs neighbor’s apartment. Like her spiritual compatriot David Sedaris, she could be accused of wrapping her funny packages with too tight a bow; their will to quirkiness doesn’t always allow room for true heartbreak or revelation. The pieces display Cole’s eye for detail and her rhythmic gifts, and she performs them with a winning verve.
Time Out"Word Bath"
"With this new collection of monologues, Chicago's champion of lyrical oddness, Barrie Cole, takes a satisfying leap into accessibility without sacrificing her unique imaginative flair. The five pieces that make up this 65-minute evening mostly tell first-person stories with clear, familiar structures and a resonant whimsy. In "Stuff," an enormously overweight upstairs neighbor buys so much junk from various catalogs that the ceiling begins to cave in. The narrator of another tale spends 15 minutes extolling the virtues of a book she loves so much "it's become almost a pet." As a performer, Cole combines a childlike candor with a captivating, P.J. Harveyesque gift for vocal abandon. This is a rich, fulfilling evening."
"At her best, solo performer-turned-playwright Barrie Cole charms with her childlike, word-drunk poetic language, then delivers heartfelt revelations about life and mortality."
" Obsessions rule the family depicted in Barrie Cole's intelligent, funny new play: the father is consumed by ethical dilemmas, the mother balances her compulsive interest in poetry with compulsive interests in juice boxes and jigsaw puzzles, and a grown son "escapes" by writing a logorrheic blog about his parents. Enter a woman who's a poet, an actress playing the poet, and "Barrie Cole," a disarmingly obnoxious deus ex machina who does actually save the family. Though the other characters berate "Cole" for the script's "meta-ing," their attacks invite us to laugh.
"Metaphor Land" is a paper flower stuck in a tilt-a-whirl, or might as well be. Cole’s family play goes to great lengths to demonstrate its inventiveness, replaying scenes backward and forward and featuring such characters as “Actress as Dolores Natcherling as Barrie Cole.” These not-unenjoyable high jinks work ultimately in the service of a relatively formulaic plot, though; Cole has in essence written a sitcom that looks like Ontological-Hysteric Theater founder Richard Foreman."
"Word-drunk writer-performer Barrie Cole is incapable of using language straightforwardly. Even when she's rattling off her lists of tangential associations with letters of the alphabet--the show's opening gambits for her and fellow performer Julie Caffey--Cole's eccentric lists are dizzying. Caffey alternately grounds Cole when she gets too out there and ventures into outer space herself when Cole becomes obsessed, as she sometimes does, with finding the infinite in quotidian specks. Watching this hour-long show is like flipping through a great poet's journal..."
Jack HelbigChicago Reader
Alphabet Report"In this first installment of Alphabet Soup, the pair's initial "quarterly report" on a yearlong project that involves writing about one letter of the alphabet each day, they mostly free-associate words beginning with a particular letter until one triggers a memory from childhood or early adulthood. But their playful, fluid, and at times absurd musings are packed with evocative imagery. "'A' is for 'all together,' like fishermen coming up from the beach," Caffey reads. For "F," Cole recites a list of things some people consider fun, including "hitting a guitar over and over again with a metal cup."
"Where all too many performers pummel their audiences with alienating stylistic innovations, keeping people at a safe distance, writer-performer Barrie Cole plays with her medium to draw her audience closer. One of the first pieces I saw her perform was a short monologue, "The Else," packed with Gertrude Stein-ian linguistic pyrotechnics. Yet for all the sophisticated, sometimes baffling wordplay, Cole never lost her emotional connection with the audience. Even more impressive, she never let her story get away from her. Her latest play--The Jazzterpiece, in which she does not perform--is similarly rich, at once serious and playful, formally challenging and emotionally persuasive. Three wounded urbanites--a woman who has an emotional breakdown in yoga class, her emotionally distant jazz-fanatic significant other, and an unemployed, burned-out anthropologist--come together when the anthropologist and the S.O. become obsessed with making the jazz mix tape of all time, their "jazzterpiece." But what makes Cole's script remarkable is not the narrative; it's how well she utilizes her usual performance strategies: long, digressive monologues; quirky songs; and outrageous stage pictures (one woman fruitlessly applies a breast pump). These create the kind of well-developed characters (ably played by KellyAnn Corcoran, Julie Caffey, and Jeffrey Letterly) we--sadly--expect only in mainstream theater."
"When you consider that understanding what makes humans tick is an impossible goal, writer Barrie Cole's progress on this question is nothing short of awe inspiring. What's characterized her work to date, besides simple hard-nosed obstinacy, is the way she revels in the English language, juxtaposing words as both a performer and a playwright to evoke double meanings and the contradictions inherent in daily existence. The manipulation of language remains the centerpiece of her latest work, part of the Rhinoceros Theater Festival. To Relax and Laugh explores slowly but surely a therapist-client relationship that devolves into a series of social calls. Time has somewhat muted Cole's righteous indignation: traces of her cynicism seep through the cracks of this piece, but it occupies a more intimate, comfortable space than most of her earlier work, if only because of the warmth of Julie Caffey's and Laura Hugg's finely etched performances. Caffey is especially good as the fruity unlicensed therapist: she spends more time stroking her long gray braid than offering useful counsel. It's a simple gesture that speaks volumes about our morbid emphasis on self-presentation and deep-seated mistrust of psychotherapy. What Cole ultimately inspires here is audience exhaustion, not boredom--and it takes a playwright of no small resources to walk that fine line. "
"To Relax and Laugh"
"Cole revels in strangeness. She sets the hour-long Something Made Up in the apartment of a woman who spends every waking minute reading a book on ventriloquism and a man who tries to convince himself he's a shaman by mixing kitchen spices in a bowl. Although they have nothing in common, occupy separate sides of the stage, and interact as though they were strangers, the two have rented a daughter in order to practice being parents. The girl spends most of her time lying slumped in a corner in her pajamas, occasionally rousing herself to insist that her would-be parents sedate themselves or to report that a hermaphrodite appeared in a dream and bade her make a radish. But with ingenious subtlety, Cole transforms her collection of seeming non sequiturs into a mesmerizing meditation on family dynamics. Director Eric Ziegenhagen gives this Penlight Theater production a gentle, sensual feel, making Cole's weirdness seem downright cozy. By the time these three misfits learn to like one another, in the ridiculous but endearing penultimate scene, Cole has established just how human her peculiar world can be. "
"Something Made Up"
"Barrie Cole is more complex, less predictable than her predecessors. Her solo work is powered by a tightly wound spring of words: athletic metaphors and a fearless directness waltz us through doom into her own peculiar wilderness. Her work is difficult to categorize because it has its fingers in lots of pies--personal stories, political observation, even a kind of funky punk moral indignation. Cole's intelligence is a little hurricane that sweeps up her pieces into an elemental rage barely contained by flurries of images and repeated phrases. Sometimes she seems a hybrid of Gertrude Stein and Kali, exulting in the musicality of language even as she breaks the world open like a rotten egg.
Her four monologues in Sprung deal with different kinds of competition: gossip, sibling conflicts, sports, and courtship. She rips stories out of these spheres, then reweaves them into a crazy quilt of contemporary culture. In each one she explores the workings of language itself, engaging in what the program accurately describes as "linguistic rampages and gymnastics." (Each program also includes a guest artist; the night I saw the show, it was Michael Martin, whose rather incomplete experiment was overshadowed by Cole's work.)
I saw Cole perform "Chit Chat Chit," which indicts the dangerous pleasures of gossip, at the "Beast Women" festival this year. It's still a head rush. She veers from cartoonishly demure ingenuousness to a guttural viciousness that becomes almost comic as her pace increases. At first she merely sits and watches the audience, smiling blandly until she leans forward, thrusts out her tongue in a yoga stretch, and roars. Her transformation is the metaphor for the gossip's role throughout the piece, as she plays a telltale at a party: her stories escalate until they become ridiculous, then surreal, and finally incomprehensible, degenerating into babble and a concluding roar. Cole is particularly good at turning speech into nonsense in "Chit Chat Chit," spreading her mouth wide and enunciating every word of some story about a snake-handling woman who keeps hundreds of birds, nodding and pursing her lips as she emphasizes that every word is the plain truth: "No no no no no, I never lie."
"The Video" is a more conventional narrative, a story about Cole's 12-year-old sister stealing a pornographic video from a box in the family's basement. The script's detail and strange twists into verbal cul-de-sacs about family secrets make this a surprising and intimate journey. The theft provokes an outpouring so heartfelt it would be a confession if it weren't so diffuse and unselfconscious. Cole describes her sister's early and obsessive sexual awakening, her father's stinginess and loyalty, and her own explosive rage when she's falsely accused. The plain language and bug-eyed intensity of her performance made me believe I was seeing the adolescent Cole as she shouts, "You better tell him it was you, you better better better better tell him, because I am not getting in trouble for this, because if it wasn't me, which it wasn't, it was you!"
My favorite piece, though, is "Arena," a fantasia revolving around sports clich‚s. Cole's use of frenzied repetition is more sophisticated here: she combines adages from war movies and sports broadcasting with lunatic-sounding descriptions of Eskimo competitions. The intelligent, almost anthropological tone of the script contrasts brilliantly with Cole's enraged, adrenaline-stoked performance. She enters wearing a hodgepodge of sports gear, from football to boxing, the flapping sides of a loose shoulder brace slipping forward to resemble an extra set of breasts. "I have put on my uniform and I have entered the arena," she announces. Then she proceeds to battle unseen enemies at breakneck speed, interview herself about her victories and courage, and injure herself in a frenzy of self-destruction, collapsing in a panting heap.
Cole's rages can break apart stage conventions as easily and forcefully as they break up the language. She earns her well-choreographed madness in "Arena," shouting, "You have to have a sense of what is beautiful, and what is true, and what is right, because out there they can kill you. I swear to God they can." Refusing to die the little deaths of easy answers and small catharses, Cole makes her words into land mines and refuses to watch her step."