Twelfth Night—there's a conga line too Credit: Mark Garvin
Bob Fisher and Erin Diamond in <i>The Condition</i>
Bob Fisher and Erin Diamond in The ConditionCredit: Sam Bengston

The Condition Inspired by a vague radio ad on her drive home, an aging actress in need of quick cash submits herself to a mysterious medical study at a seemingly normal clinic. Unaware of what she’s being examined for, Ruthie answers increasingly cryptic and personal questions asked by a furtive, too friendly physician named Dr. Kick. Joshua Fardon’s psychological two-hander benefits from dynamic performances by Erin Diamond and Bob Fisher even as the script’s plot twists get progressively tangled. There’s too little variation in the back-and-forth, though, and even at under an hour, the clever, combative verbal sparring wears itself out before any real exploration of guilt or Munchausen syndrome bears real fruit. —Dan Jakes

Idle Muse’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, at EDGE TheatreCredit: Steven Townshend

The Hound of the Baskervilles This new version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s oft-adapted novel, created for the stage by the same “adaption development group” that did Steppenwolf’s Young Adults’ take on Animal Farm in 2014, has many virtues, not the least of which is that the story is retold simply but effectively, with a fine balance between wit and suspense. Idle Muse artistic director Evan Jackson’s elegant, well-paced production brings out the best in the material. His casting is strong—Joel Thompson and Nathan Pease in particular have considerable chemistry as Holmes and Watson—and though the set is bare-bones, Jackson uses it well to create many interesting stage pictures. The few flaws in this adaptation come directly from Doyle’s original, a facile but ultimately shallow entertainment. —Jack Helbig

Irish Theatre Company’s In a Little World of Our OwnCredit: Emily Schwartz

In a Little World of Our Own Had Sam Shepard been raised in a 1970s Belfast loyalist household, he might have become Gary Mitchell. His taut 1997 domestic drama focuses on two rivalrous brothers—Ray, a small-time thug, and Gordon, an equivocator hoping to escape the Troubles with his devout fiancee, Deborah—desperate to protect their intellectually disabled brother, Richard, from a witch hunt when his girlfriend is murdered. While director Jeri Frederickson can’t bring Belfast’s political situation into focus or make sense of who the play’s pivotal fourth character, Walter, is, she coaxes fierce, meticulous, heartbreaking performances from her unstinting cast. As Ray, Matthew Isler is a pathetic menace who commands the stage. But perhaps more impressive, Jodi Kingsley turns one-note Deborah into a complex character both courageous and pitiful.—Justin Hayford

Brown Paper Bag Co.’s Julius Caesar. Beware the Ides of March!Credit: Zach Dries

Julius Caesar The Brown Paper Box Co.’s low-budget staging of Shakespeare’s drama seeks “to ask questions about how we support female leaders in a male-dominated political system,” according to director-adapter Lavina Jadhwani. But despite the casting of women as the assassinated Roman general Julius Caesar and her avenger, Mark Antony, opposite a male actor playing Caesar’s assassin, Brutus—and implying a sexual element in Brutus’s feelings for Caesar—the production offers little clear or coherent perspective on issues of gender and power. With ten young actors playing multiple roles, all clad in blue jeans, gray T-shirts, and purple or red mantles, the show blurs rather than highlights any traditional differences between the sexes, so Jadhwani’s approach seems less gender conscious than simply gender-neutral. The verse is spoken briskly and conversationally, with little attention to its poetry; while the action comes across loud and clear (especially loud), there is no sense of the sweeping emotional arc essential to the experience of great tragedy. The fight choreography by Tyler Esselman and Vahishta Vafadari (who also plays Antony) does, however, demonstrate that women can be just as rough and rugged as men when it comes to brutal and noisy stage combat.
—Albert Williams

NightBlue’s Mary Poppins, at Stage 773Credit: Emily Schwartz

Mary Poppins In the stage version of Disney’s 1964 movie musical (itself based on the stories of P.L. Travers), the titular nanny retains some of her no-nonsense approach to magic making. But instead of contrasting her particular brand of whimsy with heartless order (as in the film), book writer Julian Fellowes turns his attention to Poppins’s employers, the Banks family, and their conventional arc from estrangement to hugs. The very un-Disneyfied budget David E. Walters had to work with in his small-scale staging for NightBlue Performing Arts Company prevents dazzling special effects—though Kevin Bellie’s spirited choreography supplies some oomph, especially during the biggest production numbers. The main trouble with this slimmed-down take is there’s nothing to distract you from how empty and saccharine the show is. —Zac Thompson

Akvavit Theater’s Nothing of MeCredit: Emily Schwartz

Nothing of Me
Even when I don’t love an Akvavit Theatre production, I love seeing what they’re up to. The company’s devotion to contemporary Nordic plays provides the opportunity to see work I’d likely otherwise never see, and their elegantly designed, coolly acted shows are tantalizingly odd. So it goes with Norwegian playwright Arne Lygre’s formal, dispassionate piece about a woman (identified only as “Me”) who’s abandoned her husband and son and taken a tentative dive into a conditional romance with a young “He.” Lygre’s characters narrate their scenes in past tense, a potentially alienating convention directors Chad Eric Bergman and Breahan Eve Pautsch turn to affectingly lyrical uses. Me’s ineluctable need to connect with He is satisfyingly multivalent, unlike her comparatively simplistic struggle to reconcile with her mother and ex-husband.
—Justin Hayford

Broken Nose Theatre’s A PhaseCredit: Austin Oie

A Phase As the title suggests, Elise Spoerlein’s 75-minute play isn’t a huge deal. Just a collection of scenes about a young woman going through a difficult moment—a phase—in her life. Twentysomething Sam (played by Spoerlein) went steady with Connor for five years, starting in college. It was deep. Then he left her. Now Sam is renting a studio apartment in Lakeview, trying to get over it. Her chosen method is promiscuity. (Well, that and voodoo, thanks to an offstage aunt.) We see her with furniture-maker Jeff, old pal Zack, Reader (!) colleague Emilio, and Gabe from the health club. There’s no real forward motion to any of this; the phase simply continues until Sam creeps herself out and moves on. But Spenser Davis’s direction for Broken Nose Theatre is clever and efficient, and so are the performances. And the dialogue is buoyant enough that it’s not terribly annoying when scenes between Sam and her mom get too talky.
—Tony Adler

ColorBox Theatre’s ProofCredit: Kurt Konow

Proof Catherine (Liz Dillard in this ColorBox Theatre production) is trapped between genius and insanity, her twin inheritance from a prodigious father, University of Chicago math professor Robert (Lawrence Garner). After schizophrenia-like symptoms made it impossible for Robert to work, Catherine was forced to take care of him, setting aside her own potential career in mathematics. Flashbacks blurring the boundaries of reality take us to earlier phases of Robert’s decline, set alongside the real-time preparations for his funeral, which Claire (Alex Pelletier), the imperiously put-together older daughter, has flown in from New York to help set up. Robert’s adorable former student Hal (Ian Geers) is in the house too, looking for glimmers of inspiration in the hundred-odd notebooks from the “writing phase” of Robert’s illness. The acting in this production is superb. Fans of playwright David Auburn will also want to see his Long Day’s Journey Into Night, at Court Theatre through April 10.
—Max Maller

Filtre Theatre’s Twelfth Night, part of Chicago Shakespeare 400Credit: Mark Garvin

Twelfth Night Well, that was fun. Maybe even a little more fun than was strictly necessary. In town as part of Shakespeare 400 Chicago, England’s Filter Theatre strips the Bard’s romantic comedy down to a gold lamé Speedo. Amid all the usual mistaken identities and nasty pranks, eight actors and an onstage stage manager pull audience members into a conga line, a pizza run, a rendition of “Tequila,” and a skill game involving Velcro headgear and some, uh, hairy balls. Low comedy rules, and a lot of it is hilarious. Dan Poole, in particular, makes an epic Toby Belch, while Fergus O’Donnell looks appropriately horrendous in that Speedo as deluded steward Malvolio. But the high jinks get old before the 90 minutes run out. More important, they undermine the tender ending and obscure the power of its gender-forward message. —Tony Adler v