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The Frogs

Synchronized singing and dog-paddle choreography suit the swimming-pool venue of Jay Paul Skelton’s splashy revival of The Frogs, Stephen Sondheim’s irreverent 1974 musical version of Aristophanes’ comedy. But for all the slapstick, the show’s essentially a plea for humanity in hard times: theater god Dionysus journeys to Hades where Shaw and Shakespeare vie for the […]

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The Seagull

This “transadaptation” for the GroundUp Theatre by company member Julie Levinson, who moves the action to Martha’s Vineyard during the Me Decade, reiterates that Chekhov got it right the first time. Updates only seem to date his work, diluting the good doctor’s diagnosis of the defining struggle between heartbreak and hope. And Sabrina Lloyd’s staging, […]

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The Samaritan Syndrome

In Jeremy Menekseoglu’s new hour-long play for the Dream Theatre Company, a self-appointed savior rescues the victim he creates, hoping to gain unearned fame and gratitude. A man (haunted Giau Truong) visits a bordello/hospital in order to save the mistress his father supposedly abused. But as usual no “good deed” goes unpunished: he ends up […]

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Ragtime

This 1998 musical deftly interweaves the fully felt characters in novelist E.L. Doctorow’s tale of America’s boiling pot in the early 20th century. Three clans of immigrants–an ethnically and racially mixed assemblage that looks a lot like America today–and historical figures like Henry Ford, Emma Goldman, and Harry Houdini show how change can radicalize or […]

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She Stoops to Conquer

Director William Brown boldly transplants Oliver Goldsmith’s comedy–about a young man who mistakes his intended, whom he hasn’t met, for a barmaid and her home for an inn–from 1773 Britain to 1895 Montana. Brown also grafts on tender-to-rousing country-western songs by Andrew Hansen that serve only to slow down and sentimentalize the story. With this […]

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The Sea Gull

Chekhov’s dramas are tragedies to those who regret love’s frequently perverse timing and unrequitedness and comedies to others who find emotional paralysis, squandered talent, and psychic inertia cause for ridicule, not regret. Michael Menendian’s staging of Jean-Claude van Itallie’s adaptation of The Sea Gull, about two generations of artists misunderstanding one another, is determinedly tragicomic, […]

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Our Country’s Good

A richly textured drama that works on many levels, Timberlake Wertenbaker’s 1988 play depicts a marvelous transformation based on a true story. Convicts sent in 1788 to Australia are required to perform a comedy by George Farquhar as a civilizing exercise–which becomes an opportunity for a second chance. Far from the first folly on the […]

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The Wiz

This 1975 African-American version of The Wizard of Oz is in some ways more dated than the 1939 MGM musical: Charlie Smalls’s disco score was the last note in goofy funk. But its relentless self-affirmation (“Believe in Yourself”) anticipates today’s glut of power ballads. Bethany Thomas’s wicked witch is nothing but good news, and Craig […]

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Huck Finn

Laura Eason’s condensed but satisfying adaptation of America’s finest coming-of-age saga is rooted in Jurgen Hooper’s triumphant portrayal of Huck–he comes across as raw, resilient, and conscientious in the best way. Mark Twain’s masterpiece contrasts the boy’s real but false dad with his true protector, runaway slave Jim (a wiser-than-words Chike Johnson). On their travels […]

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I Am Hamlet

MidTangent Productions presents yet another deconstructed Hamlet. Here adapter Tony Lewis’s concept/gimmick is that the Danish tragedy is performed by inmates of an Elsinore asylum a la Marat/Sade. Amid their fever dreams, Hamlet’s mimicry of insanity shrinks into actual lunacy. Like Polarity Ensemble Theatre’s recent Othello, this Hamlet relies too much on masks, which freeze […]

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Blithe Spirit

The afterlife intrudes, brilliantly, in Noel Coward’s playful ectoplasmic comedy, in which the deceased wife of a henpecked writer returns via a botched seance. Saucy ghost Elvira means to wreck her former hubbie’s current marriage–or, failing that, remove him to the hereafter. It won’t work: even the second chances provided by second comings aren’t guaranteed. […]

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Feast

Aline Lathrop’s messy new domestic drama feeds on overworked formulas, symbols, and shock effects: a tense Thanksgiving family reunion, a festering dark secret, a sluttish teenager’s seduction of her mother’s middle-aged boyfriend, a faded rose memorializing a father who died under questionable circumstances. Unforgivable things get said without observable consequences, and after a lie is […]

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Living the Dream

This debut show is not the one that Set a Spell Productions and Maryaska Productions planned. When they abruptly lost the rights to a script they’d worked on for almost a year, the five performers created this series of bittersweet scenes about young Chicago actors “not quite making it.” These autobiographical bits dealing with scheduling […]