Petty Delusions and Grand Obsessions 

Steppenwolf cofounder Terry Kinney made a habit of going to very dark places for the disturbed characters he played. "I used to be so cocky in my adolescent hero phase," he told me a couple years ago. "I was in touch with pain. I was clearly regaling in the fact that I could go to extreme catharsis." But all those years spent sponging up psychological trauma caught up to him one night in 1996 while he was portraying the tormented Tilden in Buried Child on Broadway. In the middle of the show, he found himself in the grip of a "terrrible, horrible, screaming panic attack." He collapsed and delivered his lines from a sweat-soaked puddle on the floor. He walked away with a debilitating case of stage fright and hasn't appeared in a live performance since. But Monday night he'll step onstage again, alongside local jazz singer Kurt Elling, for Petty Delusions and Grand Obsessions, part of Steppenwolf's ongoing "Traffic" series. And Kinney will be heading right back to some of those old dark places: "The palette of the show is the way an addict or an obsessive sees the world," he says. The two men will read a variety of semidelusional texts culled from various sources--Sam Shepard, Pablo Neruda, court transcripts--and Elling will put the desperate edge back into standards like Cole Porter's "All of You" as well as offer an original lyric to an Antonio Carlos Jobim classic. The pairing of such intelligent, electrifying performers should make for a gripping evening, though Kinney wonders. "On that day, who knows? I might be crying for my mama," he says with a nervous laugh. Steppenwolf Theatre Company, 1650 N. Halsted, 312-335-1650. Monday, July 15, 7:30 PM. $32; $56 for the show and a 5:30 PM dinner at Soul Kitchen, 1576 N. Milwaukee.

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