Thursday, February 2, 2012

The latest Reader performing arts reviews

Posted By on 02.02.12 at 01:47 PM

The Hunchback Variations Opera
Theater has always been at least partly about escapism, but two productions are taking that idea to the next level with downright magical plays about escape artist Eric Weiss, aka Houdini. The House Theatre of Chicago is celebrating its tenth anniversary by restaging its first show, Death and Harry Houdini, while Chicago Children's Theatre is capitalizing on the box-office hit Hugo by adapting another Brian Selznick children's story, The Houdini Box, into a lively musical featuring puppets and a set reminiscent of a pop-up book.

If escapism is the combination of an unlikely story and its sincere embodiment, then we're recommending a lot of escapism this week. There's Long Gone Lonesome, portraying Thomas Fraser, "the most significant British country music performer there's ever been" (yes, you read that correctly); The Feast, which transforms Shakespeare's The Tempest into a bittersweet, Beckettian puppet show; and most especially The Hunchback Variations Opera, which gives us two musical artists arguing over a sound effect in Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard. One is Beethoven and the other Victor Hugo's Quasimodo.

Other Reader-recommended shows are Stranded! The Lost Sketches of Brain Freeze, a sketch show loaded with 90's nostalgia; Never Been to Paris, in which comic Sean Flannery documents "the last dozen or so times" he almost got himself killed; and This Is Not a Dance Concert, an, um, performative event that takes the Seldoms—and their audiences—all over the Harris Theater.

Just in time for the Super Bowl comes Motion, a play about a female general manager in the NFL. According to Justin Hayford, you don't need to know anything about football to appreciate this crafty exploration of how greed and ego conquer ethics. Dan Jakes, meanwhile, found In/Corporate (Five Tales of Anxiety), only slightly less painful than a Monday at the office. See the recommended, couldn't-possibly-be-more-relevant Enron instead.

As the title character in Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, Erin Haddock is so nasty and petulant that she's impossible to sympathize with. The Girl in the Yellow Dress has all the elements of a steamy romance—ex-pat Brit, Paris, "English lessons" with Pierre—but the results are surprisingly cold.

We also have reviews of Residue, Time Stands Stili, and Home/Land, an interview-based play about immigrants, created and performed by the Albany Park Theater Project's impressive teen ensemble. Melanie Marnich's stitches together an entertaining collection of zany rom-com sketches in Quake, but the production feels a little shaky. And our coverage of fringe-theater festival Rhinofest continues with looks at 6 Pleasant Avenue and First-Rate Soup.

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