About Face Youth Theatre: In Real Life, About Face Theatre. Like its first two shows exploring the sexual orientations of young people, About Face Youth Theatre’s third effort is culled from a six-month workshop with about 50 Chicago-area “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, [and] questioning youth.” But this time the workshop also collected 75 stories from around the world on its Web site, and the show revolves around the influence of the Internet, weaving technologically oriented stories (finding first love in chat rooms) in with narratives set in classrooms and bedrooms. Seth Reinick’s lighting and Andre Pluess and Ben Sussman’s sound design emphasize the technological side of making connections. “Who are you? What happened?” the 20-member ensemble chant, as if they were a computer looking for data. “Searching…go.”

All the stories are real (though some have fantasy elements, like a prom crowd that breaks into song), and though a couple of them cover old ground, most are fresh and a few are surprising. In one segment a gay student reveals that his best friend is Miss Piggy–and he tries to bring her to life. Though these teenagers are not trained actors, they tell their stories with ferocity, tenderness, and humor. It’s still desperately difficult to be a gay youth in America, and the performers don’t shy away from dark themes: self-mutilation, AIDS, racism, bullying, and suicide. Fluid directing from several members of About Face’s artistic staff keeps this 90-minute show moving and transforms teenage exuberance into poignant theater.

–Jennifer Vanasco