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Garage Sale

Garage Sale, Circle Theatre. Playwright Marc Stopeck’s fractured, campy anthropological study of a day in the life of a dysfunctional suburban family rings hollow from the outset. Setting an entire play within the claustrophobic, cluttered confines of a neighborhood garage sale may be cheeky, but beyond the premise the cliche-infested script is feverishly dull. What […]

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Here at the End of a Century

HERE AT THE END OF A CENTURY, Blue Star Performance Company, at the North Lakeside Cultural Center. This is only its second production, but the Blue Star Performance Company has already carved a bold niche for itself as one of Chicago’s foremost practitioners of site-specific theater. Last year the group staged Caryl Churchill’s complex Light […]

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Warhawks and Lindberghs

Warhawks and Lindberghs, Shattered Globe Theatre. Playwright Jim McDermott obviously took some small liberties in order to condense three decades of the tumultuous life of American aviator Charles Lindbergh into a compact dramatic package. The problem with WarHawks and Lindberghs, however, lies not in the accuracy of its re-creations but in McDermott’s refusal to assess […]

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The Million Bells of Ocean

THE MILLION BELLS OF OCEAN, American Theater Company. Human beings and sentient household objects happily coexist in Edward Mast’s off-kilter, hypertheatrical world. In fact that’s probably the most realistic aspect of The Million Bells of Ocean, which introduces a barrage of absurdities: street gangs conversing in ancient Aztec tongues, earwigs delivering edicts from the heavens. […]

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4 A.M. Boogie Blues

4 A.M. BOOGIE BLUES, New Tuners Theatre, at the Theatre Building. It’s common to assume that musicals must be epic sagas, full of blazing pyrotechnics and overblown theatricals, perhaps because of long-standing traditions on Broadway. But comparatively modest, intimate affairs like Schoolhouse Rock Live! have proved otherwise. And New Tuners’ 4 a.m. Boogie Blues–presented last […]

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Black Friday

Black Friday, Live Bait Theater. Two distinct visions of cold-war America emerged in the era’s popular periodicals. While Archie comics and Better Homes & Gardens touted prefab domesticity in the form of neighborhood malt shops and plastic seat covers, pulp magazines and dime-store paperbacks exposed America’s grim underbelly. In a cruel twist of fate, Leave […]

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In Harmes’ Way

In Harmes’ Way, Bailiwick Repertory. Like Caryl Churchill’s Cloud 9, Landon Coleman’s script deconstructs social and gender roles through the familiar device of having the cast take turns playing each of four characters, including the minor role of a nurse. In this understated drama, a dissertation adviser visits a middle-aged PhD candidate to award her […]

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Lo Mein on the Totem Pole

Lo Mein on the Totem Pole, Stir-Friday Night! at the Second City, Donny’s Skybox Studio. The latest scripted sketches by the Asian-American comedy troupe Stir-Friday Night! demonstrate that contemporary Asian culture has a lot more to offer than John Woo, Jackie Chan, and third-rate chop-socky flicks. But unfortunately the show’s revue structure apes Second City’s […]

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Love Medicine

Love Medicine, Lifeline Theatre. Obviously, though drama and fiction draw on many of the same conventions, they’re incredibly different genres. Yet over the last 15 years Lifeline Theatre has demonstrated an uncanny knack for adapting works of literature to the stage. Some books resist distillation into tidy dramatic packages, however, despite Lifeline’s Midas touch. Louise […]

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Happy Birthday to You

Happy Birthday to You, Mom & Dad Productions, at the Performance Loft, Second Unitarian Church of Chicago. Joseph Feliciano and Renee Phillippi’s collection of short vignettes is intended to showcase the full spectrum of human life–and by the play’s end we feel we’ve passed an entire lifetime. Unfortunately, it’s a life drained of passion, emotion, […]

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Frindle

Frindle, Griffin Theatre Company. William Massolia’s adaptation of Andrew Clements’s award-winning children’s book details the colossal ramifications of a fifth-grader’s prank. In an attempt to challenge his austere spelling teacher’s authority, young Nicholas Allen renames his pen a “frindle.” But both Nick and wizened grammarian Mrs. Granger are too obstinate to concede defeat, and their […]

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The Inside

The Inside, Ma’at Production Association of Afrikan Centered Theatre, at Victory Gardens Theater. Playwright Lydia Diamond’s exploration of an African-American college student’s journey from preadolescence to womanhood tackles so many issues of gender, identity, and race in its two hours that it often feels unfocused and irresolute. Diamond places the weight of the world on […]

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Three Musketeers

Three Musketeers, Emanon Theater Company, at the Mayer Kaplan Jewish Community Center. Like the bookish pranksters of the Reduced Shakespeare Company, Emanon places literature on the operating table and gleefully shreds it with scalpels. Their latest adaptation replaces page after page of Alexandre Dumas’ dialogue with gratuitous stage combat and Monty Python-style humor. When 14 […]

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Bedlam

Bedlam, Aha! at Bailiwick Repertory. Daniel J. Farragut is an unsuccessful conceptual artist struggling to find an audience for his ambitious, oddball performance works. Neglected as a small child, he looks for the attention he never received from his mother in a string of ill-fated relationships with wealthy and effete artist types who are willing […]

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Bus Stop

BUS STOP, American Theater Company. On the surface, William Inge’s 1955 comedy, about the intersection of eight lives at a rural Missouri bus stop, is fairly conventional. It’s driven by a standard plot device: an external force–in this case, a raging blizzard–traps a group of disparate individuals together under one roof. The characters, though not […]