Gift Theatre's Ten 2018, Filament Theatre's Forts!, and four more new stage shows | Performing Arts Feature | Chicago Reader

Gift Theatre's Ten 2018, Filament Theatre's Forts!, and four more new stage shows 

A festival of ten-minute plays and an interactive kids' show are among this week's best bets.

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click to enlarge Martel Manning in Nigerian Astronaut Wants to Come Home, part of Ten 2018

Martel Manning in Nigerian Astronaut Wants to Come Home, part of Ten 2018

Claire Demos

Blue Over You Francis can't find his wife, Mitzi. She was gone when he came home from work yesterday, didn't sleep at home last night, and hasn't called in. So now he's rooting around in her stuff, searching for clues. Maybe she lit out for Phoenix. Maybe she ran off with Joey, the macho maintenance engineer at the school where she teaches first grade. After a few minutes with Michael Joseph Mitchell's Francis, though, you might suspect that she just couldn't take his loopy, manic style anymore—his best-gay-friend asides ("Don't you just love Angela Lansbury?"), his tendency to break into a Broadway show tune at the least provocation. You'd think that Francis's many affectations would have some bearing on the ultimate trajectory of Dan Noonan's play, getting its world premiere here as the debut production of Spot On Company. But they don't. They're apparently just there to give us something to focus on until an unremarkable surprise ending arrives. —Tony Adler

click to enlarge Filament Theatre's Forts! A Build Your Own Adventure - PAUL AUDIA
  • Filament Theatre's Forts! A Build Your Own Adventure
  • Paul Audia

[Recommended] Forts! Build Your Own Adventure Filament Theatre's latest kids' feature is a "world of play and creation" with theatrical elements. Think of it as a charmingly designed play space inhabited by roving actor guides giving kids tools to fuel their imaginations. My five-year-old nephew was uncharacteristically speechless upon entering the theater, which was packed to the ceiling with cardboard boxes, not to mention couches, pillows, and twinkling lights. With only two rules—be safe and be kind—it was up to us to begin creating our own experience from the materials at hand. My nephew settled on a massive washer-dryer box as the base of his fort. Full disclosure: I spent most of my time inside that box, but he thoroughly enjoyed holding me hostage and making shadow puppets with the distributed flashlights. —Marissa Oberlander

click to enlarge Jamie Black - JOHN OLSON
  • Jamie Black
  • John Olson

It's My Penis and I'll Cry If I Want To Trans performer Jamie Black has been suffocated by gender norms for his entire life. Before transitioning, he felt the pressure women are under to be docile in a society that expects them to silently do what they are told. After his transition, he felt the pressure men are under to confine their emotions and appear stronger than the other sex. Black's solo show explores three different relationships where gender norms have been negated, revealing men who openly express their vulnerability and women who aren't afraid to be lustful, angry, or withdrawn. The performance has passion, but lacks polish; It's My Penis . . . feels underrehearsed, which shouldn't be an issue for a remounted solo production. —Oliver Sava

Black Button Eyes' Nevermore—The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe - COLE SIMON
  • Black Button Eyes' Nevermore—The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe
  • Cole Simon

Nevermore—The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe Though the subtitle promises an "imaginary life," Jonathan Christenson's 2009 musical sticks pretty faithfully to the facts about Edgar Allan Poe. Yes, he was the son of actors, abandoned by his father and then orphaned when his mother died. Yes, he was taken in by the Allans, Frances and John, only to lose Frances and fight with John. And yes, yes, yes, he married a 13-year-old cousin who succumbed to TB, fought a literary war with the nasty Rufus Griswold, and died under mysterious circumstances at 40. Christenson recounts all this while giving surprisingly short shrift to the reason why any of it matters: Poe's great poetry and fiction. The show consequently lacks heft—which may be why director Ed Rutherford is so willing to push lurid atmospherics at the cost of clarity. Still, Christenson's score is far better than his book, and, under Nick Sula's strong music direction, the band and cast of this Black Button Eyes production make the most of it. —Tony Adler

click to enlarge Bryce Gangel and Martel Manning in Cancellation, part of Ten 2018 - CLAIRE DEMOS
  • Bryce Gangel and Martel Manning in Cancellation, part of Ten 2018
  • Claire Demos

[Recommended] Ten 2018 The Gift Theatre kicks off its 2018 season with a night of ten ten-minute world premieres. David Rabe's Winter or Fall features Mary Ann Thebus and Mike Nussbaum reminiscing about dating in college 60-plus years ago and realizing that maybe the good old days are better left forgotten. In Carly Olson's Slate two aspiring actresses—one white, the other Latina—debate how much they'd bend their morals to land a part. Carolyn Braver's The Cellphone Play attempts to engage the audience by making them do the opposite and turn on their devices. Rammel Chan's Northern Michigan Trust is a Fargo-esque riff on small-town desperation. The three standouts are K. Frithjof Peterson's sad bartender-relationship story Soft Things, J. Nicole Brooks's hilarious Nigerian Astronaut Wants to Come Home, about an e-mail scam one would almost want to fall for, and Tracy Letts's The Night Safari, featuring a world-weary tour guide whose anthropomorphizing of the exotic animals he's tasked to describe seems uncomfortably personal. The night concludes with Will Eno's Cancellation, an extended one-liner about a couple scoring a coveted reservation only to receive everything but a meal, or service for that matter. Even the pieces that don't come together have kernels of good ideas and at ten minutes can hardly be accused of wearing out their welcome. —Dmitry Samarov

Monster - EMILY SCHWARTZ
  • Monster
  • Emily Schwartz

Young Playwrights Festival The concept of overthinking comes up an awful lot in this year's edition of Pegasus Theatre's annual festival of plays by Chicago-area high school students. Which seems surprising given the stereotype of teenagers as thoughtless and impulsive. But much drama comes from overthinking; just ask Hamlet. Or check out the four well-crafted plays that have been chosen here, all of which entertain and enlighten without preaching or resorting to straw-man arguments. This is best shown by Mairi Glynn's morality tale Monster, about a hijab-wearing high-schooler falsely accused of terrorism; by the end of this subtly written and performed drama we come to understand the how and why of Islamophobia, yet it never demonizes the student's misguided accusers.
—Jack Helbig

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