by Whet Moser
Show: Weasel Walter, Mary Halvorson, and Peter Evans "Bandmates like guitarist Mary Halvorson and trumpeter Peter Evans can make just about anyone sound better, but drummer Weasel Walter doesn't need propping up—on Electric Fruit (Thirsty Ear), his forthcoming album with these two young luminaries of New York's improvised-music scene, he's just as vital and distinctive as they are," writes Peter Margasak.
Dinner: The Southern The former Chaise Lounge is now the Southern, a more casual bar and restaurant featuring the regional cuisine of chef Cary Taylor (Blackbird, Ambria, Avenues).
1840 W. North Ave., 773-342-1840, thesouthernchicago.com
Show: Heartbreaker Romain Duris (Dans Paris, The Beat That My Heart Skipped) is plausibly cast as a man who can seduce any woman he sets his sights on but who uses his superpowers for good and never evil. It's fun to watch the habitually intense Duris relax somewhat in a light comedy role, and director Pascal Chaumeil gets good mileage out of the team's ridiculously elaborate con games.
Dinner: The Purple Pig Snout-to-tail cooking is the name of the game at The Purple Pig, a convivial take on an Italian enoteca from Scott Harris (Mia Francesca), Jimmy Bannos Sr. (Heaven on Seven), and chef Jimmy Bannos Jr., who honed his skills at Mario Batali's New York restaurants. One of the best new Chicago restaurants of 2010.
500 N. Michigan Ave., 312-464-1744, thepurplepigchicago.com
Show: Casino Jack Not to be confused with Alex Gibney's recent documentary Casino Jack and the United States of Money, this is the dramatic take on Jack Abramoff's high-rolling career as a Washington lobbyist and his precipitous fall amid charges of fraud, conspiracy, and tax evasion. Kevin Spacey contributes a wonderfully flamboyant performance as Abramoff, making him more dimensional—funny, ironic, ruthless, greedy, tender with his family, vicious with his enemies—than the cartoonish figure in black hat and trenchcoat who paraded through the TV news. See J.R. Jones's in-depth review for more.
Dinner: Uncommon Ground Popular Wrigleyville coffeehouse with a dinner menu that changes seasonally.
3800 N. Clark St., 773-929-3680, uncommonground.com
Show: Four Lions Islamic jihadists plot to blow themselves up in the middle of the London marathon, but they're such bunglers that the only real question is whether they'll manage to take any infidels with them. The comedy divides cleanly into dark, violent slapstick (much of it hilarious) and more routine gags highlighting the fanatical characters' foolishness and incompetence.
Dinner: El Presidente Though other low-priced Mexican places seem to get more attention, El P. is consistently better in almost every respect. Sure, it's just a homely cafe, but the kitchen believes in flavor as well as value.
2558 N. Ashland Ave., 773-525-7938, elpresidenterestaurante.com
Show: The Importance of Being Earnest Shawn Douglass's droll staging for Remy Bumppo Theatre brings out not just the absurdity but the absurdism in Oscar Wilde's classic farce about lovers stymied by, well, nothing very much.
Dinner: Simply It Moderately priced Vietnamese from one of the partners behind the late Pasteur. "The hot, tender grilled lemongrass beef appetizer, rolled into a moist rice-paper sheet with fresh mint and cilantro, was so good it was hard not to make a meal of it," writes Mike Sula.
2269 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-248-0884, simplyitrestaurant.com