The Hawkshaws, Baum House, at the Theatre Building Chicago, and Real Soap, Baum House, at the Theatre Building Chicago. On January 14, 1927, the Chicago Journal ran a story about an oversize hawk killing pigeons. Two days later the Tribune ran a front-page article complete with photograph. Soon all the major papers were reporting on the hawk. Lincoln Gun Club marksmen patrolled the streets. Boy Scout troops fanned out across the city. Years later the Journal’s editor admitted the story was a circulation-boosting hoax.

In The Hawkshaws, playwright Talon Bunn offers a madcap version of the tale. But though he says in a program note that “most everything you’re about to see really happened,” his play features a real hawk rendered gargantuan by tree-frog hormones injected by a midget scientist bent on world domination. Perhaps Bunn is trying to pull a hoax of his own, but his overwritten comedy is so full of oddball characters and bizarre twists it’s hard to comprehend the mystery that his two bumbling detectives, Lime and Lyme, are trying to solve, even though it’s explained twice in the final scenes. Gregory Gerhard’s frantic staging often renders Bunn’s snappy period dialogue indecipherable, and Matthew Gunnels’s and Charlie Clark’s quick-change portrayals of the show’s 16 characters are so overblown that the already confused script becomes nearly incomprehensible.

The performers in Real Soap, the Baum House’s late-night show, overact in another way. In the premiere episode of their three-part soap opera parody, they spoof 19th-century melodrama with all the mannered archness of the Carol Burnett Show cast. This hyperbolic style makes for a few easy laughs, but since it has little in common with contemporary soaps, the evening feels off target. Playwright Karen Begin’s story about the goings-on at a design firm is dutifully sordid while her framing device–the lives of two young women parallel the stories they watch on television–is too tepid to serve as a meaningful counterpoint. Let’s hope company members watch some real soaps in the coming weeks so they’ll better understand their target.