Arthur Conan Doyle introduced Sherlock Holmes in the 1887 novella on which this new adaptation is based, and that makes it a fascinating historical document. We get to see Holmes at a point when most of his well-known characteristics are present but haven't yet solidified into paradigm or cliche. He's a brilliant if desultory college student, pursuing what we might now call a self-designed major and displaying what we might now identify as autistic-spectrum behavior. His deductive method is still such a novelty that it gets its own chapter. And the story itself is peculiar, featuring a long flashback to the American west and—believe it or not—the depredations of some evil Mormons. Trouble is, Doyle's structure is just as peculiar as his story. The flashback appears as a kind of extended coda, after the case has already been solved and all the tension dissipated. Adapter/director Paul Edwards doesn't do anything to fix that, so the final third of Promethean Theatre Ensemble's 90-minute production is plain tedious, Mormons notwithstanding. —Tony Adler $22
New parents Nick and Colby have a daughter, Cassie, who is "not at all who they believed she would be." Colby sees the baby as a mistake, a "smudge," and tension ensues that threatens to break Nick and Colby apart. $15-25
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
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
Every Saturday at midnight, The Hot Karl folks start their gig by announcing that they're going to create the foulest, most disgusting fully improvised show in Chicago. Then they do it. The group's name comes from a sex act that involves pooping on your partner, and when I recently saw the show, the MC set the tone by asking for audience suggestions while riffing on the subject of fisting. The long-form improv that followed involved anal and oral sex, breast grabbing, and lots of dick jokes (hardly surprising since six of the eight performers were men). The material was very funny and very blue--much bluer than when I last caught The Hot Karl in 2002. The odd thing is that the grosser the players got, the more expertly they improvised: they were all in tune with one another, they never stumbled, and they treated the other performers' ideas with a respect only the best, most trusting troupes manage. Even an obvious accident, when one person initiated a montage sequence just when the scene was taking off in a different direction, was called back several times. Just as impressive are the rich, uncliched characters, deftly created almost as asides as the performers make their way to the next smirking reference to a muff or johnson. --Jack Helbig $10
Chicago's late-night scene seems to be gearing up for its own version of a network-talk-show ratings battle, what with Joe Kwaczala's periodic The Late Live Show playing the Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival and Patrick Rowland's Barack All Night continuing at iO. Joining the ranks of the city’s suit-and-tie gab show hosts is Jamie Campbell, who—not unlike Jimmy Pardo—comes across as a witty tough guy with a self-deprecating soft spot and a need for your approval. As per the competition, Campbell's show features a monologue, musical guests, and off-the-cuff chatter with local comedians, punctuated by occasional dry non sequiturs from cohost Kevin Pomeroy. At the opening, Talk Hard seemed to be working out its kinks and finding a voice. With some ironing, it may become a showcase to watch. —Dan Jakes $10
Classic improv games with a twist.
Most people watch late-night talk shows in bed, so that as soon as Conan or Jay or, God help them, Craig waves good-night, they can flick off the TV and go to sleep. If you are going to stage a live late-night talk show that requires audience members to put on pants and actually leave their apartments on a Wednesday night, you had better make it worth at least the cost of the drink they will feel obligated to buy. The Whiskey Journal Live!, the outgrowth of an Onionesque satirical news site, is not quite up to that level. It's telling that the funniest bit is Ross Kelly's cooking segment—which is taped. The live segments drag, mostly because the cast is so in love with its own material, it can't resist belaboring the jokes until they stop being funny. —Aimee Levitt $5