Two young women are pictured. The one on the left is seated, holding an acoustic guitar and looking to her right, where the other woman is standing, her arms crossed over her chest. Both are smiling.
Before Pussy Riot: Caroline Kidwell (left) and Ellen Spann in Krugozor! at Theatre EVOLVE Credit: Evin Hoffman

I remember when rock was young. So, evidently, does Chicago playwright Katie Coleman, as she well attests in her intelligent, heartfelt play about two young Soviets, hopping and bopping to a thing called capitalist rock (Elton John, the Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, Blondie, etc.). Coleman actually tells three stories here. There’s a bittersweet one about Svetlana and Vitaly (two Soviet kids doing the best that they can); another, much angrier one about the economic and cultural stagnation of Leonid Brezhnev-era Soviet Union (a teenage wasteland for sure); and a third about the history of Krugozor, a state-owned—and thus state-sanctioned—music magazine that brought carefully vetted Western music into Russian homes via the flexi discs that came with the magazine. Krugozor, initiated by Nikita Khrushchev, must have been an attempt to control the flow of western European ideas into the state without threatening the ossifying bureaucratic power elite. How well it worked is one of the themes Coleman explores in this show. (See Berlin circa 1989.)

Through 2/4: Thu-Sat 7:30 PM, Sun 2 PM, Factory Theater, 1623 W. Howard,, pay what you can $5-$100

My summary is making the show sound like something only a history buff would enjoy. But actually, the show is immensely entertaining. The production has a loose Second City feel to it. Scenes are acted out with a bare minimum of props and set pieces.There is also a live band on stage, to give the show a jolt of rock ’n’ roll when things start to get too dark—or light. As if that could happen in a wild, energetic production that mixes performance styles, tone, and mood with the wild, carefree abandon of someone changing stations every few seconds on a car radio. Yet somehow, director Anna Rachel Troy and her cast keep it together, mixing strictly naturalistic scenes, with ones with a more Brechtian tinge, as when the script breaks the narrative flow to relate some facts about Soviet history, or Krugozor, or the myriad ways rock ’n’ rollers overcame government attempts to keep that “decadence” out of the country. (These included “bone music”—the underground trading of bootleg recordings pressed into discarded X-rays.) 

Troy has assembled a strong multitalented cast here, most of whom, at one point or another, join the band to sing or shred guitar, and all of whom know how to mine the emotional ups and downs of Coleman’s story for maximum effect. At the center of it all are Andy Ricci’s Vitaly—he’s just a poor boy but needs no sympathy—and Caroline Kidwell’s Svetlana. She’s the rebellious daughter of a Communist Party official, the Soviet equivalent of a poor little rich girl. As performers, Ricci and Kidwell are riveting, and their story—which shows the lie behind the claims that the USSR was a classless society—is, in the end, utterly devastating.