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ComedySportz Theatre

Open run: Thu 8 PM, Fri 8 and 10 PM, Sat 6, 8, and 10 PM

Part of a national chain of comedy clubs, this company is known for quick improv games (think Whose Line Is It Anyway?), but it also stages long-form improv. LCD screens and sophisticated lighting and sound systems amplify the sports-style improv of the company's eponymous production, ComedySportz. There's a snobbery in the Chicago improv community that looks up at the "art" of the long form, with its emphasis on story and characters, and down on the "entertainment" of the short, with its emphasis on games and punch lines. ComedySportz falls emphatically in the entertainment camp; its bottom line is laughter, and it gets plenty of it. The show is structured as a competition between two teams performing multiple games that require audience participation. A referee ensures that the players--a rotating roster from a company of about 50--work clean or they finish the game with a brown bag over their heads. The formula is practically foolproof: players may flash their quick wits in winning responses, but they're even funnier when they fail. In one game a team had to devise a pick-up line, each member contributing a word. Moving rapidly from player to player, the line developed: "Tonight-I'll-tango-with-your-face." Probably wouldn't work at a bar, but at ComedySportz it killed. --Ryan Hubbard $19

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ComedySportz Theatre (map)
929 W. Belmont Ave.
Lakeview
phone 773-549-8080 or 312-559-1212
ComedySportz Theatre

Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind

Open run: Fri-Sat 11:30 PM, Sun 7 PM,
phone 773-275-5255

The Neo-Futurists perform 30 plays in 60 minutes in this "futurist evening in the grand Italian tradition." The fare changes weekly in this long-running production; between two and 12 new scripts are performed each week depending on the roll of a die. This is funny, wise, nakedly honest, sometimes unsettling, and invariably entertaining theater. —Jennifer Vanasco $9 plus the roll of a die ($10-$15)

http://neofuturists.org
Neo-Futurarium (map)
5153 N. Ashland Ave.
Andersonville
phone 773-275-5255

The Magic Cabaret

Open run: Wed 8 PM,
phone 773-404-7336
,

Once upon a time, Chicago was a magic town. You could buy tricks and apparatus at Marshall Field's and get a full-blown magic show with your dinner at Schulien's. The waiters there invented what became known as the Chicago style of magic. It was up-close and personal, not too grand, but still astonishing, and best of all, it made the audience part of the show. David Parr and Joe Diamond re-create this golden age in The Magic Cabaret, using homely objects like books and light bulbs and (naturally) playing cards to bring their stories of old-time magic to life. The result is by turns funny, surprising, and spooky. But here's the most amazing part: it really is fun for the whole family, not just the kids. —Aimee Levitt $20

http://magic-cabaret.com
Greenhouse Theater Center (map)
2257 N. Lincoln Ave.
Lincoln Park
phone 773-404-7336

A Nude Hope: A Star Wars Burlesque

Open run: Sat 9 PM

Answering the prayers of nerdy straight guys everywhere, this Geek Girl Burlesque show features a bunch of scantily clad women reenacting the first Star Wars movie. The only character who isn't played by a woman, R2-D2, is represented by a trash can. M.C. Curran's script closely follows the plot of the original except that the action frequently pauses so cast members can strip down to pasties and panties. Even Chewbacca gets a turn. In the spirit of Minsky's, Timothy Bambara's staging is more suggestive than raunchy and as concerned with laughs and novelty as with titillation. It also offers the rare chance to see Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi perform a posthumous striptease to the Bee Gees' "I Started a Joke." —Zac Thompson $35

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Gorilla Tango Theatre (map)
1919 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Wicker Park/Bucktown
phone 773-598-4549

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Whirled News Tonight

Open run: Sat 8 PM

The fact that this fully improvised show has lasted ten years is impressive enough—most improv troupes are good for a season or two at most. Even more impressive, though, is how well the ensemble functions under the direction of creator Jason Chin. They listen to each other, play well together, and never resort to the kind of cheap, quick laughs that can wreck a scene. Instead, as the best improvisers do, they build slowly, adding to one another's improvisations and in the process creating fascinating, funny scenes with the ease of an ace jazz ensemble. The improv bits here are loosely based on items taken at random from the newspaper, as well as on questions submitted by the audience. —Jack Helbig $14

http://chicago.ioimprov.com
iO Theater (map)
1501 N. Kingsbury
Wrigleyville

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Felt

Open run: Wed 8 PM

There's just something about cussing puppets--and this improvised puppet show by the Atticus Finch ensemble suggests bitter, rejected prototypes of Elmo, Chewbacca, McGruff the Crime Dog, and Crank Yankers/Muppets characters ganging up in a dark alley off Sesame Street. But the troupe's nine members exceed the old, easy laugh of vulgar-talking innocents: after tutorials from professional puppeteers and a few months of practice, they display sophisticated physical control as they wield the puppets from behind the curtains of a bilevel ministage. Seamlessly creating gestures and quick takes (hilariously deadpan on the perfectly blank cartoonish faces), they also smoothly execute difficult maneuvers like sliding a quarter across a bar or crossing the stage via motorized scooter. Sharp timing and self-mockery point to the performers' long experience together, though the motley mob of puppets takes center stage: Felt is improv cut from new cloth. —Ryan Hubbard $5

http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=74868973
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iO Theater (map)
1501 N. Kingsbury
Wrigleyville Felt

Bike Winter Art Show

2/6-2/27

Critical Mass Chicago continues its tradition of showcasing bicycle-inspired art for the 18th year. The group show features paintings, photographs, sculptures, and decked out bikes created by artists and cyclists alike.

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Toulouse-Lautrec Prints: Art at the Edges of Modernity

Through April 19

Northwestern undergrads curated this exhibit featuring the work of the painter and printmaker. The collection of 18 of the French master's lithographic works depict Paris in the 1800s.

Northwestern University Block Museum of Art (map)
40 Arts Circle Dr.
Evanston
phone 847-491-4000
Toulouse-Lautrec Prints: Art at the Edges of Modernity

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The Magic Parlour

Open run: Fri 7:30 and 9:30 PM

This 60-minute, late-night magic show is exactly what it should be: funny, lively, intimate, and utterly baffling. House Theatre of Chicago member Dennis Watkins blends quick-witted improv and physical comedy with freewheeling patter as he performs classic illusions. Though his sleight-of-hand is impossibly subtle, it was the mind reading tricks that seemed to have drawn several inquisitive skeptics back for another look on the night I attended. A curio-shop intimacy and cash bar encourage audience participation, and Watkins, with his Eagle Scout looks, clearly takes a mischievous pleasure in the unexpected. Just let your cell phone go off during the show and see what kind of fun he has. --Keith Griffith $75

http://thehousetheatre.com
Palmer House Hilton (map)
17 E. Monroe St.
Loop
phone 312-726-7500

Million Dollar Quartet

Open run: Wed 2 and 7:30 PM, Thu 7:30 PM, Fri 8 PM, Sat 5 and 8 PM, Sun 3:30 and 6:30 PM

Re-creating a legendary 1956 jam session involving Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis, this crowd-pleaser is basically a vehicle for crackling renditions of classic tunes, including "Blue Suede Shoes," "That's All Right," and "Great Balls of Fire." The show's emotional center is Sun Records founder Sam Phillips, a man caught between competing personal and business pressures. —Albert Williams $25-$70

Apollo Theater (map)
2540 N. Lincoln Ave.
Lincoln Park
phone 773-935-6100

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Natural Gas

Open run: Wed 8 PM

The quality of an improv show is directly proportional to the quality of the improvisers who create it. Put together a group of kids who know nothing about the world—or themselves—and you get a lot of cliches and imitations of bad TV. Put together an ensemble of strong, experienced actors who happen also to like to improvise and you have the optimal conditions for a piece filled with well-articulated characters in amusing relationships and interesting situations. That latter was the case with Natural Gas, the Gift Theatre's house improv team, on the night I saw them. As in every improvisation, not every moment worked, and some actors made basic mistakes, like introducing inconsistencies. All the same, their show contained more than the usual moments of spontaneous delight—and occasional splashes of pure inspiration. —Jack Helbig $5

Gift Theatre Company (map)
4802 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Jefferson Park
phone 773-283-7071

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The Empire Brings Sexy Back

Open run: Sat 10:30 PM

An all-female version of Star Wars is an interesting proposition to begin with. When those females end most scenes by stripping down to pasties, it just gets even more, well, interesting. The Gorilla Tango Theatre cast pulls it off beautifully in a funny, clever reimagining of Star Wars: Episode V—The Empire Strikes Back that references the original without getting too bogged down in plot. Among the many successful scenes is one where Yoda teaches Luke Skywalker the ways of the Force, a power that in this version is activated through vigorous shimmying. When Luke gets frustrated and complains that she's not well enough equipped to levitate the X-wing fighter, Yoda displays her own modestly sized breasts and gently advises that "cup size matters not." —Julia Thiel $28-35

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Gorilla Tango Theatre (map)
1919 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Wicker Park/Bucktown
phone 773-598-4549

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The Improvised Shakespeare Company

Open run: Fri 8 PM

Seven strapping men in swashbuckler shirts improvise a two-act Shakespearean play based on a title suggested by the audience. At the show I saw, "The Taming of the Jew" inspired the Bard's usual themes (religion, family, betrayal) and plot devices (murders, disguises, fortunes gained/lost) as well as an uncomfortably funny circumcision. Director-performer Blaine Swen, a veteran of long-form Shakespearean improv who swears they don't conspire during the intermission, has assembled a vigorous ensemble of actors and proven improvisers. Their experience doing Shakespeare flowers in the language: they relish iambic dialogue, execute perfectly timed asides, occasionally utter rhyming couplets (some hilariously forced: "Let us be quick-sa, and get to the bar mitzvah!"), and drop parodic phrases ("scurvenous knave," "midfortnight report") and well-placed anachronisms (the bar mitzvah had a DJ). Even the ending echoed the real plays: story lines resolved tidily—and uproariously. —Ryan Hubbard $14

http://www.improvisedshakespeare.com/
iO Theater (map)
1501 N. Kingsbury
Wrigleyville The Improvised Shakespeare Company

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Late Nite Catechism

Open run: Sat 5 PM, Sun 2 PM
phone 312-988-9000

A bona fide born-in-Chicago international hit, this simultaneously nostalgic and satirical comedy by Vicki Quade and Maripat Donovan concerns a nun instructing her students—that's you—on the dos and don'ts of dogma. —Jack Helbig $30

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Royal George Theatre Center (map)
1641 N. Halsted St.
Lincoln Park
phone 312-988-9000

Blue Man Group

Open run: Thu 8 PM, Fri 7 PM, Sat 2, 5, and 8 PM, Sun 4 and 7 PM
phone 773-348-4000

At the Briar Street Theatre since 1997, the cobalt zanies have added wizard-worthy tricks to an already potent mix of visual puns, physical stunts, and cultural commentary. The latest edition conjures up a 2.5-D universe, giant "GiPads" that perform outsized multitasking, and Lady Gaga hat spin-offs. The same subversive spirit fuels the show's still-potent signature bits, including splatter-crazed "paint drumming." The secret of their cerulean success? Understanding that laughter and thought can be BFFs. —Lawrence Bommer $49-$59

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Briar Street Theatre (map)
3133 N. Halsted St.
Lakeview
phone 773-348-4000
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