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“It confused me when I first read it,” Next Theatre artistic director Jason Loewith says of Caryl Churchill’s Far Away, which was a hot ticket off-Broadway last year. “It’s three acts in 50 minutes–incredibly dense and spare, with a huge parade of extras.” But once he got past the initial blur, Loewith says he realized the show–a fable about a “girl who learns that growing up is all about making choices, and then finds herself in a world where the choices are stultifying”–spoke to the chaotic state of world affairs, and fit right in with the company’s mission to produce socially relevant work. (Taking that mandate to a new degree, members of local activist organizations were recruited as extras.) The show previews this weekend and opens Monday, February 16, at 7. Regular performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8, Sundays at 2, and Thursdays at 7:30 (with an additional show Monday, March 8, at 7) at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes in Evanston, through March 14. Tickets range from $18 to $29, with discounts available for students and seniors. Call 847-475-1875, ext. 2.


Pioneering painter and sculptor Lee Bontecou shot to art stardom in the 60s, but in 1971, following a successful solo show at Leo Castelli Gallery, she voluntarily withdrew from the spotlight. Though she continued to create art through last year, little of her subsequent work has been seen–until now. Lee Bontecou: A Retrospective, opening today at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, is a collection of more than 160 paintings and sculptures from the last 50 years. Curated by the MCA’s Elizabeth Smith in conjunction with the UCLA Hammer Museum, the traveling exhibition runs through May 30 at the museum, 220 E. Chicago. Admission is $10, $6 for students and seniors; call 312-280-2660 or see mcachicago.org for more.

On February 4 the Massachusetts supreme court ruled that banning gay marriage is unconstitutional, but nearly 40 percent of respondents in a recent ABC News poll favored a constitutional amendment to do just that. The national organization DontAmend.com and the Chicago Anti-Bashing Network are behind today’s Freedom to Marry Week rally to celebrate the Massachusetts decision and protest a constitutional ban. It starts at noon at 1555 N. State in Chicago, outside the residence of the archbishop, Cardinal Francis George. Call 888-471-0874 or see cabn.org.

Worm snails–which cement their shells to undersea rocks and trap their food by oozing slime–were unheard-of until Rudiger Bieler picked one up on Miami Beach seven years ago. But fossil records indicate they’ve been around for 500 million years, which makes them a useful tool for studying evolution. Bieler, the Field Museum’s curator of invertebrates, has helped discover nearly 1,000 new species of mollusks in the past two decades (including the yoyo clam, which wears its shell on the inside and moves around by bouncing up and down on its foot). Today at 2 he’ll talk about Mollusks: Megadiversity in the Sea in conjunction with the museum’s exhibit “Biodiversity and Conservation: The Web of Life.” The lecture is free with museum admission, which is $10 for adults, $7 for seniors and students, and $5 for children ages 3 to 11. The Field Museum is at 1400 S. Lake Shore Dr. in Chicago; call 312-922-9410.


In Davidson Cole’s atmospheric first feature Design, shot entirely in Chicago, three stories intersect: an 18-year-old girl deals with her alcoholic father; a photographer snaps voyeuristic shots of women; and a factory worker and his fiancee plan their wedding. Featuring black-and-white film and some fancy editing techniques (split screen, frame within frame), the movie was praised at the 2002 Sundance festival and compared by Variety to David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. It opened its first Chicago run Friday, February 13, and continues through Thursday, February 19, at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State in Chicago. It screens today at 3 and 5:15 PM; tickets are $8. For additional showtimes call 312-846-2800 or see the movie listings.


All you really need to make it through a cold winter night is a Crock-Pot and a hunk of meat–plus maybe tonight’s Cooking With the Best Chefs class, Slow Cooking With Flair. Cafe Absinthe executive chef Duane Boslet will demonstrate four dishes: cassoulet, coq au vin, sausage and mushroom casserole, and a ham glazed with rosemary, honey, and mustard. The class runs from 7 to 9 PM at Thai Wild Ginger, 2203 N. Clybourn in Chicago; admission is $35. Call

630-793-0600 or register online at www.bestchefs.com.


In his new book, Our Fathers: The Secret Life of the Catholic Church in an Age of Scandal, David France brings the principles of the international Truth and Reconciliation movement to bear on the domestic tragedy of the Catholic Church’s ongoing sexual abuse crisis. “My task was not to pass judgment on this dark past, but to try to understand it,” he wrote recently. “Why did such a large number of holy men–dedicated, above all, to serving others–go on to harm them instead? Why did their superiors allow this? Why didn’t the police intervene, or communities rise up, or faith itself crumble in the decades this was going on?” France, who covered the scandal as a senior editor at Newsweek, will try to shed some light on these questions tonight at 7 at Borders Books & Music, 830 N. Michigan in Chicago. It’s free; call 312-573-0564.


Four-time National Poetry Slam champion and Chicago native Patricia Smith bowled ’em over in a solo appearance at College of Lake County last year, so they brought her back for another round. The former journalist and Pulitzer Prize finalist, whose career derailed in 1998 when it was learned that she made up stories for her Boston Globe column, has turned those bad old times into grist for the poetry mill and a one-woman show, Professional Suicide. Smith has said she was reaching for “impact” in those fabricated columns, and impact is what she’s always delivered onstage. She’ll read today at noon in the college’s Mainstage Theatre, 19351 W. Washington in Grayslake. Admission is free, but tickets are required. Call 847-543-2300 for reservations.

“I’ve arranged with my executor to be buried in Chicago,” goes an old Mort Sahl joke. “Because when I die, I want to remain active politically.” The trenchant wit and political subject matter of Sahl’s comedy, first performed at a San Francisco nightclub in the early 50s, revolutionized the way stand-up was done. “He was like the tip of the iceberg,” Woody Allen said in the 1975 book On Being Funny. “Underneath were all the other people who came along: Lenny Bruce, Nichols and May, all the Second City players.” Sahl, who still performs occasionally in LA and New York, kicks off a five-night run tonight in the Steppenwolf Upstairs Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted in Chicago. Shows start at 8 PM tonight through Saturday and at 2 PM Sunday; tickets are $25. Call 312-335-1650 or see the theater listings for more.


Encouraged to go into music by his friend Charles Ives, classical composer Elliott Carter won a Pulitzer Prize in 1960 for his first two string quartets and another in 1973 for String Quartet no. 3. Stravinsky called his 1961 Double Concerto for Harpsichord and Piano “the first true American masterpiece.” Carter, who’s still writing music, turned 95 in December; to-night he gets a belated celebration at North-western University. At 6:15 the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art presents Elliott Carter at Buffalo, D.A. Pennebaker’s 1980 documentary about a performance of the Double Concerto. Tickets are $6; the museum is at 40 Arts Circle Drive on the Evanston campus; call 847-491-4000. At 7:30 Pick-Staiger Concert Hall hosts a performance by the Contemporary Music Ensemble of the Double Concerto and Carter’s Triple Duo. Tickets for that range from $3.50 to $6.50; the concert hall is just across from the Block, at 50 Arts Circle Drive. Call 847-467-4000.