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Song and dance, but not enough story

Here’s the TL;DR version of what to expect from Ain’t Too Proud, the new jukebox musical about soul/blues/disco/rock hitmakers The Temptations, whose catalog of songs spans the 1960s and the height of the Motown era through the disco beats of the 1970s and beyond.  The music—featuring more than 30 tunes from the Motown catalog—is irresistible […]

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Diner dialogues

This is an impeccable production of a play whose weaknesses outweigh its considerable strengths. It’s the 1960s episode of August Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle, tracing a century of life in the African American Hill District, and urban renewal shadows everything. (Jack Magaw’s set presents this vividly.) The diner where the play takes place is nearly empty […]

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Cruise control

Margaret Knapp directs the world premiere of Martha Hansen’s first play (presented by Light and Sound Productions) about five women on an Alaskan cruise—each hoping to sight something other than a bunch of glaciers. Bailey (Hansen) is a chattering busybody looking for a first love late in life, Cora (Judi Schindler) is sliding into dementia […]

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Tyrant times

Steve Scott directs a storefront production of Shakespeare’s wallow into the nature of unadorned power-lust and demagoguery. With a minimal set—a couple benches, steps with a recess to indicate the space for a throne—and little in the way of choreography or any other theatrical gimmickry, Promethean Theatre Ensemble leaves the Bard’s words to work their […]

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The incredible journey

Six years ago, Brian Quijada and Teatro Vista teamed up to present Quijada’s solo show, Where Did We Sit on the Bus?, an endearing and poignant portrait of growing up in the Chicago suburbs as the child of Salvadoran immigrants. The title of that show came from a question young Brian had for his third-grade […]

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Southern spells

A good play, suggests Tony Kushner in his 1995 anthology Thinking About the Longstanding Problems of Virtue, “should be overstuffed.” Memorably comparing well-constructed theater to lasagna, he writes that a work of theater “should have barely been rescued from the mess it might just as easily have been” and, at its best, “has a bursting […]

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The price of exposure

In Viola Spolin’s seminal work Improvisation for the Theater, the very first exercise listed is named “exposure.” During this exercise, a group of actors are divided into halves and instructed to simply look at others and allow others to look at them. This deceptively difficult task often challenges new performers greatly; not only do they […]

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Take shelter

In the Chicago premiere of Sarah Treem’s When We Were Young and Unafraid with AstonRep, a group of multitudinous women navigate domesticity, violence, and identity in a cultural landscape that both oppresses and empowers. Set in 1972, just before the Roe v. Wade decision and 22 years before the passage of the Violence Against Women […]

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Dictator dictation

The energy in the Den Theater last Thursday was electric, as The Secretaries, written by Omer Abbas Salem and directed by Laura Alcalá Baker, made its highly anticipated debut with First Floor Theater. The dark comedic play was first developed through Goodman Theatre’s Future Labs and marks Salem’s first full production as a playwright in […]

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This bird has flown

Aaron Sorkin’s gonna Sorkin, even when he’s working off someone else’s material. In his new adaptation of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, now in a short touring stop with Broadway in Chicago, the creator of A Few Good Men, The American President, and The West Wing goes back to the courtyard drama/political grandstanding that […]

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Babes with blades

Whether by design or happenstance, Writers Theatre has focused on the theme of women in competition and collaboration this season. In Eleanor Burgess’s Wife of a Salesman, two actors portraying Linda Loman and the “woman from Boston” in a contemporary riff on Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman wonder why their characters in the play-within-the-play […]

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Immigrant song

If you’re a fan of Henry Louis Gates’s Finding Your Roots on PBS, then you can probably relate to Annabelle Lee Revak’s impulse to create a musical out of the World War I-era letters of her great-great-grandfather, Joe Loula. As in Gates’s program, the most interesting details in Revak’s Notes & Letters with Underscore Theatre […]

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The play about the baby

Reproductive rights cuts both ways: the government deciding that you may not have a child comes from the same authoritarianism that tells you that you must continue an unwanted pregnancy. Given current grim news about the impending SCOTUS decision overturning Roe v. Wade, that thought is unavoidable when viewing Zoe Kazan’s dystopian After the Blast.  […]

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Living room absurdism

It may be difficult to comprehend today just how shocking Edward Albee’s drama Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was when it premiered in October 1962, the same week that the Cuban missile crisis began. While the atomic fireworks the world feared never happened, Albee’s three-act, three-hour-plus masterpiece detonated an explosion that rocked American culture to […]