What can I say? The movie is a damned classic among classics. I know every line of it—and, more, every frame and inflection. As far as I'm concerned, that moment at the Bedford Falls train station—when Jimmy Stewart's George Bailey finally realizes he'll never fulfill his dream of seeing the world—is film poetry right up there with the baby carriage in Battleship Potemkin. And yet American Blues Theater's 90-minute stage version more than holds its own against any prejudice. It's delightful. ABT's uncredited adaptation treats George's dark night of the soul as the subject of a World War II-era radio broadcast, complete with musical commercial breaks touting local businesses. At once tongue-in-cheek and utterly wholehearted, it's not for cynics: you will be expected to laugh, weep, sigh, and sing Christmas carols. You may feel a twinge of class solidarity, too, if your politics run that way. Under Marty Higginbotham's direction, there doesn't seem to be a rule of thumb about imitating the movie (Kevin Kelly's George hasn't a smidge of Stewart while John Mohrlein is pure Lionel Barrymore as the evil Mr. Potter). The Frank Capra buoyancy, though, is always present. —Tony Adler $19-$49
Vicki Quade has made a career out of Catholic comedy (Late Night Catechism, Bible Bingo), and she's in top form here as Mrs. Mary Margaret O'Brien, a former nun who now heads up the archdiocese's new bingo fund-raising department. Wearing an appropriately kitschy "Happiness Is Playing Bingo" T-shirt, Quade nonetheless plays her character as the sort of stern taskmaster remembered and perhaps beloved by Catholic audience members, quick to send disobedient bingo players—this includes you—to stand with their noses to the chalkboard. Or donate a dollar to the church's pagan-baby fund. Quade delivers little-known Christmas facts with an effective deadpan, bingo helps keep the audience engaged, and the comical throwback prizes include Bing Crosby records and, for the Jewish set, a little Barbra Streisand. —Marissa Oberlander $30http://christmasbingo.info
It's that time of year when we all get really excited about looking at lots of very small lightbulbs. This evening, Lincoln Park Zoo flips the switch on its holiday display as Zoolights opens for the season. Besides strands of twinkling lights wrapped around things, Zoolights also features photos with Santa, live ice-carving demonstrations, festive 3-D displays, and ice skating.
Portland artist Jon MacNair presents grayscale illustrations. Reception Fri 12/6, 7-10 PM.
Paintings and sculptures by local artist Travis Lampe. Reception Fri 12/6, 7-10 PM.
The exhibit tells a fashion story in three parts through the lenses of the Johnson Publishing Company (publishers of Ebony), Eunice Johnson who was an executive there, and a slew of iconic looks from Christian Dior, Balizza, Pierre Cardin, and more.
When you're standing on a freezing el platform, running late and cursing the CTA, the unexpected arrival of the brightly decorated, Santa-toting holiday train is usually a decent pick-me-up, if only by virtue of its sheer weirdness. And so is Waltzing Mechanics' latest collection of real-life straphanger tales adapted to the stage. The holiday installment is a quirky gem, covering everything from the saccharine pleasures of the holiday train itself to perversions requiring a winter overcoat. The appeal is less the hilarity of the anecdotes—though many are genuinely funny—than their authenticity. The storytellers' voices shine through, even when they're confused or hesitant. Under director Zack Florent, the cast are nimble and versatile. If the CTA ran as efficiently, commuters would have little to gripe about. —Keith Griffith $15http://waltzingmechanics.org
Set in 1912 and staged with auspicious timing, J.B. Priestley's Tony Award-winning play follows the upper-crust Birling family as they face questions about their complicity in a young woman's gruesome suicide. The Agatha Christie-esque drawing-room mystery is propelled emotionally by Inspector Goole (played by a charismatic Nick Sandys), a riddle wrapped in an enigma himself, who turns out to be the show's unapologetic conscience. "We are all members of the same body," he preaches, imparting a social-justice lesson while exhibiting otherworldly deductive reasoning. The mind-bending Inception-style ending is a bit maddening, but it's a strong reminder that these class clashes never happen in a vacuum. —Marissa Oberlander $32.50http://remybumppo.org
You want funny? Go to the website that inspired this revue, where actual old Jews—no comedians, no actors—spend maybe a minute each relating their often jaw-droppingly perverse gags. Peter Gethers and Daniel Okrent's stage version is funny, too, filled as it is with classic old bits, most of which come down to Leibowitz, Moskowitz, Gottleib, Kaminsky, Cohen, Kaplan, and/or Saperstein getting fucked by the world if not by their wives. I laughed. I also admired the crack five-member cast. Yet something crucial is missing. Between sappy monologues about the role of humor in Jewish lives and Marc Bruni's strenuously charming direction, OJTJ never gets at the sublimated rage that gives Jewish wit its worldview and its bite. Bruni's biggest mistake is showing clips of Alan King performing a routine whose hilarious savagery demonstrates all too clearly what the rest of the show lacks. —Tony Adler $49-$59
The latest iteration of the Waltzing Mechanics' long-running homage to the Chicago Transit Authority tries to encapsulate comedy, tragedy, and the triumph of the spirit in vignettes that play out in an onstage train car. It inhibits itself in one important way: the "el stories," based on interviews, are told verbatim—and I found the likes, ums, and buts distracting (and perhaps a troubling metastatement on how language has devolved). Linguistics aside, nothing in Chicago is more relatable than the el, and some standout bits resonated with a universal truth: the drunk bro's inappropriate advances, the sick passenger making everyone else wish they could teleport to safety, and the impromptu late-night sing-along. —Marissa Oberlander $15