An ‘L’ of a portrayal: Waltzing Mechanics takes on Adham Fisher

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Kelsey Peterson, left, as Adham Fisher. Photo courtesy of Waltzing Mechanics.

Last Saturday my ‘L’ racing partner Danny Resner and I caught a performance of the current incarnation of the show “EL Stories,” which uses the CTA race we lost against Leicester, England, native Adham Fisher as a framing device. Created by the Waltzing Mechanics theater troupe, the performance piece features a series of vignettes based on stories recorded from actual transit riders. Here’s a write-up I did of a previous version of the show.

Grid Chicago readers will recall that Adham returned to Chicago in April to reclaim his record for visiting all 143 stations (at the time; two new ones have opened since then) in the shortest possible time, which Danny I beat last winter. Scott Presslak and Kevin Olsta beat our time in early April, and were in turn bested by Rob Bielaski and Ben Downey later that month.

During his April visit Adham first did a weekday solo attempt, setting a new record of 9:06:48. That Saturday Danny and I took part in the friendly head-to-head ‘L’ race with Adham, in which he not only beat us but smashed the nine-hour barrier with a time of 8:56:33. Zack Florent and Keely Leonard from Waltzing Mechanics rode with Adham for part of his journey and interviewed him and fellow passengers.

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CTA President Forrest Claypool and Adham Fisher at the Linden station centennial before the start of our race.

Danny and I don’t appear in the show, but they adapted the interviews with Adham into some hilarious scenes, alternated with various stories about funny, poignant or shocking experiences on the CTA they gleaned from other riders. Since the casting is gender-, race- and age-blind, actress Kelsey Peterson does a brilliant job of caricaturing Adham, capturing his focus on details, obsession with his goal and high energy level, delivering her lines at lightning speed in a broad English accent.

Here’s some sample dialogue:

Bystander on train: What’s it like when you finish a race?

Adham: Last time I beat the record it was so close. I only beat it by two minutes and eight seconds. I was convinced I wouldn’t. When I got off the train at the final platform I cried. I liken it to finishing a marathon or climbing a mountain. Every time after a race is over I always look back and I say, “I can’t believe I did that.”

Bystander: But nine hours on the train – don’t you ever get bored?

Adham: I have a very high threshold for boredom.

There are only two more performance left of this production of “El Stories,” so if you want to see Adham portrayed on stage be sure to go this Saturday or the next. The following Saturday, August 25, the show reboots with a new cast and an all new show, this time featuring interviews with riders on the Dan Ryan branch of the Red Line, focusing on their thoughts about the CTA’s plans to close the line south of Roosevelt for two years for reconstruction. Should be a fascinating show.

“EL Stories” runs every Saturday night at 11:00 pm at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln. Tickets are $15.

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John Greenfield

John has lived in Chicago since 1989 and has worked a number of bicycle jobs, from messenger to mechanic to managing the Chicago Department of Transportation's bicycle parking program, arranging the installation of over 3,700 bike racks. He writes regularly for Time Out Chicago, Newcity, Momentum and Urban Velo magazines and works at Boulevard Bikes in Logan Square.

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