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Blue Man Group

Open run: Thu 8 PM; Fri 7 PM; Sat 2, 5, and 8 PM; Sun 4 and 7 PM
Briar Street Theatre 3133 N. Halsted St., Chicago Lakeview

Buy from Ticketmaster$49-$99


After 20 years and god knows how many bald caps and gallons of paint, this Chicago staple stays true to its mission: “Blue Man Group—enemy of monotony, remedy for boredom, promoter of overjoy and elation.” That experimental, interactive theater can remain both current and family friendly in equal measure speaks to the show's healthy mix of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it wit and larger-than-life clowning. Audience participation, voluntary and involuntary, is still a key component, whether it’s sharing Twinkies with the trio, donning a poncho in the splash zone, or being shamed as a latecomer, in showstopping fashion. Cultural references and parodies have certainly changed with the times (and devices), but the keys to Blue Man Group remain its hypnotic music and lively energy—if you’re not out of your seat dancing when the 90 minutes are up, you probably don’t have a pulse. —Marissa Oberlander 773-348-4000

The Infinite Wrench

Open run: Fri-Sat 11:30 PM, Sun 7 PM
Neo-Futurarium 5153 N. Ashland Ave., Chicago Andersonville


Greg Allen gave and Greg Allen took away. On December 31, 2016, the Neo-Futurists founder made good on his promise to kill off the company's signature cult show, Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, ending an unprecedented run of 28 years. The current generation of ensemble members weren't happy. Now they've pretty much reconstituted TMLMTBGB in everything but name, running on the same schedule at the same venue with the same exuberance. Though their new baby is superficially different from the original (where before the plays were numbered, for instance, now they're color coded), it retains the identical goal of offering 30 original short plays in 60 minutes. The performance I saw lapsed occasionally into reductive political posturing, having more to do with tribal affirmation than revelation. But it also had its share of wit, insight, emotional frankness, and dancerly physicality. —Tony Adler 773-275-5255

The Harold

Open run: Wed-Thu 8 PM, Fri 8 and 10:30 PM, Sat 10:30 PM, Sun 8 PM, Mon 10:30 PM
iO Theater 1501 N. Kingsbury, Chicago Lincoln Park


Improv teams use an audience suggestion to create interweaving story lines that result in a connected long-form narrative.

The Forced Transfer

Opens Tue 6/7
National Cambodian Heritage Museum 2831 W. Lawrence Ave., Chicago Ravenswood


As a young Buddhist monk in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, during the 1960s, Kompha Seth studied the Brahmi alphabet and Magadhi—a root language of modern Khmer—which had been preserved and passed down for generations. Today, he's one of only a few Cambodians in the world who understands these dialects and their links to modern Khmer. Continue reading >> 773-506-1280

Dream Freaks Fall From Space

Open run: Wed-Thu 8 PM, Fri-Sat 8 and 11 PM, Sun 4 PM, Tue 8 PM
Second City 1616 N. Wells St., Chicago Old Town

Buy Tickets$29-$46


Second City is in denial. Donald Trump is our president, and along with that comes a host of issues regarding race, gender equality, LGBTQ rights, and police brutality, among other things. The cast of the brand-new yet already outdated main-stage revue Dream Freaks Fall From Space tackle these loaded topics by mentioning them, then moving right along. And speaking of denial, scenes break one of the most fundamental rules of improvisation—embody the spirit of "yes, and . . . " to complement your partner onstage. Here instead actors deny ideas with "What are you talking about?" Second City is the tentpole of Chicago comedy for the rest of the country, but Dream Freaks feels like it was concocted in an intermediate-level improv class where mere nods get laughs and politics get skewered with Pixy Stix. Continue reading >> 312-337-3992

Twisted Knots

Open run: Thu-Sat 7:30 PM, Sun 4 PM


Longtime married couple Frank and Carla—a stressed-out salesman and an underappreciated nurse—try to get back their conjugal mojo by role-playing a call-girl scenario (Carla plays the call girl) in their hotel room on New Year’s Eve. The Hard Rock Hotel on Michigan Avenue provided furnishings and decor to lend verisimilitude to Greg Pinsoneault and Shaun Renfro’s set design in this production directed by Tara Branham. In fact, it’s Dale Danner’s script that could use some authenticity; the couple’s sex games and the husband’s much-discussed superstitious streak feel contrived and strained. Only when the charade is dropped toward the end do we glimpse genuine disappointment and fatigue. Ryan Kitley’s Frank seems detached from the proceedings, but Mary Cross turns in lively, tangy work as Carla. —Zac Thompson

The Improvised Shakespeare Company

Open run: Thu 8 PM, Fri-Sat 8 and 11 PM
iO Theater 1501 N. Kingsbury, Chicago Lincoln Park


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

ComedySportz Theatre

Open run: Thu 8 PM, Fri 8 and 10 PM, Sat 6, 8, and 10 PM
ComedySportz Theatre 929 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago Lakeview

Buy from Ticketmaster$19


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 773-549-8080 or 312-559-1212

The Magic Parlour

Through 7/1: Fri 7:30 and 9:30 PM, Sat 4:30, 7:30, and 9:30 PM
Palmer House Hilton 17 E. Monroe St., Chicago Loop


This 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 encourages 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. Drinks (wine, beer, and soda) are included in the cost of admission. —Keith Griffith 312-726-7500

Wet Cash

Open run: Fri 8 PM
Dark Tower Comics 4835 N. Western, Chicago Lincoln Square


Stand-up with a very big twist. Each week, performers at this showcase can do anything they want. One time, they ran a show where everybody on the bill and in the audience was named Derek. Plus, all donations benefit the fishbowl they toss their money in—hence the title. Expect, well, everything. 773-654-1490

Lincoln Lodge

Open run: Fri and Sat, 8 PM
Lincoln Lodge 956 W. Newport, Chicago North Center


For close to 15 years, one of Chicago's best comedy clubs wasn't even in a club. It was in the back of the Lincoln Restaurant, a modest diner in North Center where the Lincoln Lodge, the successful indie stand-up and variety show, set up shop. The restaurant's wood-paneled walls and curiously patterned carpets created a warm and welcoming experience not unlike watching a comedy show at your grandma's house. Lest this environment sound too safe, the show itself is known for its edge. The house cast, which currently features promising up-and-comers Derek Smith and Rebecca O'Neil, boasts such alumni as Cameron Esposito and Kumail Nanjiani, while Kyle Kinane and Hannibal Buress were among the show's most frequent visitors until Hollywood came calling. Even now, the Lodge draws prominent headlining comedians—like Marc Maron and Eddie Pepitone—eager to perform for cheerful crowds untroubled by a two-drink minimum.

When the Lincoln Restaurant closed its doors in December, the Lincoln Lodge was without a home. Luckily, the Subterranean came calling. Located in the epicenter of Wicker Park and patronized by boozy youngsters, the SubT isn't as homey, but the Lodge has always had swagger, and the new digs reflect that. And the location is ideal for tracking down targets for Lincoln Lodge's live interview segment, which puts a comic out on the streets to interview unsuspecting passersby.

At the show I saw on March 14, genial host Marty DeRosa welcomed a mix of newer faces (Smith and fellow cast member Trey Brown) and old standbys (CPS teacher turned full-time comic Jeanie Doogan), all of whom were solid. Local legend Junior Stopka headlined the evening, and his irreverent ramblings and absurd non sequiturs were characteristically hilarious, enough to distract from the bass-heavy EDM show that was starting upstairs (some of the kinks are still being worked out, it seems). That lone drawback aside, the new era of the Lincoln Lodge is off to a strong start. —Drew Hunt 773-251-1539

Green Mill Quartet

Fridays, 1:30 a.m.
Green Mill 4802 N. Broadway St., Chicago Uptown


773-878-5552

Kiss Kiss Cabaret

Open run: Fri 10 PM
Uptown Underground 4707 N. Broadway St., Chicago Uptown


The tone and pace are just right in this late-night burlesque show. Doubling as affable emcee Max Flattery, director Chris Biddle keeps the evening fresh with a rotating lineup of erotic dancers, campy acts, and nerdy comedians. Striptease routines satisfy a wide range of PG-13 fetishes, sometimes in unconventional ways. Teddy Bare's absinthe fairy number, for instance, incorporates modern dance elements not typically associated with the bump and grind. The result is an eclectic blend of steam, smart humor, and shtick. If Biddle and company can maintain momentum, Kiss Kiss Cabaret has what it takes to become a cheeky Chicago staple. —Dan Jakes 773-867-1946

Hoyle Brothers

Fridays, 5:30 p.m.
Empty Bottle 1035 N. Western Ave., Chicago Ukrainian Village/East Village


773-276-3600

Northside Southpaws

Fridays, 7 p.m.
Honky Tonk BBQ 1800 S. Racine, Chicago Pilsen/Little Village


312-226-7427

Agnes Shawn Jazz Quartet

Fridays, 9 p.m.
Ethiopian Diamond 6120 N. Broadway, Chicago Edgewater


773-338-6100

Bear Who?, DJ Trilogy, Newlife, DJ Blakish

Fridays, 10 p.m.
Vain Nightclub & Lounge 2354 N. Clybourn Ave., Chicago Lincoln Park


773-435-0130