Medea and Phaedra Released As the nights get warmer, it’s once more time to roll out the blankets for some outdoor theater. Poetry Is artistic director Robert Eric Shoemaker has crafted a new adaptation of the Phaedra legend in which the abandoned queen—here named Luce (Tara Bouldrey)—falls in love with her stepson, the acquiescent Max (Emil Sueck). Max is simultaneously embroiled with his foster sister, Adriana, played delightfully by Kellen Robinson. As the city rebels against the royal family, intrigue mounts inside the doomed castle. Shoemaker retains the tangledness of the original story and skillfully alloys it with youthful touches of his own–like a talking mouse (Rebecca Whittenhall). Phaedra, Released is presented alongside a hectic Medea by Catherine Theis, where Medea (Robinson) and her boorish unnamed husband (Sueck) try, and fail, to escape the demons in their relationship over a weekend vacation.
The North Pool Khadim is a Syrian-born Muslim teenager attending a public high school somewhere in the US. Dr. Danielson is the school’s vice principal—and very possibly a sleaze. On the final day before spring break Danielson finds a minor reason to hold Khadim for detention, then uses the time (and the solitude, everyone else having cleared out) to pursue more dangerous matters. Well-wrought and judicious, Rajiv Joseph’s 2013 two-hander is a whodunit with a heart, exploiting our preconceived notions about people like Khadim and Danielson both to heighten its mystery and deliver its moral. James Yost’s 80-minute staging for Interrobang Theatre is competent but a little crabbed in that it gets us compellingly to the point yet fails to take full advantage of the psychic and physical violence inherent in the situation. Set designer Greg Pinsoneault does a great job of reproducing the classic school administrator’s office.
Old Hobbits Die Hard Fan fiction only works if everyone is in on the joke. Bear that in mind if you decide to see New Millennium Theatre Company’s parody mashup Old Hobbits Die Hard—and know that you’re seeing Die Hard for dedicated fans of the Ring trilogy, not The Hobbit for action-film fans. Fueled by a shared passion for Middle Earth, the cast is the lifeblood of this production, versatile in dialects, stage combat techniques, and Elvish alike. Costumes by Amber Kessler Freer pay great attention to detail, while director Adam Rosowicz’s use of space is clever. The video elements are a nice touch too, but the script, by Alex B. Reynolds, is simultaneously erratic and predictable. If you’re just a casual fan of Tolkien’s work, or have seen the films maybe once, you’ll probably be left wondering, “What the hell is going on, and why are we celebrating Christmas in June?” —A.J. Sørensen
Rent Despite its Tony and Pulitzer Awards and long-running afterlife post-Broadway, Jonathan Larson’s 1996 rock musical is not a perfect show. Nor is Lauren Rawitz’s current revival. Actors must be at the top of their game to keep from getting bogged down in Larson’s often flat book, and while this young ensemble has lots of energy and spirit, they’re not all quite there. The same for goes for the weaker songs in Larson’s demanding, but inconsistent score—sometimes this production soars (as in the full ensemble’s “Seasons of Love”), and sometimes it just lies flat on the floor. The show does feature some fine performances, most notably Will Wilhem’s star turn as the sweet, sassy cross-dressing Angel and Derrick Mitchell’s morally ambivalent landlord. —Jack Helbig
Spinning Deirdre Kinahan’s 2014 play opens with a moment only found in fiction. Proprietor Susan steps out onto the deck of her seaside cafe just as ex-convict Conor, responsible for the death of Susan’s teenage daughter four years ago on this very spot, arrives. She’s impossibly bitter. He’s suicidal. So by the laws of contemporary playwriting they’ll have to find some sort of redemption in each other. Kinahan’s deeply felt if dutifully drawn story is full of none-too-surprising reveals, but it’s all made palatable by director Joanie Schultz’s meticulous staging for Irish Theatre of Chicago. She steers her four-person cast through 65 minutes of splintered flashbacks with unwavering pose and emotional commitment. It’s an engaging evening, even if it never stops feeling overly engineered. —Justin Hayford
Very Much Forever From a progressive pickup artist to an alien who enjoys intercourse with humans, the solo sketch show Very Much Forever offers more hits than misses. Scenes move rapidly from one wayward character to the next, assisted by the wisely included stagehand Stevie Shale, who doubles as a suicidal deer. Writer and performer Ben Larrison, known for his CTA Red Line PSAs featuring fake facts about squirrels (Project #SquirrelTruth), introduces us to a range of characters, including the perpetually cuckolded and the downright naughty. It’s dirty and offbeat, but that’s the Annoyance brand: dark and absurd, laughing through a wicked grin with a mad scientist’s look in the eye. Mick Napier directs. —A.J. Sørensen v