Arts & Culture » Performing Arts Feature

A Full House musical, Sara Ruhl’s Eurydice, and 11 more new stage shows to see

How about a joyously trashy revival of Porn Minus Porn?


At Mister Kelly's For more almost two decades, 1957 to 1975, Chicago's Mister Kelly's was a springboard for talent. From Barbra Streisand and Barry Manilow to Bette Midler and (trigger warning) Bill Cosby, the iconic Rush Street supper club and cabaret was a rotating door for emerging comedians and musicians. Time, taste, and technology have eroded these institutions, but in this immersive experience, created as a valentine to the era by Jason Paul Smith, with music and arrangements by Gary Gimmestad, you can put on your pinup best or Mad Men attire to enjoy a night within Three Cat Productions' imaginative time capsule. This revival features an ensemble of budding Chicago talent who offer a crisp perspective on our favorite artists through impersonations, stories, and the quintessential songs that defined the age. It's not a perfect show, but it's damn good fun—and the three-piece jazz band is on point. —A.J. Sørensen

[Recommended] Attend the Tale of Danny Tanner: A Full House Musical I never watched Full House, the 80s-era TV sitcom in which Bob Saget played Danny Tanner, a sportswriter who gets his best friend Joe and brother-in-law Jesse to help him raise his three daughters after his wife's death in a car crash caused by a drunk. But that didn't keep me from enjoying this cheerfully morbid musical goof on same. Writers Chris Gorton, Katie Johnston-Smith, and Tara Trudel have made Danny a psychopath who memorializes his wife by killing one drunk driver a year on the anniversary of her death. That's OK with Jesse and Joe—until Danny starts getting sloppy. The songs are competent, there are some very funny bits, and the whole thing lasts a manageable 60 minutes. —Tony Adler

Clued In: An Improvised Murder Mystery, at Second City's Beat Lounge - TYLER DAVIS
  • Tyler Davis
  • Clued In: An Improvised Murder Mystery, at Second City's Beat Lounge

[Recommended] Clued In: An Improvised Murder Mystery The Clued In cast and crew return to the Beat Lounge for another round of this Agatha Christie-inspired improvised whodunit. While the setting of "bar" suggested on the night I attended could have been bland, the cast created a kooky, clever world around a Berlin tavern called the Drunken Maiden, steeped in "World War One and a Half" history. After former fighter pilot Tony, played with unbridled panache by Bruce Phillips, was found dead in the bathroom/distillery, detective duties fell on the mysterious inspector with a penchant for puns, played by an observant and playful C.J. Tuor. Bringing a flashback-filled plot full circle in under an hour isn't necessarily feasible, but the cast had infectious fun doing it. Caleb George won for best German accent and Laura Marsh recalled Seinfeld's Mrs. Costanza with her well-timed theatrics. —Marissa Oberlander

Disenchanted!, at the Broadway Playhouse - DAHLIA KATZ
  • Dahlia Katz
  • Disenchanted!, at the Broadway Playhouse

Disenchanted! This satirical musical revue (book, music and lyrics by Dennis T. Giacino) sets its sights on a worthy target—the lucrative, ludicrous Disney princess franchise—but never delivers on its promise to skewer it. Instead Giacino trots out a series of toothless musical bits poking fun at these iconic figures—in one song we learn the Little Mermaid drinks too much, in another that Mulan is a lesbian—without ever drawing blood or inspiring big laughs. It doesn't help that the performances in this touring production often feel forced. All too much of the comedy depends on funny costumes (designed by Vanessa Leuck), and at its worst the show indulges in the very sexism it pretends to be mocking (see the song "Big Tits"). In the end, it leaves us wanting less. —Jack Helbig

Amanda Jane Long, in BoHo Theatre's Eurydice, at the Heartland Studio Cafe - AMY BOYLE
  • Amy Boyle
  • Amanda Jane Long, in BoHo Theatre's Eurydice, at the Heartland Studio Cafe

[Recommended] Eurydice Not unlike Mary Zimmerman's Metamorphoses, Sarah Ruhl's 2005 mythological redux updates a classical tragedy with anachronistic language and ethereal visual touches. Mourning her late wife, Orpheus (Chloe Dzielak) composes a song so heartbreaking that it reaches the stones and vanishing souls in the underworld below. Charles Riffenburg's intimate production for BoHo Theatre capitalizes on superb and subtly affecting sound design by Joshua Wentz to create an atmosphere that heightens Ruhl's imaginative and rich poetry. It's a moving ensemble effort throughout, and as Eurydice, Amanda Jane Long delivers a nuanced, childlike, grief-stricken performance that perfectly conveys the play's complicated and contradictory ideas about death and longing. —Dan Jakes

The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens, and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord, at Northlight Theatre - MICHAEL BROSILOW
  • Michael Brosilow
  • The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens, and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord, at Northlight Theatre

The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord Scott Carter's play throws Jefferson, Dickens, and Tolstoy together in a locked room where they quickly recognize that they're (a) all dead, (b) in Purgatory, and (c) not going anywhere until they figure out what else they've got in common. Every hypothesis falls short until they realize that each of them wrote a version of the Gospels to conform to his own notions about Jesus. Dickens's is novelistic, Jefferson's informed by Enlightenment values, and Tolstoy's by renunciation. It doesn't stop there, though. Once they've shared their theologies, they're compelled to confront their lives. The 90-minute triologue is meant to be witty and profound yet plays out as a festival of gimmicks—a cutesy, down-market No Exit for Christians, processed through currently fashionable theatrical modes and reductive characterizations. In Kimberly Senior's staging, only Nathan Hosner comes out all right as a pensive, dignified Jefferson. Jeff Parker's performance is constrained by Carter's apparent disdain for Dickens, while Mark Montgomery plays Tolstoy, mystifyingly, as Popeye and Bluto's love child. —Tony Adler

My Solo Show of All Duets, at the Annoyance - JERRY SHULMAN
  • Jerry Shulman
  • My Solo Show of All Duets, at the Annoyance

[Recommended] My Solo Show of All Duets What makes this show so delightful? Not just the repertory of Broadway staples, which we hear sawed in half for these hilariously maimed solo renditions. Not just the deadpan of accompanist T.J. Shanoff, who brings the house down wordlessly from the bench many times, fingers flying. Not just the whole conceit of having a one-woman show of duets. It's all that—but who can explain the incredible clowning of Shirley Lame (pronounced la-MAY, natch), her complete grasp of the audience, her instant shifts from showbiz glitz back into the heavyhearted pathos of a dream somewhat past its prime? It's all so wonderful, such a trip. As Shirley reminds you between songs, she is a star. Don't worry if you haven't brought flowers to throw, she has extra. It's a pity this show runs just once a week. —Max Maller

Dorota Masłowska’s No Matter How Hard We Try, at Trap Door Theatre - MICHAL JANECKI
  • Michal Janecki
  • Dorota Masłowska’s No Matter How Hard We Try, at Trap Door Theatre

[Recommended] No Matter How Hard We Try Extraordinary contemporary Polish playwright Dorota Masłowska's id-driven cynicism fits comfortably on Trap Door's stage (already host to three plays by unsavory Austrian nihilist Werner Schwab). Her coarse, desperate 2008 work focuses (in those rare moments when Masłowska stoops to focus) on three generations of unlikable, impoverished Polish women: hopeless Halina; her screechy mother, Gloomy Old Biddy; and her impudent daughter, Little Metal Girl. Into their empty lives burst a creepy film producer, a self-absorbed movie starlet, a brainless entertainment reporter, and a depressive socialite, who ignore the women entirely. Through 90 minutes of hallucinogenic mayhem, nicely corralled by director Max Truax, Masłowska ruminates on the post-World War II evisceration of a meaningful Polish identity. It's hard to sit through—exactly as it should be. —Justin Hayford

Porn Minus Porn, at Under the Gun Theater
  • Porn Minus Porn, at Under the Gun Theater

[Recommended] Porn Minus Porn Unlike most shows on Under the Gun's improv-heavy calendar, this one is fully scripted. Each week a cast of ten or so offer readings of two episodes from Cinemax's soft-core series Life on Top, transcribed in stilted, preposterous glory by show creator Ben Bowman, who also acts as host. The dialogue is by turns mundane and overwrought ("I would drag my dick ten miles over hot asphalt to sniff the tire of the garbage truck that took away her panties"), the story lines impenetrable, and the sex—well, who knows? Whenever sex begins, the performers shake hands and an audience member releases a balloon. It's joyous trash, and since the actors read the scripts cold, the hour feels as spontaneous as the best improv. —Justin Hayford

Genesis Theatricals' Satie et Cocteau, at the Athenaeum - RON GOLDMAN
  • Ron Goldman
  • Genesis Theatricals' Satie et Cocteau, at the Athenaeum

Satie et Cocteau Mike Czuba's tangled metatheatrical dark comedy imagines a one-on-one rehearsal between French writer Jean Cocteau and his nameless lover/lead actor portraying minimalist composter Erik Satie, Cocteau's late former lover. Part biodrama, part surreal play within a play, Czuba's script oscillates between heady platitudes about the creative process and a bloodless romance between an opium addict and an alcoholic, or so we're told—neither actor in this Genesis Theatricals production evolves beyond unvarying line readings and lightly comedic quips, much less becomes intoxicated. Though Satie's music is sprinkled throughout, there's little rhythm or musicality in the show itself—what is billed as a love-hate relationship for the ages comes across instead as a purely cerebral affair. —Dan Jakes

About Face Theatre's The Secretaries, at Theater Wit - MICHAEL BROSILOW
  • Michael Brosilow
  • About Face Theatre's The Secretaries, at Theater Wit

The Secretaries Created in 1994 by the New York collective known as the Five Lesbian Brothers, this wild comedy tells a dark and pulpy tale of office workers involved in a vaguely sapphic homicidal cult. The script circles a number of satirical targets—dehumanizing corporate culture and expectations of femininity chief among them—without really zeroing in on any of them. But the atmosphere of giddy amorality supplies a bracing corrective to the stereotype of feminist theater as hectoring and humorless. Bonnie Metzgar's pitch-perfect staging for About Face Theatre benefits from performers who play it straight (so to speak) instead of winking at the zany material. As the office ringleader, a fully committed Kelli Simpkins is as sleek and eerie as David Bowie's Thin White Duke.
—Zac Thompson

Goodman Theatre's The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window - LIZ LAUREN
  • Liz Lauren
  • Goodman Theatre's The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window

The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window Had Lorraine Hansberry not been dying from pancreatic cancer as her final play was being prepared for its 1964 Broadway opening, she might have had time and energy to shape something cohesive from nearly three hours of promising material. Instead she left a series of discursive, issue-skipping encounters among a coterie of self-described bohemians struggling to find something to believe in. The central dilemma—Brustein's risking becoming an "insurgent" by backing a friend in a local political race—carries scant weight, as Hansberry barely sketches the election's political contours. It's not until act three, somewhere around the two-hour mark in director Anne Kauffman's unhurried Goodman production, that a series of focused, volatile two-person scenes provides palpable urgency. The rest is low-stakes tumult with little dramatic import. —Justin Hayford

Twisted Knots, at the Royal George - ANTHONY DE LA PENNA
  • Anthony de la Penna
  • Twisted Knots, at the Royal George

Twisted Knots Longtime married couple Frank and Carla—a stressed-out salesman and an under appreciated nurse—try to get back their conjugal mojo by role-playing a call-girl scenario (Carla plays the call girl) in their hotel room on New Year's Eve. The Hard Rock Hotel on Michigan Avenue provided furnishings and decor to lend verisimilitude to Greg Pinsoneault and Shaun Renfro's set design in this production directed by Tara Branham. In fact, it's Dale Danner's script that could use some authenticity; the couple's sex games and the husband's much-discussed superstitious streak feel contrived and strained. Only when the charade is dropped toward the end do we glimpse genuine disappointment and fatigue. Ryan Kitley's Frank seems detached from the proceedings, but Mary Cross turns in lively, tangy work as Carla. —Zac Thompson  v

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