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International Theatre Festival of Chicago 

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In Chicago, even-numbered years bring the odd productions from around the world to town. At least they have since 1986, when Jane Nicholl Sahlins, Bernard Sahlins, and Pam Marsden first launched this sometimes controversial, visionary biennial event. When the festival was founded, Chicago was routinely omitted from major national theater tours, whose producers gauged that the attentions of Windy City audiences were preempted by local shows. Although that has changed in the past year, the festival is still Chicago's only affirmation that there's more to French, British, and Canadian theater, say, than Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, and Aspects of Love. Luckily, the festival doesn't settle for exclusivity. It also pays attention to quality, both in the shows it imparts and in the way it presents them; it mixes big-ticket events with less commercially reliable fare; and it augments the theatergoing experience with a round of lectures, seminars, postperformance discussions, and professional artists' workshops. For information an the auxiliary events, call the festival directly. For information an the shows, read on.

The 1992 International Theatre Festival of Chicago, which runs from May 26 through June 21, offers 14 productions from 10 countries--including the United States, though no Chicago shows are included on the agenda this year. America's entry is Letters From a New England Negro (June 10 through 14), presented by Rites & Reason, a theater company that emanates from Brown University's Afro-American Studies Program. Foreign nations represented this year are Australia (Circus Oz), Canada (Theatre Repere), France (Compagnie Philippe Genty), Great Britain (the English Shakespeare Company), Ireland (the Gate Theatre), Japan (Daisan Erotica), Poland (Akademia Ruchu), Russia (the Yakut Drama Theatre of Siberia), and Venezuela (Fundacion Rajatabla); the bill of fare ranges from classical to contemporary to a mixture of both. Performances take place at the following venues: DePaul University's Blackstone Theatre, 60 E. Balbo; Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted; and the University of Illinois at Chicago's UIC Theater, 1040 W. Harrison. For ticket reservations, call 644-3378; for group, student, and senior discounts and general festival information, call 664-3370. Following is the schedule for June 11 through 18:

THURSDAY, JUNE 11

MY BELOVED BLUE COAST You think you're under pressure? Consider Kirisk, a boy who is sent out on the open sea in a small boat as an initiation into the mysteries of the Woman-Fish goddess. The only survivor of a terrible storm, Kirisk seeks the safety of his village under the guidance of the spirits of his fellow hunters and his guardian star. This production, which marks the Yakut Drama Theatre of Siberia's U.S. debut, is adapted by Andrei Borisov from a novel by Chingiz Aitmatov; it's performed in Yakut, with simultaneous English-language translation available, and it runs through June 14. Steppenwolf Theatre, 7:30 PM. $29.

LETTERS FROM A NEW ENGLAND NEGRO Rosalind Cash stars in Sherley Anne Williams's one-woman play about a northern black woman who travels south after the Civil War to preach education and literacy to ex-slaves. The show, which runs through June 14, is presented by Rites & Reason, a developmental theater affiliated with Brown University's Afro-American Studies Program. UIC Theater, 7:30 PM. $20.

CIRCUS OZ Reader critic Jack Helbig writes: "Circus Oz has gotten rid of all the tiresome circus cliches... [and] has created a show that always makes time for comedy." This theatrical circus troupe from Melbourne, Australia, plays through June 14. Blackstone Theatre, 8:15 PM. $10-$25; $5-$12.50 for children.

FRIDAY, JUNE 12

CIRCUS OZ See listing under Thursday, June 11. Blackstone Theatre 7:30 PM. $15-$30; $7.50-$15 for children.

MY BELOVED BLUE COAST See listing under Thursday, June 11. Steppenwolf Theatre, 7:30 PM. $32.

LETTERS FROM A NEW ENGLAND NEGRO See listing under Thursday, June 11. UIC Theater, 7:30 PM. $24.

SATURDAY, JUNE 13

MY BELOVED BLUE COAST See listing under Thursday, June 11. Steppenwolf Theatre, 5 and 8:30 PM. $32.

LETTERS FROM A NEW ENGLAND NEGRO See listing under. Thursday, June 11. UIC Theater, 5 and 8:30 PM. $24.

CIRCUS OZ See listing under Thursday, June 11. Blackstone Theatre, 7:30 PM. $15-$30; $7.50-$15 for children.

SUNDAY, JUNE 14

MY BELOVED BLUE COAST See listing under Thursday, June 11. Steppenwolf Theatre, 2 and 7:30 PM. $32.

LETTERS FROM A NEW ENGLAND NEGRO See listing under Thursday, June 11. UIC Theater, 2 and 7:30 PM. $24.

CIRCUS OZ See listing under Thursday, June 11. Blackstone Theatre, 2 and 7:30 PM. $15-$30; $7.50-$15 for children.

TUESDAY, JUNE 16

WAITING FOR GODOT Samuel Beckett's existentialist masterpiece was first produced in Paris in 1953 as En attendant Godot, and Beckett himself wrote mainly in French. But the Nobel Prize-winning playwright was a born and bred Irishman, so it's fitting that Dublin's Gate Theatre lays special claim to this philosophical comedy about two tramps waiting for help that never arrives. Bury McGovern (seen at the 1988 International Theatre Festival in the Gate's I'll Go On) and Johnny Murphy (featured in the film The Commitments) star under Walter Asmus's direction; the production runs through June 21. (The Gate's engagement includes a "Beckett Weekend" June 19 through 21 that also features a performance of Krapp's Last Tape, an exhibition of video and radio productions of Beckett's work, a dinner featuring Walter Asmus as guest speaker, and a breakfast discussion led by Boston University professor Christopher Ricks; call 664-3370 for information.) Blackstone Theatre, 7:30 PM. $15-35.

A MAN CALLED MACBETH Shakespeare's tragedy is tricked out with contemporary clothing, a rock and roll score, and a gangster milieu in this production by Tokyo's Daisan Erotica theater. The company's founder, Takeshi Kawamura, adapts and directs this "Yakuza Maebeth" in which the title character is embodied by three different actors. The show, which runs through June 21, marks Daisan Erotica's U.S. premiere; it's performed in Japanese, with simultaneous English translation available. Steppenwolf Theatre, 7:30 PM. $29.

ENGLISH LESSON and CARTHAGE Warsaw's Akademia Ruchu (Academy of Movement), founded in 1973 by Wojcieck Krukowski, is claimed to be Poland's "most significant example of alternative theater." Its American debut engagement here through June 21 features four different works spread out over two evenings. The first program consists of English Lesson, in which a language class is used as a metaphor for authoritarian control, and Carthage, in which a slanting wall's oppressiveness provokes a population to violence. UIC Theater, 7:30 PM. $20.

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 17

A MAN CALLED MACBETH See listing under Tuesday, June 16. Steppenwolf Theatre, 7:30 PM. $29.

ENGLISH LESSON and CARTHAGE See listing under Tuesday, June 16. UIC Theater, 7:30 PM. $20.

WAITING FOR GODOT See listing under Tuesday, June 16. Blackstone Theatre, 7:30 PM. $15-$35.

THURSDAY, JUNE 18

ENGLISH LESSON and CARTHAGE See listing under Tuesday, June 16. UIC Theater, 7:30 PM. $20.

WAITING FOR GODOT See listing under Tuesday, June 16. Blackstone Theatre, 7:30 PM. $15-$35.

A MAN CALLED MACBETH See listing under Tuesday, June 16. Steppenwolf Theatre, 7:30 PM. $29.

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