‘The Toughest Man in Chicago’—The Best Show of the Fringe

By Ernest Kearney — Mike Royko (1932-1997) was the bard of Chicago. A newspaper columnist in the “Windy City” for over thirty years, Royko’s estimated output of over 7,500 columns stands as a history of Chicago and America.

Writer and performer Mitchell Bisschop, himself a native Chicagoan, undoubtedly lived with Royko’s words most of his life. His admiration for, and appreciation of, the columnist and his words show in the one-man show he’s penned, The Toughest Man In Chicago.

Bisschop recreates two prominent Chicagoans in his show. Royko, and his close friend and fellow writer Louis “Studs” Terkel (1912-2008.) Bisschop employs “Terkel” to bookend his story of Royko, and it is a life story to which the audience is treated.

Bisschop highlights all the essential elements of Royko’s story and throws a special light on those that the Pulitzer Prize winning columnist would have considered personal highlights: his fairy tale marriage to the woman he fell in love with at the age of nine, his love/hate/hate/hate relationship with the Chicago Cubs and his battles against Mayor Richard M. Daley.

But what is at the core of Bisschop’s show is Royko’s Chicago or perhaps Chicago’s Royko. The two are inseparable and at times seemingly interchangeable.

Bisschop has combed Royko’s columns for the purist of his creative ore; his legendary feud with Frank Sinatra, his civic outrage at the brutality of the police during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the tragically early death of his beloved wife, and the tragically late demise of Daley.

Bisschop has not only found Royko’s purist nuggets, but he wears them well too, capturing the gruff, impassioned reporting of perhaps one of the few neo-Renaissance men ever to sit at a press desk with perfect perfection.

Bisschop and Director Matt Pardue also make extensive use of actual news footage, even a clip from The Antique Road Show, in almost a Brechtian manner, managing to convey a sense of “Epic Theatre” to the show, encasing it in the historical reality of the time, and Bisschop himself in the persona of Royko. The success of this effort is, in no small part, a measure of the talents of Videographers Allex Tarr and Dan De Lorenzo.

Produced by Megan Ford Miller and Matthew Robinson, Bisschop’s show is a first-rate production that even hard-nosed Royko would have given


Platinum Medal - via The TVolution

The Toughest Man in Chicago


Hollywood Fringe 2022

Encore Performance

Performance Date and Venue

Thursday July 7 2022, 7:30 PM | 85 mins

ACTORS COMPANY @ LA Comedy Festival 
916 N.Formosa Ave

Written by

An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, "Among the Vipers" was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist, three times, in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. Kearney remains focused on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. His stage reviews and social essays can be found at TheTVolution.com and workingauthor.com. Follow him on Facebook.

No comments


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.