In development: "Dangerous Beauty," " Fair Use"



It was a big weekend for plays in development -- those tender young plants getting an airing but not yet ready to be judged as finished products. 
The much-anticipated "Dangerous Beauty" is the fifth production for Northwestern University’s  American Music Theatre Project, and the final one there for founding artistic director Stuart Oken, who’s been squeezed out of the program he dreamed up. Set in 16th-century Venice, it's based on the 1998 movie of the same name, which, in turn, was based on Margaret Rosenthal’s biography of poet Veronica Franco, The Honest Courtesan. Jeannine Dominy wrote both the screenplay and the script; if you've seen the film you'll recognize just about every line in the play. The movie, an arty bodice ripper with a women's lib theme, was driven by the chemistry between a pair of handsome leads, developed in lingering close-ups.  It also had luscious Venetian scenery and some kinky history: the inquisition, the plague, a war with the Turkish Empire, and the very limited choices available to women. In the transition from film to stage a lot of the chemistry and some of the history has been lost; instead there's a rapid and uneven parade of songs composed by Michele Brourman with lyrics by Amanda McBroom. Directed by Sheryl Kaller, the AMTP production includes both students and professionals: Jenny Powers, as the courtesan, belts out some predictable anthems; Peter Oyloe in the role of a poet and spurned admirer has one of the best songs and more sparks with the heroine than her ostensible true love.  And Tate Jorgensen as King Henry III of France provides the show's campiest and funniest moment. It's a women's story, and it begs for a lavish production, but -- I'm just guessing here -- a show that posits sucking dick for dollars as a vocational option might have trouble attracting the mother-daughter audience that floated Wicked's boat. The show plays at the Ethel M. Barber Theatre, 30 Arts Circle on Northwestern's Evanston campus, through August 17. Tickets are $30; seniors $27; students $10; 847-491-7282.
"Fair Use," by Sarah Gubbins, one of three offerings in Steppenwolf’s First Look Repertory of New Work, has a nearly perfect comic first act. The dialogue is fast and witty and there’s an engaging roster of characters who could be mere stereotypes, but -- at least in this production -- are totally real. The plot, about plagiarism, copyright infringement, and love, is a contemporary version of the Cyrano story and a clever embodiment of its own theme. Directed by Meredith McDonough, it's been ideally cast with Kelli Simpkins, Brian King, and Michele Graff as a trio of lawyers and lovers, Steven Marzolf as their hapless client, and Halena Starr Kays as their hilarious expert witness. The second act -- like a lot of second acts -- doesn't sustain the pace, but Gubbins has set herself a very high bar, and that's what development's for, right?  "Fair Use" runs through August 10 at Steppenwolf's Merle Reskin Garage Theatre, 1624 N. Halsted. Tickets are $20; 312-335-1650.

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