Janelle Villas and Edmund Flynn in the Gift Theatre's Pilgrims Credit: Claire Demos

Creepin’ Comedy troupes have come a long way from shouted one-word audience suggestions to conjure inspiration for improv sets. Nowadays, half the game is coming up with clever jumping-off points based on live interviews or found material to inform truly original, in-the-moment premises. Under the Gun Theater has made that something of a specialty over the years, finding great gags in sources from board games to pop culture franchises to remaindered books. This late-night Friday set tries to use one of its audience’s least flattering social media habits—lurking on crushes—to formulate story threads. The results are limited, so a few leaders often bear the brunt of stepping in to try to forge coherent comedic through lines. —Dan Jakes

Organic Theater Company’s Emilie: La Marquise du Châtelet Defends Her Life TonightCredit: Matthew C. Yee

Emilie: La Marquise du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight Playwright Lauren Gunderson has done her part to rescue great women from that particular dustbin of history labeled “Girls.” Her list of gyno-biodramas includes one on astronomer Henrietta Leavitt, another on mathematician Ada Lovelace, and this 2009 effort dealing with the 18th-century French aristocrat of the title, who became noted for her work in physics and notorious for her affair with Voltaire. Strong performances (especially by Laura Sturm as Emilie and Joel Moses as Voltaire) go a long way toward overcoming second-act languors and some kind of inscrutable symbolic thing involving the set. What the cast of Bryan Wakefield’s Organic Theater staging can’t fix is Gunderson’s notion that chronicling Emilie means valorizing her—trying to convince us, for instance, that a fabulously wealthy woman who did pretty much as she pleased and was taken seriously by her peers somehow led a difficult life. A more honest Emilie might be more interesting. —Tony Adler

Corey Caldwell and Jeremy Bender of Four Man Show, at iOCredit: Courtesy iO

Four Man Show At the top of their two-man sketch show, white guy Jeremy Sender describes himself as straight, while Corey Caldwell, who’s black, says he’s “omnisexual” but will one day identify as gay. What follows is more than a dozen short bits in which the two play people of many persuasions, addressing hot-button topics like Black Lives Matter, sexual harassment, and interracial adoption. Tellingly, in a video spoof of a travel ad, their contempt for anyone who doesn’t live in a major American city and identify as liberal belies their stated goal to present an inclusive program. Frequent loud cheers, however, proved the pair delivered exactly what their audience had come for. Geoff Dow directed. —Dmitry Samarov

Alys Dickerson in Organic Theater Company’s King UbuCredit: Fernandez Foto

King Ubu Alfred Jarry’s proto-absurdist burlesque of Macbeth famously triggered a riot at its 1896 Paris premiere with its grotesquerie, coarse language, and rude mockery of authority. The title character—originally a parody of one of Jarry’s own teachers, who Jarry said “personified for [me] all the ugliness in the world”—is a vulgar, vain, infantile, erratic, dishonest, greedy, vindictive, cowardly narcissist who seizes the throne of Poland only to be attacked by the Russians. It’s natural that a contemporary artist could see potential for a satire of our current political personalities in this material, and the Organic Theater Company’s new production—”freely adapted” by director Alexander Gelman—coyly tweaks the text with Trumpian references to “bigly,” “short-fingered,” and so on. But though the eight-person cast display impressive physical and vocal technique in their slapstick clowning and sexual posturing, the show never conveys the anarchic spontaneity that Jarry’s subversive humor demands—now more than ever in these dangerous times. —Albert Williams

Naked Boys Singing! Presumably, it was two out of the three words in this title that caused monocles to drop within the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, an organization with whom the Athenaeum Theatre—the venue originally scheduled—is affiliated. The subsequent last-minute move to Theater Wit gives an extra air of underdog scrappiness to this full-frontal, sex-positive silliness from Eclectic Full Contact Theatre, led by a gang of six handsome, mostly Helix Studios-ready twinky fellas. Book writer Robert Schrock’s risque camp and commentary on LGBT culture feel firmly planted in 1998, when the revue first appeared off-Broadway, and the cast’s voices work better as an ensemble than individually, but jokes like Danny Bradley’s “Perky Little Porn Star” and some more vulnerable numbers from Wesley Dean Tucker hold up as good, wholesome, R-rated fun. —Dan Jakes

Pilgrims In this Gift Theatre world premiere playwright Claire Kiechel takes an exhausted theatrical cliche (two emotionally wounded, temperamentally incompatible people aggravate and antagonize each other until pathological spite transforms into ferocious love), sets it in outer space, and adds a robot servant. No, really. Aboard spaceship Destiny (no, really), a taciturn, cynical soldier and a logorrheic, flighty castaway, both lugging big traumatic secrets to a new planet, get stuck sharing a room and bandying metaphors for 100 days. All the unconvincing dialogue, underdeveloped story lines, unrecognizable psychology, and untenable physics (sound “works differently” on other planets) makes this world-premiere one-act ring continually false. Directors Michael Patrick Thornton and Jessica Thebus extract all the emotional gravitas such flimsy material allows, only to be thwarted by Kiechel’s overplayed finale. —Justin Hayford

Put the Nuns in Charge!, at the Royal George TheatreCredit: Courtesy Nuns4Fun Entertainment

Put the Nuns in Charge! Vicki Quade’s 2005 sequel to her 1993 hit Late Nite Catechism (written with Maripat Donovan), being revived here by Nuns4Fun Entertainment, so closely resembles the original it feels like an alternate draft. This time the protagonist, Mother Superior, is addressing not a catechism class but a group serving detention. Still, the feel of the two shows is very similar—both depend on constant comic interactions between the sister and her audience, and both very gently poke fun at Catholic culture without touching on subjects that might offend anyone. Chicago comedy-scene veteran Kathleen Puls Andrade (who shares the role of Mother Superior with Lisa Braatz in this run) is adept, warm, likable, and very funny. —Jack Helbig

The Water Children In 1997, playwright Wendy MacLeod cooked up a tender, paradoxical drama involving Megan (Hilary Bernius), an actress who’s had an abortion and is pro-choice, and Randall (Joe Liolos), the executive director of a pro-life group. They wind up in bed together, and it’s all uphill from there, an unplanned pregnancy being one major point of contention. It probably goes without saying that a setup this contrived requires a pair of actors who can finesse a strong sense of conviction against a lingering attraction. But you’d be surprised how delicate that balance can be. In this revival from the Cuckoo’s Theater Project, directed by Denise Smolarek, the chemistry between the leads is palpable and convincing, restrained and focused at all the right moments, lending credence to the notion that love and politics are never black and white.
—Matt de la Peña