The most noticeable difference between this edition of the International Theatre Festival of Chicago and the four others that preceded it is: there’s no Shakespeare! No sprawling marathons, no this-year’s-Olivier pandering. English theater is still represented–by Alan Ayckbourn’s new play, performed by his own company–but it doesn’t overshadow the rest of the fest. Which might mean that festival organizers trust in their audience’s broadened tastes. Or maybe they’re just burned out on the Bard. This year’s festival runs from May 24 through June 19, with offerings ranging from rethought classics to experimental originals and from large-scale ensembles to solo performance. Organizers Jane Nicholl Sahlins and Pam Marsden have brought in ten productions by seven companies and individuals, as well as a slew of breakfast and lunch presentations, postperformance discussions, and professional artists’ workshops. The first week’s openings include two shows by Mexico’s Taller del Sotano and one by England’s Stephen Joseph Theatre; see listings below for more information. Subsequent offerings (which will be listed here on a week-by-week basis) include two shows by Greece’s Attis Theatre, The Persians and Kanon; French Canadian performer-director Robert Lepage’s solo show Needles and Opium; the Netherlands’ Dogtroep company in Camel Gossip III; Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock as performed by Dublin’s Gate Theatre; and San Francisco monologuist Marga Gomez in two pieces, Memory Tricks and Marga Gomez Is Pretty, Witty, and Gay.

Performances take place at the following venues: DePaul University’s Merle Reskin Theatre (formerly the Blackstone), 60 E. Balbo; the Wellington Theater (its last offering before it returns to its former incarnation as the Ivanhoe), 750 W. Wellington; the Vic nightclub, 3145 N. Sheffield; and the Navy Pier Skyline Stage, 600 E. Grand (at Lake Michigan). Various public programs augmenting the festival will be held at the Columbia College Theater/Music Center, 72 E. 11th. Single ticket prices are listed below for each production; for single ticket orders, call 831-2822. For series tickets, call 664-3378; for group discounts, details on the professional workshops, and general festival information, call 664-3370.

Following is the schedule for May 24 through 26:


Jardin de pulpos

(“Octopus Garden”)

“Those of us who have lived in countries marked by conflicts resulting from conquests, revolutions, and dictatorships, who personify the debate between premodernism and postmodernism and in whom coexist diverse languages, characteristics and idiosyncrasies, and who pretend to live cohesively by a common geography that dictates nationhood . . . we seek the answers to what are the common denominators that define us. But the answers are generally avoided, manufactured, or demagogic.” This statement by Taller del Sotano on its festival-opening production could be discussing life in the U.S.–but the question driving Jose Acosta Navas’s staging of Aristides Vargas’s script is: “What is a Mexican?” This Mexico City-based experimental troupe, a recent presence on the international theater scene, turns to the work of early 20th-century writers, painters, and musicians to evoke and examine the Mexican national identity. Performed in Spanish with English translation available. Wellington Theater, 7:30 PM (opening). $20-$25.


Communicating Doors

Are you going to Scarborough fair? No need; Scarborough’s coming here. At least it’s sending a representative: the renowned Stephen Joseph Theatre, whose director-producer namesake–the son of Hermione Gingold–was the mentor of writer-director Alan Ayckbourn, the theater’s artistic director since 1971. England’s most prolific playwright, Ayckbourn’s a master farceur with a knack for toying with space and time relationships as he satirizes the malaise of “classless” contemporary Britain. His work is devilishly difficult for American companies to perform effectively, as several unsatisfying off-Loop efforts have recently demonstrated. So it’s a rare opportunity to see the real thing when Ayckbourn’s own resident company arrives here to perform his recent comedy thriller about a prostitute who jumps backwards and forwards in time, via a communicating door between two posh hotel suites, in an effort to escape a murderous businessman. Merle Reskin Theatre, 7:30 PM (opening). $21-$40.

Jardin de pulpos

See listing for Tuesday, May 24. A discussion follows the performance. Wellington Theater, 7:30 PM. $20-$25.


El otro exilio (“The Other Exile”)

See Critic’s Choice. Wellington Theater, 7:30 PM (opening). $20-$25.

Communicating Doors

See listing for Wednesday, May 25. Merle Reskin Theatre, 7:30 PM. $21-$40.