Ages of Man Theatre Above the Law presents three Thornton Wilder one-acts about how children relate to grown-ups. Wizened babies struggle to express complex thoughts while their adult caretakers can’t share simple ones, children playact themselves into understanding how much they need their parents, and teenagers realize the impossibility of walking in another’s shoes. This superb production moves nimbly from humor to heartbreak with spartan means, and the excellent cast juggle multiple roles effortlessly. Using little more than a patch of AstroTurf and a few chairs, they evoke entire worlds. This is likely the best storefront play I’ve seen all year. Tony Lawry directed. —Dmitry Samarov
Building the Wall Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Schenkkan seems to have forgotten the fundamentals of drama in creating his new, insistently unsuccessful two-hander. Gloria, a left-leaning African-American history professor with tepid authorial aspirations, meets Rick, a white, Trump-supporting former U.S. soldier convicted of a mass atrocity, for a death row interview. Despite potentially high stakes, their 75-minute encounter is inert. Gloria already knows the answers to nearly every question she poses, and Rick, who desperately wants his side of the story made known, has no reason to talk to an interviewer who continually points out how mistaken he is. In short, neither needs anything from the other, and we’re left with a predictable explication of the current divide between liberals and conservatives. Understandably, director Amy Szerlong can’t bring this Stage Left premiere to convincing life. —Justin Hayford
For One The army of writers, performers, technicians, and stage managers teaming up for (Re)discover Theatre’s ambitious experiment turn a potentially alienating evening into an alluring, challenging, highly imaginative playground for grown-ups. Nine different ten-minute performances, most of which require viewer participation (in one, I was interviewed as a great artist), run concurrently in nine rooms of the Gunder Mansion. Audience members individually see five in an order determined by the drawing of cards. It sounds pretentious and uncomfortable (you’re the entire audience for each piece), but everything is expertly scaled for the intimate surroundings, and curator Janet Howe sets a good-humored tone by posting an absurdly long list of trigger warnings, including “coffee smells” and “assessing your feelings.” Best of all, you can play in five improv scenes without having to be funny. —Justin Hayford
I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change Whoo boy, the relationship commentary in Joe DiPietro and Jimmy Roberts’s 1996 off-Broadway musical has not aged gracefully, the references to smartphones shoehorned into this Quest Theatre Ensemble production notwithstanding. Women like to ask for directions while men don’t! Women like to cry at the movies while men don’t! New parents are too busy to fuck! That’s to say nothing of director Laura Sturm’s vocally strong four-person cast, who have less schlocky material to work with in the more bittersweet second act about the long arc of marriage. Liz Jarmer, Gavin Donnellan, Christian Aldridge, and Alys Dickerson make the most of the harmless, mostly toothless comedy. —Dan Jakes
The Legend of Georgia McBride This Chicago premiere of Matthew Lopez’s one-act follows a down-on-his-luck Elvis impersonator’s metamorphosis from the King into a drag queen. Casey, played by Nate Santana, experiences a perfect storm of life changes when he learns his rent check has bounced again, his wife is pregnant, and he’s losing his dive-bar Elvis gig to the owner’s drag-queen cousin. But pressure makes diamonds, and in this case it creates his alter ego, rhinestone cowgirl Georgia McBride. As drag mentor Miss Tracy Mills, Sean Blake steals the show with a regal bearing, real-talk attitude, and quippy one-liners. Sidekick Rexy, played with chutzpah by Jeff Kurysz, delivers an emotionally charged monologue about drag as protest—”a raised fist inside a sequined glove”—but drag’s history and role in the LGBTQ+ community goes largely unexplored. —Marissa Oberlander
A New Brain William Finn is better known for his other, more popular musicals (Falsettos, 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee), but there’s urgency, poignancy, and relentless honesty in this autobiographical 1998 piece, written with longtime collaborator James Lapine, about his 1992 diagnosis of an arteriovenous malformation in his brain and his subsequent surgery and recovery. The power of this riveting piece is only amplified in Theo Ubique’s intimate cabaret space at the No Exit Cafe, and director Fred Anzevino has packed his ensemble with energetic, near virtuosic performers—Chase Heinemann is especially winning as the fictionalized Finn (here Schwinn), though it’s newcomer Tyler Franklin, still only a junior at Columbia College, who steals the show. —Jack Helbig
Orphée et EurydiceOrphée et Eurydice, Lyric Opera’s first-ever collaboration with the Joffrey Ballet, opened last weekend at a significant moment for both companies—a day after the announcement that beginning in the fall of 2020, all Joffrey season performances will take place on the Lyric stage. Given that, it would be nice to be able to report that this production of the French version of Gluck’s opera about the mythic musician who braves hell to retrieve his dead wife—which employs the full Joffrey troupe—is a total success rather than the partially terrific experience it turned out to be. Performances by all three vocal leads, but especially by tenor Dmitry Kolchak, as Orphée, are superb. (Sopranos Andrianna Chuchman and Lauren Snouffer are Eurydice and Amour.) So is the Lyric Opera chorus, though we don’t get to see them until they come out to take a bow. Director-designer-choreographer John Neumeier’s updated but earnestly melodramatic take on the 18th-century libretto, on the other hand, teeters at the edge of unintended camp—and occasionally falls right in. It doesn’t help that in the first two acts he’s working with a sometimes soporific (if lovely) score. In the final act, when the music pushes into glorious high gear, the whole thing’s pretty much redeemed, although—spoiler alert—Neumeier’s Eurydice lives on only in the choreography she inspires. —Deanna Isaacs
Perfect Arrangement This smart, engaging play by Atlanta writer Topher Payne, set in 1950s Washington, D.C., deftly juggles elements of farce, satire, and drama to focus on a dark chapter in American history: the antigay “lavender scare” that accompanied the McCarthy-era anticommunist “red scare.” Bob (Eric Lindahl), a State Department bureaucrat, and his schoolteacher boyfriend, Jim (Lane Anthony Flores), are posing as straight next-door neighbors. Jim is married to Bob’s secretary, Norma (Autumn Teague), and Bob is wed to Norma’s girlfriend, Millie (Riley Mondragon); the two couples live in adjoining apartments secretly linked by a walk-through closet (nice touch, that). When Bob is tasked to lead a purge of homosexuals and other “deviants” from the U.S. government, the foursome’s “perfect arrangement” begins to shred, thanks in part to resistance from a boldly bisexual State Department officer (the wonderful Kelli Harrington) targeted as a “security risk.” Pride Films and Plays’ excellent Chicago premiere, well directed by Derek Van Barham, deftly applies the style of slick 1950s Broadway comedies to content such plays would never have dared to address. —Albert Williams
Splatter Theater Thirty years ago, a group of actors and improvisers, many of them students of improv gurus Del Close and Martin DeMaat, created a gross-out comedy that was at once a parody of slasher films (a la Friday the 13th), an homage to John Waters’s earliest, vilest movies (Pink Flamingos), and the latest example of what you could create using as a foundation Viola Spolin’s theater games. The show was popular, and spawned a host of other scripted shows at the Annoyance and other theaters. This current revival captures much of what made this show transgressive and funny: the copious, spurting blood, the use of raw meat as a prop, the purposely stupid stock characters (the jock, the bimbo, the virgin, the dumb cop), all performed on a pristine white set that must be washed down every night. —Jack Helbig
Striking Out: A Gay Baseball Musical On the Annoyance’s main stage, directors Adam Levin and Ryan Ford run Take Me Out through The Twilight Zone. In a universe where all professional athletes are gay, straight Iowa farm boy Jimmy (Marco Braun) risks social stigma by pursuing his dream of playing for the Chicago Otters, a hard-partying gaggle of ebullient twinks in cutoffs. Both Braun and Olivia Nielsen (who plays Jimmy’s secret girlfriend) have vocal chops way above average for sketch-style musicals in comedy clubs, and Ford’s earwormy score is solid. This deep bench of naturally funny comedians—most of whom could read user agreements with good timing—shows that the straight-faced, big-hearted, absurdist tradition at the Annoyance is alive and well in the hands of a new generation of Chicago comics. —Dan Jakes
Sylvester Christina Calvit adapted this play from a frothy Regency romance novel of the same name by Georgette Heyer, with one significant, winking departure: a large onstage apparatus built to resemble a life-size game of Chutes and Ladders with human pieces. The effect of Alan Donahue’s whimsical set, alongside other nods to games and toys, is to cast the the courtship of society novelist Phoebe Marlow (talented Samantha Newcomb) at the hands of rakish Sylvester, Duke of Salford (Andrés Enriquez), as a strange kind of game with odd rules and sudden twists. But the initial charms of the conceit fade quickly into the two hours and 20 minutes’ worth of Sylvester shunning Phoebe, then courting her again, then shunning her again, then courting her again. Dorothy Milne directs. —Max MallerThrough 10/29: Thu-Fri 7:30 PM, Sat 4 and 8 PM, Sun 4 PM, Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood, 773-761-4477, lifelinetheatre.com, $40.
A Year With Frog and Toad What a delight to spend four seasons with the inseparable Frog and Toad and their riverside pals. As banjo, barrelhouse keyboard, light taps on the cajón, and fingerstyle guitar all weave together softly in the background (the music is by Robert Reale, book and lyrics by Willie Reale), as cookies bake in the oven and tea brews on the hob, as a snail (Shawn Pfautsch) delivers mail, the upbeat Frog (Matthew C. Yee) and his somber pal Toad (the wonderful Andy Nagraj) go skipping sweetly through daring outdoor adventures, from sledding to swimming to raking leaves, building true friendship along the way. A revival of Chicago Children’s Theatre’s first-ever production, which debuted at the Goodman in 2006, this is a thoroughly lovable beginning to the company’s first season at its new permanent space. —Max MallerThrough 10/29: Sat 10:30 AM, 12:30 and 3 PM; Sun 10:30 AM and 12:30 PM, Chicago Children’s Theatre, the Station, 100 S. Racine, 872-222-95555, chicagochildrenstheatre.org, $35.