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Stand-Up Tragedy

STAND-UP TRAGEDY Apple Tree Theatre The scene is Catholic high school on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. All the students are boys–tough, ethnic, streetwise, quick to use a nasty word in a run-on sentence. They struggle in a whirlpool of domestic violence, drugs, and painstakingly choreographed rap music. Dropout rates are high. Nobody has a job–except […]

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Have You Seen Toto?

HAVE YOU SEEN TOTO? Pig in a Poke Theatre at Blue Rider Theatre John Walch’s Have You Seen Toto? is a sort of three-ring comedy revue. In the center ring is an assortment of running gags, ambiguous metaphors, surreal sketches, and the occasional satire, all overseen by a dominatrix narrator (played by the serene Merce […]

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Prescribed But Not Refillable

PRESCRIBED BUT NOT REFILLABLE Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company Maybe you’ve had one of those jobs that you walked away from, into another career. When you look back, you try to put it into perspective, right? I think that’s what Richard Cotovsky is doing with his one-act about a small privately owned Chicago drugstore. The daily routines, […]

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Three Ways Home

THREE WAYS HOME Victory Gardens Theater Three Ways Home is largely a string of narrative monologues, set in the past tense, given by three characters: a welfare mother (Dawn), her 16-year-old son (Frankie), and a volunteer social worker (Sharon). These three characters relate the events leading up to, and shortly following, Frankie’s suicide. But the […]

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The Orinthologists

THE ORNITHOLOGISTS Live Bait Theatrical Company There’s a Gospel parable about a farmer who scatters seeds. Some of the seeds get eaten by birds, some fall on inhospitable earth, and some fall on good earth and grow into a crop of one sort or another. Now let’s give the parable a new ending. That autumn […]

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One Bird With Two Tones

THE SEAGULL Touchstone Theatre at the Theatre Building THE SEAGULL Huge Theatre Company at Angel Island Two productions of The Seagull opened last week. The one by Touchstone Theatre has a slick consistency and melodramatic tone. Housed in the comfortable, air-conditioned Theatre Building, the Touchstone show looks every bit the Lake Forest subscription theater trying […]

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The Emperor’s New Clothes

THE EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES Growing Stage at the Coronet Playhouse You could read this fairy tale to your kid in ten minutes. Or you could take your kid to see this stage adaptation, bloated with the crude excesses of “children’s theater” into an hour’s playing time. The choice is yours. On the one hand, you […]

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Rosmersholm

ROSMERSHOLM Arcane Endeavors Rosmersholm isn’t one of Ibsen’s major works, and that’s about the only good thing I have to say about it. Frankly I think it’s a bore. And to note that it’s not monumentally boring, like some of Ibsen’s major dramas, constitutes faint praise. I imagine that the most ardent Ibsen scholars start […]

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Swamp Foxes

SWAMP FOXES Organic Theater As disappointing as theater often is, it’s usually superior to even the most accomplished feats of its bastard offspring, television. That’s because theater is a live art, with 25 centuries of history, with an audience gathered from its community–ephemeral, vulnerable to the unexpected, and, each evening, unique. Theater can be good, […]

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The Impossible Playwright

KRAPP’S LAST TAPE and PLAY Element Theatre Company at the Chicago Actors Project Cast a cold eye on life, on death. –W.B. Yeats Of all the unsmiling Irish eyes, no one, not even Yeats, casts a colder eye than Samuel Beckett. He’s the peerless master of the withering perspective. The sky turns as gray as […]

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Tiny Tot Mystic

TINY TOT MYSTIC Sarantos Studios A couple years ago I was conducting a seminar on a Sioux reservation in South Dakota. At one point we were discussing a short story by Chekhov, and a woman was proposing an interpretation of the story. She was articulate and made a sound argument. When she finished, the man […]

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Talley’s Folly

TALLEY’S FOLLY Millikin Productions at Center Theater There were six people in the audience. Five sat on one side of the crescent-shaped house, and I sat on the other. It was an unfortunate arrangement because, during the prologue of Talley’s Folly, Matt (played by Brian Zoldessy) addresses the audience directly. Which means that for almost […]