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Last year, with the Chicago International Theatre Festival running at about the same time, there was an aura of the underdog to this event. This year, they’ve got a nice logo and the field more or less to themselves. Still, the specifics are the same: ten plucky non-Equity companies displaying their wares in a series of double bills, culminating with a Sunday Marathon (see below). All shows at the Theatre Building, through April 12 (1225 W. Belmont, 327-5252). Tuesday-Saturday, 8 PM; Sunday, April 5, and Wednesday, opening night only, 7 PM. Sunday Marathon, April 12, noon-midnight. $10 per show; $25 for the marathon. There’s also a free symposium an nontraditonal casting, Monday, April 6, 7 PM. The schedule:

NICE PEOPLE DANCING TO GOOD COUNTRY MUSIC and HAMLETMACHINE First: “Eva, a refugee from the suburbs, serves up country wisdom and city smarts” in this Touchstone Theatre production of a play by Lee Blessing. Second: Something I specifically asked for in my Reader year-end review for 1986–a text by the celebrated East German experimentalist, Heiner Muller, presented here by the Chicago Actors Ensemble. Friday, April 3, and Thursday, April 9.

EDGEWISE and DREAMSCAPE OF THE FALCON First: “A series of satiric parables about modern life,” written by Cathryn Michon and Ron West, and performed by the On The Edge Theatre Company. Second: Igloo, the Theatrical Group, offers the premiere production of Paul Peditto’s “sometimes beautiful, sometimes painful, often surreal look at death and the pain of lost love for one man.” Saturday, April 4, and Wednesday, April 8. (Dreamscape can also be seen as part of a double bill with Pirandello’s The Man With the Flower in His Mouth, at Igloo’s home theater [see separate listing in Reader’s Guide to Theater])

MEDLEY and THE CENCI First: Toni Cade Bambera’s “portrait of a woman redefining her relationship to the men in her life,” as adapted and performed by the City Lit Theater Company. Second: “Purest Evil vs. Purest Good: which will prevail?” Megan Peterson’s adaptation of the poetic allegory, performed by the Cherry St. Theatre Company. Sunday, April 5, and Saturday, April 11.

WEIGHTS and ACTS OF KINDNESS The first is a collaborative effort from the Huron Theatre Ensemble, involving 25 artists from all kinds of media and following “man’s journey in uncovering the powerful source of creativity that lies under self-imposed handicaps.” The second is the Seahorse Theatre Project production of a script by John Schneider of Milwaukee’s Theatre X, combining “George Burns and Gracie Allen, a Greek folk dance, and an existential last supper of bread and cheese.” Tuesday, April 7.

THE LONG CHRISTMAS DINNER and MYSTERIES OF THE BRIDAL NIGHT First: Thornton Wilder’s “quintessential American family story” as performed by the Gallery Theatre Company. Second: The Blind Parrot Productions production of Martin Epstein’s comedy about two newlyweds and a coffin. Friday, April 10.

MARATHON Everybody, one after the other, in the following order. Weights, Acts of Kindness, The Long Christmas Dinner, Mysteries of the Bridal Night, Nice People Dancing to Good Country Music, Hamletmachine, Edgewise, Dreamscape of the Falcon, Medley, and The Cenci. Sunday, April 12.