And don’t miss the Gift Theatre’s “exhilaratingly subversive” Richard III, reviewed by Tony Adler here.
Blood Wedding Federico García Lorca’s poetic tragedy is transplanted from the author’s beloved Andalusia to California during the Great Depression in this production directed by Daniel Ostling. It’s still the story of nuptials derailed by hate and lust, and the language (translated from Spanish by Michael Dewell and Carmen Zapata) is still earthy and passionate. But the look is rough-hewn and dusty. With the sole exception of Kareem Bandealy’s fiery take on the bride’s ex (whom she is most assuredly not over), the acting also has the sort of dry, taciturn quality that would be better suited to a Dorothea Lange photo than to Lorca’s full-blooded poetry. When things finally explode into rage and violence in the third act, the results are perplexing instead of shattering. —Zac Thompson
Burn Ian Michael James’s endearing if somewhat schematic new play focuses on twentysomething Sam, a lifelong dreamer trying to free himself from his cynical failure of a father, Al, all under the watchful eye of semispiritual landlady Barb. While James strains to maintain forward momentum—a problem exacerbated in J. Cody Spellman’s overly deliberate staging for Mercy Street Theatre—his satisfying twist ending is so elegant it feels inevitable. But the reason Sam suddenly needs independence—the sun is going red dwarf and the earth will soon vaporize—is all wrong. That won’t happen for a few billion years, making the abundance of cassette tapes, boom boxes, and, well, humans problematic. It also gives earth’s destruction and a troubled family relationship nearly equal dramatic weight. —Justin Hayford
D.O.A. Zipping out of his Sacramento office for the weekend, small-time accountant Frank Bigelow (Mickey O’Sullivan) gets ambushed, then becomes embroiled in a high-stakes game on the streets of San Francisco. This being an adaptation of the 1950 film noir of the same name (starring Humphrey Bogart), Strawdog Theatre smokes up the room with dry ice, lavishes black lipstick on the ladies, and admirably re-creates the movie’s hard-boiled atmosphere. With irony Cardinal Pictures impresario Leo C. Popkin would likely never have envisioned, the plot of D.O.A. revolves around a bungled piece of paperwork filed in Bigelow’s office; Cardinal Pictures later fell victim to a snafu of its own when it misfiled the copyright forms for D.O.A., allowing the film to go directly into the public domain. And that, friends, is how low-budget theater is born. This is the final show at this location for Strawdog, which is moving after 25-plus years. —Max Maller
42nd Street Based on Bradford Ropes’s novel and the 1933 movie it spawned, this 1980 stage musical concerns desperate chorus girls and boys, doing their damnedest to stay afloat and hold on to their dreams during the Great Depression. What’s interesting is that they don’t backbite to achieve those goals. Whenever they make a decision, they do it for the good of the group—even if that means stepping aside to help one of their number get her big break. So it’s a nasty irony that the story is being told here in a non-Equity touring production. I guess the producers think solidarity is only for pretend. As for the show itself: moments of visual confusion in the staging, a few remarkably shoddy sets, and a wide range of skill levels—from serviceable to excellent—among the cast. —Tony Adler
I’ve Got the World on a String The first act of City Lit’s ill-conceived Harold Arlen song cycle, devised by the late Sheldon Patinkin, is a 35-minute nonevent. Into a 1940s Manhattan bar tended by a perpetually happy couple come two ostensibly happy couples who rather quickly switch partners, flirt, get irked, and leave. Rather than meaningful character development, we’re offered a dozen too-obvious Arlen tunes (“Fun to Be Fooled,” “One for My Baby,” “That Old Black Magic”) and the occasional head-scratcher (“Lydia the Tattooed Lady”) shoehorned into a meager, lurching narrative. The cast’s singing ranges from impressive to thrilling, even as musical director and accompanist Kingsley Day inhibits any sense of jazz, blues, or swing, draining the soul from the soulful score. Why the ill-matched couples return together for act two is a mystery.
Jerusalem Under Profiles Theatre artistic director Joe Johraus’s direction, the midwest premiere of Jez Butterworth’s play brings England to Chicago in a way that’s raving, rural, and raw. Set on Saint George’s Day in the woods outside Wiltshire (home of Salisbury Plain and Stonehenge), the story centers around Johnny “Rooster” Byron, a hedonistic vigilante on the verge of eviction from his mobile home. Darrell W. Cox’s Rooster, surprisingly multifaceted for a man who deals drugs to minors, is at his best spinning grandiose yarns (or are they?) about the circumstances of his birth and encounters with giants. Where the dialogue grows long-winded–particularly in the first act’s setup—Thad Hallstein’s set and AmarA*jk’s costumes poignantly convey the decay of one man and one way of life. —Marissa Oberlander
Mai Dang Lao Inspired in part by a case in Kentucky in which a McDonald’s worker was strip-searched by her manager at the bidding of a scam artist impersonating a police officer, David Jacobi’s play succeeds at striking a fine balance: on the one hand, he’s a strong storyteller who fills his cautionary tale with intense, believable characters; on the other, he effectively dissects the social conditions that led to this moral outrage with the precision of well-crafted agitprop. Under director Marti Lyons, this Sideshow Theatre ensemble brings Jacobi’s riveting tale to life without pulling any punches or muting his message. Sarah Price, in particular, plumbs the depths of her hapless character, and moves us in the process. —Jack
The Matchmaker Before there was Hello, Dolly!, there was Thornton Wilder’s 1955 play The Matchmaker, the equally broad and corny romantic farce on which Jerry Herman’s musical is based. A miserly upstate mogul in 19th-century New York turns to an old friend, a brassy socialite played by Kristine Nielsen, to set him up with a match, and guess who she has in mind? A few modern tweaks—sitar, comedic interludes, proactively diverse casting—do little to make the G-rated adventures feel like they haven’t been ripped from a time capsule. Comedically, though, director Henry Wishcamper’s women run laps around the men; without Herman’s score, however, there’s little left behind beside the beats of a children’s play no child would have the patience to sit through. —Dan Jakes
The New Sincerity This Theater Wit production of Alena Smith’s 2015 satire is far more fun than it deserves to be. Smith’s comic strategy depends on adding a facile “not” to the title phrase, skating past loads of recent history, and contriving complications from the main character’s improbable naivete. Her attack on millennial hypocrisy is driven by Rose, whose PhD doesn’t prevent her from going all gooey over the chance to write for a little New York journal run by Harvard boy Benjamin. When the Occupy movement erupts just down the street, at Zuccotti Park, Rose goes gooey for that too, pulling Ben in along with her. Cynical, reductive, occasionally inexplicable high jinks ensue. Director Jeremy Wechsler can’t square certain elements, like Rose’s wayback-machine romantic notions, but he and a great cast maintain screwball levels of energy and sensibility throughout, making the show eminently seeable. Erin Long and Alex Stein are especially engaging as the play’s resident idiosyncrats. —Tony Adler
Raggedy And David Valdes Greenwood’s new comedy of political manners, directed by Cecilie Keenan, is refreshingly modern territory for Pride Films & Plays, even if at its heart it’s still a closet story. An acclaimed poet is offered time at the first female president’s upcoming inauguration, to the joy of her newly outed son and the chagrin of her skeptical wife. When a cartoonishly cynical campaign operative (winning Iowa, we’re unironically told, comes down to dress color) tries to exploit her trans status, the family band together to face the public on their own terms. The stakes don’t get much higher than a press release, but Delia Kropp is warm as a mother navigating truly uncharted family territory. —Dan Jakes
Recent Tragic Events Craig Wright’s play concerns a young Minneapolis couple on a blind date the evening after the World Trade Center attacks of September 11, 2001. When it premiered in 2003, Recent Tragic Events struck some critics as a distasteful trivialization of 9/11. But 15 years on—at least in this excellent Interrobang Theatre Project production—the play effectively captures the eerie atmosphere of the historical moment it depicts, when people were just trying to process a new sense of urgency and anxiety in American life. Wright (a former writer for Six Feet Under) teases questions about inevitability, chance, and free will, but the philosophical speculation is grounded in engaging characters and framed by some playful absurdist metatheatrical devices, including the unexpected appearance of novelist Joyce Carol Oates, portrayed by a sock puppet. —Albert Williams