At Mister Kelly’s For more almost two decades, 1957 to 1975, Chicago’s Mister Kelly’s was a springboard for talent. From Barbra Streisand and Barry Manilow to Bette Midler and (trigger warning) Bill Cosby, the iconic Rush Street supper club and cabaret was a rotating door for emerging comedians and musicians. Time, taste, and technology have eroded these institutions, but in this immersive experience, created as a valentine to the era by Jason Paul Smith, with music and arrangements by Gary Gimmestad, you can put on your pinup best or Mad Men attire to enjoy a night within Three Cat Productions’ imaginative time capsule. This revival features an ensemble of budding Chicago talent who offer a crisp perspective on our favorite artists through impersonations, stories, and the quintessential songs that defined the age. It’s not a perfect show, but it’s damn good fun—and the three-piece jazz band is on point. —A.J. Sørensen
Disenchanted! This satirical musical revue (book, music and lyrics by Dennis T. Giacino) sets its sights on a worthy target—the lucrative, ludicrous Disney princess franchise—but never delivers on its promise to skewer it. Instead Giacino trots out a series of toothless musical bits poking fun at these iconic figures—in one song we learn the Little Mermaid drinks too much, in another that Mulan is a lesbian—without ever drawing blood or inspiring big laughs. It doesn’t help that the performances in this touring production often feel forced. All too much of the comedy depends on funny costumes (designed by Vanessa Leuck), and at its worst the show indulges in the very sexism it pretends to be mocking (see the song “Big Tits”). In the end, it leaves us wanting less. —Jack Helbig
The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord Scott Carter’s play throws Jefferson, Dickens, and Tolstoy together in a locked room where they quickly recognize that they’re (a) all dead, (b) in Purgatory, and (c) not going anywhere until they figure out what else they’ve got in common. Every hypothesis falls short until they realize that each of them wrote a version of the Gospels to conform to his own notions about Jesus. Dickens’s is novelistic, Jefferson’s informed by Enlightenment values, and Tolstoy’s by renunciation. It doesn’t stop there, though. Once they’ve shared their theologies, they’re compelled to confront their lives. The 90-minute triologue is meant to be witty and profound yet plays out as a festival of gimmicks—a cutesy, down-market No Exit for Christians, processed through currently fashionable theatrical modes and reductive characterizations. In Kimberly Senior’s staging, only Nathan Hosner comes out all right as a pensive, dignified Jefferson. Jeff Parker’s performance is constrained by Carter’s apparent disdain for Dickens, while Mark Montgomery plays Tolstoy, mystifyingly, as Popeye and Bluto’s love child. —Tony Adler
Satie et Cocteau Mike Czuba’s tangled metatheatrical dark comedy imagines a one-on-one rehearsal between French writer Jean Cocteau and his nameless lover/lead actor portraying minimalist composter Erik Satie, Cocteau’s late former lover. Part biodrama, part surreal play within a play, Czuba’s script oscillates between heady platitudes about the creative process and a bloodless romance between an opium addict and an alcoholic, or so we’re told—neither actor in this Genesis Theatricals production evolves beyond unvarying line readings and lightly comedic quips, much less becomes intoxicated. Though Satie’s music is sprinkled throughout, there’s little rhythm or musicality in the show itself—what is billed as a love-hate relationship for the ages comes across instead as a purely cerebral affair. —Dan Jakes
The Secretaries Created in 1994 by the New York collective known as the Five Lesbian Brothers, this wild comedy tells a dark and pulpy tale of office workers involved in a vaguely sapphic homicidal cult. The script circles a number of satirical targets—dehumanizing corporate culture and expectations of femininity chief among them—without really zeroing in on any of them. But the atmosphere of giddy amorality supplies a bracing corrective to the stereotype of feminist theater as hectoring and humorless. Bonnie Metzgar’s pitch-perfect staging for About Face Theatre benefits from performers who play it straight (so to speak) instead of winking at the zany material. As the office ringleader, a fully committed Kelli Simpkins is as sleek and eerie as David Bowie’s Thin White Duke.
The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window Had Lorraine Hansberry not been dying from pancreatic cancer as her final play was being prepared for its 1964 Broadway opening, she might have had time and energy to shape something cohesive from nearly three hours of promising material. Instead she left a series of discursive, issue-skipping encounters among a coterie of self-described bohemians struggling to find something to believe in. The central dilemma—Brustein’s risking becoming an “insurgent” by backing a friend in a local political race—carries scant weight, as Hansberry barely sketches the election’s political contours. It’s not until act three, somewhere around the two-hour mark in director Anne Kauffman’s unhurried Goodman production, that a series of focused, volatile two-person scenes provides palpable urgency. The rest is low-stakes tumult with little dramatic import. —Justin Hayford
Twisted Knots Longtime married couple Frank and Carla—a stressed-out salesman and an under appreciated 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 v