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Bite: A Pucking Queer Cabaret, Squeeze My Cans, and ten more new stage shows

'Tis the season for the Bard and the bawdy.

Midsommer Flight's As You Like It - ZACK WHITTINGTON
  • Zack Whittington
  • Midsommer Flight's As You Like It

As You Like It Midsommer Flight's As You Like It is outdoor Shakespeare done the old-fashioned way, complete with Elizabethan costumes and musical interludes. The banished duke's daughter, Rosalind (Emily Demko), and her sisterly cousin, Celia (Charlee Cotton), flee the frigid atmosphere of court for a life of revelry and disguise amid the forests of Arden. They bring the motley fool Touchstone (Adam Habben) along for the ride; despite overemphasizing his punch lines from time to time, Habben makes a fine clown. As the inevitable coupling begins (this is a comedy, after all), the tenderness of Touchstone's bond with the dull, affectionate country maiden Audrey (played with sensitivity and sweetness by Margaret Kellas) is one of this show's unexpected delights. This weekend the production plays Touhy Park (7348 N. Paulina); it finishes out its run through August 21 at Schreiber Park (1552 W. Schreiber) and Gross Park (2708 W. Lawrence). —Max Maller

[Recommended] Bite: A Pucking Queer Cabaret Magic lurks in the shadowy crevices of adapter-director Derek Van Barham's eroticized overhaul of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Through 17 mostly contemporary pop songs (Troye Sivan, Nicki Minaj, Years & Years), Shakespeare's tale of disruptive fairies bamboozling would-be lovers becomes a pansexual floor show. Led by preternaturally seductive Nathan Maurice Cooper as Puck, Van Barham's cunning 12-person cast find unlikely profundity in radio-friendly tunes (who knew Britney Spears's "Toxic" could be heartbreaking?). The show, produced by Pride Films & Plays, is hampered by a convoluted narrative that never makes adequate sense, and given how successful the evening's least linear scenes are—as when each of the four lovers delivers a monologue divorced from time—it might benefit from more strangeness and less story. —Justin Hayford

Dashnight Productions' Chops - ANTHONY AICARDI
  • Anthony Aicardi
  • Dashnight Productions' Chops

Chops Middle-aged jazz devotees Vince, Walt, and Philly like to think they ruled Rush Street in their youths. These days, hopped-up Walt's penchant for shady deals keeps him flush, but broken-down Vince barely scrapes by, operating the scuzzy bar where he and Walt reminisce to the delight of Kaki, Walt's twentysomething "chick." Philly's been missing for nine months, but tonight he pops up, maybe running from a local thug. Michael Rychlewski's 90-minute one-act is full of vintage Rush Street misogyny and bloviation as well as gobs of colorful stories, but it lacks a viable plot and adequate character differentiation (Walt and Philly are nearly indistinguishable), and the twist ending is difficult to track. Under Richard Shavzin's workmanlike direction, Dashnight Productions' opening night felt cautious and underrehearsed. —Justin Hayford

Blue Goose Theatre Ensemble's Herculaneum - BAMBI GUTHRIE
  • Bambi Guthrie
  • Blue Goose Theatre Ensemble's Herculaneum

Herculaneum Any play that begins with the entire cast dead in a heap on the floor has its work cut out for it. As the action of Herculaneum begins, the eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius has buried the eponymous ancient Roman town beneath volcanic ash and mudflow. The production then moves back in time, re-creating and invoking life before the disaster through a whimsical, idyllic montage of dance scenes and bacchanalia. The end is the beginning of this mostly wordless, ensemble-conceived one-act, but Blue Goose Theatre Ensemble have created a chilling, moving play, a promising beginning for this brand-new company. —Max Maller

The New Colony's Kin Folk - EVAN HANOVER
  • Evan Hanover
  • The New Colony's Kin Folk

Kin Folk Mary is busy building her online brand as Mary-Beth, a household advice guru. Her transgender brother has surgically rebranded himself as Eleanor. But third sibling Lucy has them both beat. Sparked by her discovery of a virtual fantasy community where people adopt Tolkien-esque avatars, she now sees herself as Kreeka. A dragon. And she's not role-playing. William Glick's script has a ways to go if it's going to fully inhabit its own identity as a seriocomic look at the new culture of self-creation. The way things stand, for instance, the only apparent reason for the sisters' shared dysphoria is that the concept demands it. But the potential is there—along with a certain charm, as when Annie Prichard's Lucy perches like a gargoyle and roars back at a question from a friend. One significant problem: director Evan Linder weakens this New Colony world premiere by parking it in John Wilson's vague and figurative set. The humor, magic, pain, and surprise of Kin Folk all require absolute realism to bring them into sharp relief. —Tony Adler

Honest Theatre's Much Ado About Nothing - COURTESY HONEST THEATRE COMPANY
  • Courtesy Honest Theatre Company
  • Honest Theatre's Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing This outdoor production from Honest Theatre, staged in Indian Boundary Park, is pretty bare-bones. There's no stage to speak of. The actors aren't amplified (which means they sometimes can't be heard above screaming kids and planes passing overhead). And the costumes could have been assembled from the actors' closets. Still, the spirit of the Bard's comedy about two contrasting couples—one reluctant, one passionate but troubled—survives, along with much of its poetry. Yes, some of the staging is awkward and acting rough. But Sharon Biermann and Zachary Bortot are banging as Beatrice and Benedict, and Sean Cowan (who also directs) kills as the malaprop-spouting Dogberry. —Jack Helbig

Brad Zimmerman's My Son the Waiter: A Jewish Tragedy - MICHAEL APPLETON
  • Michael Appleton
  • Brad Zimmerman's My Son the Waiter: A Jewish Tragedy

[Recommended] My Son the Waiter: A Jewish Tragedy Written by and starring actor-comedian Brad Zimmerman as himself, this 90-minute show hit a home run with the North Shore crowd thanks to its mix of rapid-fire Jewish jokes and pathos. Zimmerman's underdog spirit comes out as he chronicles his rise to the top of Little League in junior high and subsequent fall from grace in adulthood, when he finds himself waiting tables and waiting in the wings for a shot at stardom. This show is that shot, and he makes his mother proud with its memorable zingers and surprising emotional depth. Customers may not have liked Zimmerman the waiter (he didn't like them either), but this "Zimmy" is a lovable loser who's finally found his calling. Which is jokes like this one: "A waiter asks three older Jewish ladies, 'Is anything all right?'" —Marissa Oberlander

Eclipse Theatre's Our Lady of 121st Street - SCOTT DRAY
  • Scott Dray
  • Eclipse Theatre's Our Lady of 121st Street

[Recommended] Our Lady of 121st Street Vivid, volatile, detailed performances drive director Sarah Moeller's shrewdly cast, skillfully acted Eclipse Theatre production of this 2003 work by Stephen Adly Guirgis—not so much a coherent play as a collection of edgy, darkly comic, often profane set pieces. In Harlem, a group of intense, wounded, yet brutally funny African-American and Latin community members gather for the funeral of beloved white nun, schoolteacher, and community activist Sister Rose—whose body has been stolen, leaving the mourners to pay their respects to her empty coffin. Among them are Balthazar (Todd Garcia), the alcoholic police detective investigating the theft; radio DJ Rooftop (Bernard Gilbert), his bitter ex-wife Inez (Celeste M. Cooper), and nasty Norca (Paloma Nozicka), whose tryst with Rooftop ended his and Inez's marriage years earlier; mentally disabled Pinky (Rudy Galvan) and his guilt-ridden caretaker brother Edwin (Anthony Apodaca); and Flip (Gregory Geffrard), a closeted gay black lawyer with a decidedly uncloseted white lover (Matt Thinnes). Also present are four white outsiders: Rose's childhood friend Victor (Kevin Scott), Rose's sister Marcia (Kristen Johnson), Marcia's timid friend Sonia (Ashley Hicks), and disillusioned priest Father Lux (Gary Simmers ), who rarely ventures outside his confessional booth. —Albert Williams

Sean James William Parris and Ricardo Gamboa in Free Street Theater's Space Age - JOSÉ RIVERA
  • José Rivera
  • Sean James William Parris and Ricardo Gamboa in Free Street Theater's Space Age

Space Age Space Age could be considered a diamond in the rough. Written and performed by real-life partners Ricardo Gamboa and Sean James William Parris, this Free Street Theater production explores what it means to be black or brown and gay while growing up in marginalized communities. It has its share of thought-provoking moments (a scene in which Parris tries to "pray the gay away" is particularly memorable), and both performers have a powerful tale to tell. But even at 90 minutes, this self-indulgent show runs about at least a quarter hour too long; it needs more focus and stronger direction if it's going to have any real impact. —A.J. Sørensen

Cathy Schenkelberg's Scientology exposé Squeeze My Cans - HALEY PRESS
  • Haley Press
  • Cathy Schenkelberg's Scientology exposé Squeeze My Cans

[Recommended] Squeeze My Cans The enemy of Scientology is truth, and in Squeeze My Cans, Cathy Schenkelberg makes sure the message of her brutally honest story comes through loud and clear: Stay away from this intergalactic Ponzi scheme. Told with masterful fluidity and hilarious jabs, this one-woman show directed by Shirley Anderson does more than debunk L. Ron Hubbard's creation; Schenkelberg puts you in her skin and lets you experience for yourself how Scientology devours money (in Schenkelberg's case, $900,000) and lives. Brandon Baruch is behind the subtle lighting design, Victoria Deiorio the sound and projections. —A.J. Sørensen

Kokandy Productions' Tomorrow Morning - MICHAEL BROSILOW
  • Michael Brosilow
  • Kokandy Productions' Tomorrow Morning

Tomorrow Morning Laurence Mark Wythe's 2011 musical is based on an intriguing premise: follow two couples through the 12 hours leading up to a marriage and a divorce. The parallel structure gives Wythe lots of room to contrast the lives of his characters, two at the start of their careers, two facing mid-life crises. But the setup also straitjackets him—Wythe packs lots of life-changing events into that short time span (an unplanned pregnancy, a career reversal, a missing child), and after a while it all feels contrived. Not even strong performances from an inspired four-member ensemble led by Tina Naponelli and Carl Herzog can mask Wythe's sometimes tiresome lyrics or his lapses into cliche; John D. Glover's staging for Kokandy Productions is nevertheless energetic. —Jack Helbig

Chicago Shakespeare Theater's traveling Twelfth Night - CHUCK OSGOOD
  • Chuck Osgood
  • Chicago Shakespeare Theater's traveling Twelfth Night

[Recommended] Twelfth Night I've been to Shakespeare's Globe in London, which purports to give its patrons the experience they'd have had at the original Globe Theatre in, say, 1600, when the Bard himself worked there. It was very cool. But this outdoor, traveling Twelfth Night from Chicago Shakespeare Theater feels more like I imagine an Elizabethan comedy felt to Elizabethans, never mind the fact that it's been (loosely) updated to the 1930s. Adapter-director Kirsten Kelly keeps the gestures big enough, the storytelling clear enough, the songs charming enough, and the clowning bright enough to hold the happy attention of a crowd hanging out in a big open space with plenty to distract them. Better still, there's no I'm-so-bored revisionism here. No attempt to trick up or subvert Shakespeare's landscape of fools and lovers. With an especially delightful turn by Jonathan Weir as the much-abused Malvolio, a sharp cast impart a raucous, sweet spirit to mistaken identities, cross-gender disguise, and one legendary prank. When the happy ending arrived, we all went "Awww!" Showtimes and locations for this week are as follows: Thu 7/21, 6:30 PM, Tuley Park (501 E. 59th Pl.); Fri 7/22-Sat 7/23, 6:30 PM, Loyola Park (1230 W. Greenleaf); Sun 7/24, 3 PM, Garfield Park Conservatory (300 N. Central Park); and Wed 7/27, 6:30 PM, Gage Park (2411 W. 55th). —Tony Adler v

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