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Theater & Performance This Weekend – Recommended

21 total results

Young Playwrights Festival

Through 1/31: Fri-Sat 7:30 PM

They may be written by high school students, but this year each of the four one-acts on the bill at Pegasus Theatre's annual festival is a gem. Deja Jenkins's A Matter of Life (and Maybe Death) uses a witty encounter between an adolescent and the Grim Reaper to meditate on life and death and friendship. Taylor Vazquez's Dirty Spoons is a heartfelt exploration of gang life and its ruinous effects. Daisianee Minenger's witty Dare to Be Different uses a nicely paced parody of cooking shows to tell the story of a nobody who finds himself. And Steve Maloy's A Day at the Office finds a new comic twist on the Faust legend. Packed with fine performances and directed with grace and skill by Ilesa Duncan, Juan Ramirez, and Warner Crocker, these plays give one hope for the future of American theater. —Jack Helbig $18-$30

http://pegasustheatrechicago.org
Chicago Dramatists (map)
1105 W. Chicago Ave.
West Town/Noble Square
phone 312-633-0630

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Gilbert & Sullivan Rep

Mondays, Fridays-Sundays. Continues through Feb. 7

The Hypocrites present Sean Graney's adaptations of Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore, The Mikado, and The Pirates of Penzance (see separate listings). $36-$50

Den Theatre (map)
1329-1333 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Wicker Park/Bucktown
phone 773-609-2336

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H.M.S. Pinafore

Through 2/7: times vary, see website

When is an adaptation no longer an adaptation but a whole new work? This question came to me as I was experiencing the Hypocrites' latest production, described in the program as an adaptation of Gilbert and Sullivan's 1878 classic H.M.S. Pinafore and presented in repertory with remounts of The Mikado and The Pirates of Penzance. Usually when directors adapt an old chestnut they monkey with the setting, putting Hamlet in 21st-century Japan, say. This can create the illusion that we're watching something new without making us think or feel anything new about the work. What director Sean Graney does with Pinafore is so daring, so thoroughgoing that it's really a total transformation. To start with, he flips genders—all the sailors and officers are women, and the maidenly love interest at the center of the plot is a man. Continue reading >> $36-$50

http://the-hypocrites.com
Den Theatre (map)
1329-1333 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Wicker Park/Bucktown
phone 773-609-2336
H.M.S. Pinafore

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The Mikado

Through 2/7: times vary, see website

Building a whole plot around a society's ban on flirting requires a special talent for subversive cheekiness—enter Gilbert and Sullivan. For the inhabitants of their 1885 operetta, premature seduction is an act punishable by death. Fortunately, there's very little actual death and much singing and merrymaking in this lighthearted version from the Hypocrites, where actors play their own instruments and audience members can opt to stroll alongside them (wandering minstrels we). Director/adapter Sean Graney gives us a Mikado that runs around 80 minutes. In dual roles as the Mikado's son and the curmudgeonly woman who lusts after him, actor Shawn Pfautsch makes a comedic killing in this production. See it, stroll, and enjoy a delicious language feast brought to you by two 19th-century British dudes who knew what was up. —Chloe Riley $28-$36

Den Theatre (map)
1329-1333 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Wicker Park/Bucktown
phone 773-609-2336

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Pirates of Penzance

Through 2/7: times vary, see website

When it comes to Victorian operetta, the Hypocrites throw a hell of a party. In director and adapter Sean Graney's promenade-style production, one-third of his Gilbert & Sullivan Rep, you can wander freely around the theater, play with the several dozen beach balls and rubber duckies littering the room, contribute backup choreography, and talk to the characters as much as you’d like. Graney's spirited ten-person cast, dressed something like a 1970s track team, set a refreshingly festive tone, prancing and mugging galore while impressively accompanying themselves on guitar, banjo, mandolin, flute, clarinet, glockenspiel, and accordion. Much of the story, as well as W. S. Gilbert's unvaryingly clever lyrics, gets lost in the hubbub, but the bar remains open throughout the show. Justin Hayford $28-$36

Den Theatre (map)
1329-1333 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Wicker Park/Bucktown
phone 773-609-2336

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Top Girls

Through 2/8: Thu-Sat 7:30 PM, Sun 6 PM

Caryl Churchill's play about career-driven businesswomen was written in 1982, when Ronald Reagan was president, Apple had just released its second prototype for a personal computer, and Starbucks had yet to sell espresso. A different world, to say the least. Yet this production from Arc Theatre feels surprisingly relevant and modern, especially due to Dustyn Martincich’s almost industrial movement work and a highly texturized set with three-dimensional birds—a paper flock hunting in vain for a place to roost. But the material itself also still rings true. It's a play about women in a man’s world, but men are nowhere to be found. Instead, the struggle here is against self-abnegation—everyone on the verge of drowning in sacrifice, each woman holding the other barely afloat. —Chloe Riley $20

http://arctheatrechicago.org
Den Theatre (map)
1329-1333 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Wicker Park/Bucktown
phone 773-609-2336

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Lookingglass Alice

Through 2/15: times vary, see website

David Catlin first adapted and directed Lookingglass Alice in 2005, and it remains a consistently thrilling take on Lewis Carroll's work. Madness is literalized onstage as scenes from the Mad Hatter's tea party to the game of flamingo croquet are brought to life by the enormously talented cast of five, who double as aerialists and acrobats. Beneath the spectacle, we're reminded that life is about change and inevitable loss (only the White Queen can live backwards, after all). And though "grown-ups are never off balance," the Cheshire Cat tells Alice, the production endeavors to place us exactly there; it is, after all, where much wisdom resides. —Suzanne Scanlon $45-$85

Lookingglass Theatre Company (map)
Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan Ave.
Gold Coast/Mag Mile/Streeterville
phone 312-337-0665

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Lions in Illyria

Through 2/15: Sat-Sun 11 AM and 1 PM

This is one of the more ambitious projects I've seen from Lifeline Theatre's KidSeries, which typically adapts popular children's books for the stage. By contrast, Lions is an original work by ensemble member Robert Kauzlaric, based on Shakespeare's great comedy Twelfth Night. Kauzlaric turns the Bard's characters into animals: Violet (Brandi Lee) and Sebastian (played by understudy Ryan Stajmiger at the show I attended) are brother and sister lions, while Toby (Mykele Callicutt) and Sir Andrew (Stajmiger) are a warthog and a dodo bird, respectively. It's lots of fun and very silly, and while the plot may be a bit much for young children to follow completely, they should enjoy the story's weirdness. Its wisdom too—Kauzlaric takes care to insert lessons about friendship, love, and the importance of being oneself (even when you're an actor dressed as a lioness disguised as a lion) that feel neither forced nor superfluous. —Suzanne Scanlon $15

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Lifeline Theatre (map)
6912 N. Glenwood Ave.
Rogers Park/West Rogers Park
phone 773-761-4477

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The Revenants

Through 2/22: Thu-Sat 7:30 PM, Sun 3 PM

WildClaw Theatre's suspenseful zombie thriller is a creepily effective tale of liebestod. It's the story of longtime friends Gary (Josh Zagoren) and Karen (Elizabeth Birnkrant), who are holed up in an abandoned basement with their spouses—who've been transformed into flesh-eating monsters by a mysterious plague that has ravaged the town. Unsure whether their bloodthirsty mates, Molly (Krista D'Agostino) and Joe (Drew Johnson), still retain any humanity or should simply be put down, Gary and Karen also wrestle with their complex romantic feelings for each other. Playwright Scott T. Barsotti and director Brad Akin have crafted a darkly comic but also genuinely engrossing study in claustrophobic horror, aided by a fine cast and a first-rate design team including Dan Stratton (set), John Kelly (lights), Rick Sims (sound), Aly Renee Aimidei and Ryan Oliver (the all-important gory makeup), and Scott Cummins (stage violence). —Albert Williams $27

http://wildclawtheatre.com
Athenaeum Theatre (map)
2936 N. Southport Ave.
Lakeview
phone 773-935-6860

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The Rose Tattoo

1/22-2/28: Thu-Sat 8 PM, Sun 3 PM

Tennessee Williams's celebratory 1950 romance, a striking change of pace from his melancholy The Glass Menagerie and starkly tragic A Streetcar Named Desire, concerns a Sicilian-American widow in Louisiana. Devastated by the violent death of her husband and the miscarriage of their unborn child, the emotionally volatile, devoutly Catholic Serafina is gripped by depression bordering on madness—until an eccentric, awkward truck driver barges into her life, offering her a second chance at love. The character of Serafina, written for Anna Magnani, was conceived as a larger-than-life earth mother, but diminutive Eileen Niccolai makes the role her own in Greg Vinkler's beautifully detailed staging for Shattered Globe Theatre. Niccolai's scrappy little slugger of a Serafina is both comical and poignant, appropriate for a play that veers boldly between tragedy and farce. She's well matched by Nic Grelli as her endearingly impetuous suitor, and the large supporting cast bring vivid energy to Williams's vision of human life as a rich, raucous folk pageant. —Albert Williams $15-$33

http://shatteredglobeseason.org
Theater Wit (map)
1229 W. Belmont
Lakeview
phone 773-975-8150

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Accidentally Like a Martyr

1/22-3/1: Thu-Sat 8 PM, Sun 3 PM

Grant James Varjas's 2011 drama takes place in a shitty little gay bar a few nights before Christmas. The prickly regulars have aged out of the target demographic of hipper spots, meaning they’ve had time to learn something about loss, loneliness, and regret. Not that the mood is dour. As at many dives, the pendulum swings from fun to sad and back again several times in one evening. Varjas’s evident compassion for his flawed characters is beautifully complemented in Shade Murray’s staging by the sensitive and detailed performances of the cast, especially Layne Manzer as a desperate cokehead and Steve Haggard as a rare under-30 visitor. The rundown bar and its seedy atmosphere are captured with precision by Murray and set designer John Holt. —Zac Thompson $30-$35

A Red Orchid Theatre (map)
1531 N. Wells St.
Old Town
phone 312-943-8722

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Rhinofest

Through 3/1: dates and times vary, see website

Contrary to popular belief—at least insofar as the populace has any beliefs at all on the subject—the word "fringe" doesn't necessarily mean "experimental" when applied to the performing arts. The usage was coined in 1947 to refer to eight productions that sprang up unbidden at the fringes of Scotland's highbrow, highly selective Edinburgh International Festival. A better synonym might be "uninvited." So welcome to the 2015 edition of Rhinofest, a seven-week convocation of shows nobody sent for. Continue reading >> $15 ($12 in advance) or pay what you can

http://rhinofest.com
Prop Thtr (map)
3502 N. Elston Ave.
Avondale
phone 773-539-7838
Rhinofest

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Boobs on Endor: A Return of the Jedi Burlesque

Open run: Sat 10:30 PM

George Lucas made poor horny nerds wait until the third Star Wars installment before trading up Princess Leia's dowdy royal gown for a metal bikini. Gorilla Tango's new all-female burlesque parody makes titillating use of the iconic costume early in one of the more salacious dance numbers by choreographer Kaitlin Fleharty, but the rest is a lot cheekier. Fighters on both sides of the Force and a whole lot of ewoks take turns stripping down to their pasties to Nicki Minaj and Icona Pop (I guess the John Williams score would be out of place) while loosely spoofing the movie. In Nicole Keating's production, sexuality takes a backseat to butt puns and good-natured goofiness, and the diverse body types of her cast are in keeping with the show's emphasis on positivity. —Dan Jakes $22-$28

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

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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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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

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

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