Learning Curve Credit: Liz Lauren

[Recommended] Confessions From the D-List Under the Gun’s newest show is nothing new. It’s a reworking of the company’s Dear James Franco, in which one performer reads from various published letters and the others write down key phrases which then become titles for improvised scenes. The only difference here is they’re reading from D-list celebrity autobiographies (Corey Feldman’s Coreyography and Ben Carson’s Gifted Hands on opening night). The formula still works wonders, especially with improvisers so eager to create urgent, highly idiosyncratic scenes (a couple spends their first date held captive by a married couple trying to rekindle their passion). The attempts to bring all of the evening’s disparate characters together is singularly impressive. Under the Gun has assembled its tightest, most inventive ensemble yet. —Justin Hayford

Theatre-Hikes' <i>The Iliad, the Odyssey, and All of Greek Mythology in 99 Minutes or Less</i>
Theatre-Hikes’ The Iliad, the Odyssey, and All of Greek Mythology in 99 Minutes or LessCredit: Lilian Harvey

The Iliad, The Odyssey, and All of Greek Mythology in 99 Minutes or Less What’s the sense in muscling through the Iliad, the Odyssey, and all of Greek mythology in 99 minutes or less while moving your audience from one outdoor location to another? Got me. The rules of this Theatre-Hikes production seem a tad arbitrary. But once you decide just to let go and let Zeus, the results are entertaining. Under the direction of Ron Popp, five toga-wearing actors review a swath of ancient Greek lore, starting with the creation, pausing over the Trojan War, and finishing up—in a rush—with trials of Odysseus. The tone is eye-rollingly goofy (Hermes to Zeus: “You the man!” Zeus to Hermes: “I’m the god.”) But the company is affable, and you’ve got to hand it to coauthors Jay Hopkins and John Hunter: they don’t back down from the squirmier aspects of the tales. The big contingent of kids among us seemed to take that stuff in stride. —Tony Adler

[Recommended] Learning Curve One of the first flashbacks I experienced walking into Ellen Gates Starr High School, the fictional setting of this Albany Park Theater Project production in the remains of the closed Saint Hyacinth Basilica, is just how goddamn rude authority figures can be to teenagers. Many ambitious Chicago companies have asked audiences to trudge up and down the stairs of community centers/churches/schools in the service of site specificity, but few have done so with the impact of this experiential meditation on young adult life. Directed with an assist from Brooklyn’s Third Rail Project, 33 youth artists usher small groups through a poetic view of their days. There are some magnificently transcendent moments—like being asked, as an adult, over a paper game of MASH, surrounded by the smell of a real classroom, to dream about your future. —Dan Jakes

NewsiesCredit: Deen van Meer

[Recommended] Newsies In 1899 New York newsboys went on strike, demanding a better deal from Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst. It’s cool that they won, but it would’ve been so much cooler had they done it dancing like the killer chorus in this touring show. Based on if not entirely faithful to Disney’s 1992 movie musical, the stage Newsies (Broadway, 2012-2014) gives us Jack Kelly, a charismatic but troubled teen who organizes his fellow child laborers almost in spite of himself while falling in love with the “girl reporter” covering the strike. The songs by Alan Menken and Jack Feldman are almost unanimously anthemic, and Harvey Fierstein’s book outdoes the original for aspirational schmaltz. It’s the dancing, though, that stirs things up. An Agnes de Mille-ian mix of folk motifs and balletic athleticism, Christopher Gatelli’s choreography gets exuberant, often air-borne realization here, complemented by the mobile, scaffolding-like units of Tobin Ost’s set. Appropriately, it’s a union show. —Tony Adler

Free Street's <i>100 Hauntings</i>
Free Street’s 100 HauntingsCredit: José Rivera

100 Hauntings Free Street’s latest community-based work is 100 Hauntings, a broad sifting of ghost stories collected by the company through hundreds of interviews with Chicago residents. I had no idea so much of this city was possessed by demons. I also learned some remedies to expel a ghost if I ever meet one (here’s a freebie: for haunted rooms, grind dry orange peel to a powder, then burn it in a pile outside the doorway). Regrettably, the poor verb “haunt” is called upon to do too much work here, and it is with great solemnity and the world’s best intentions that Free Street recalls some other ways in which Chicago remains “haunted” to this day: by the legacies of redlining, poverty, and gun violence. These are the most serious of truths—too serious, I think, to ride piggyback on a winded pun. A full indoor staging opens October 14. —Max Maller

The Right Amount of Tequila Remember the worst people at every college party? They’ve all assembled in this one-act curiosity at Gorilla Tango, where they—big shock—drink and drug themselves into stupors and sexually belittle one another. God pops in from time to time to contribute faux profundity. Wildly immature young people trying to grow up through the vices of adulthood could be the ingredients of good satire, but this artistic team doesn’t have enough of a handle on its own message to achieve the required self-awareness. It all adds up to a Fear Factor-level test of patience in which the terms “fucking” and “diarrhea” and “butthole” are tossed around so proudly that you’d think the playwright had just discovered them. Does Urban Dictionary have a thesaurus? —Dan Jakes

Metropolis Performing Arts' <i>Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash</i>
Metropolis Performing Arts’ Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny CashCredit: Liz Lach

Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash This tepid 2005 jukebox musical collecting some of Johnny Cash’s hits (among them, “I Walk the Line,” “Daddy Sang Bass,” “The Man in Black”), only ran 57 performances on Broadway. It’s not hard to see why. Neither a full-fledged concert nor a musical biography, the show is a lame hybrid the momentum of which is slowed by short bits of biographical info that never quite add up to compelling story. The current production, directed by Joe Keefe, is packed with young actors who get the accents right but can’t find the fire in these iconic tunes, all the more a shame when the band, led by David Welker, nails it. —Jack Helbig

<i>The Taming of the Shrew</i>
The Taming of the ShrewCredit: Courtesy Oak Park Festival Theatre

[Recommended] The Taming of the Shrew Director Adrianne Cury does a nice job minimizing the misogyny in this witty but flawed Shakespearean chestnut. In her version, the laughs don’t come from Petruchio’s physical abuse of Kate, but from how well these two misfits (both are shrews in her version) understand each other—and how well they play together. As the couple in question, John Crosthwaite and Jhenai Mootz display an honest and very winning passion for each other. Likewise, Daniella Pereira transforms Kate’s more agreeable but often less interesting sister, Bianca, into something feisty and fascinating. Not all of the casting in this show is as successful, and some of the physical bits are Jerry Lewis awful. But the fire is there, and that’s enough to carry the show. —Jack Helbig

Fraud & Phony Theatricals' <i>Troll</i>
Fraud & Phony Theatricals’ TrollCredit: Nemanja Zdravkovic

[Recommended] Troll Where would Dante, writing today, have put the online troll in his vision of Hell? I think it would have been the seventh circle, with those violent against others, where centaurs keep watch over captive souls as they boil eternally for their sins in a river of blood. The centaur, beast to the chest and down, was the ancient symbol for that bestiality that overcomes the heart in moments of intense hatred—and the animal rage in Troll provokes such vicious, inhuman outbursts as would only be possible for the cowards who commit them with the help of some mask or other. That mask—an actual one made of rubber in Melanie Keller’s exquisite staging for Fraud & Phony Theatricals—is the Internet. Two entire families are destroyed by so many words on a screen in Elizabeth Archer’s astonishing play, which meditates on the anonymous violence of virtual harassment with absolute sophistication and craft. —Max Maller