Phallic whale stories, superboobs, and Milli Vanilli: this week's performing arts reviews

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You know what that harpoon stands for: a scene from All-Girl Moby Dick
  • Bob Fisher
  • You know what that harpoon stands for: a scene from All-Girl Moby Dick
There are practically no female characters, the title refers to a sperm whale, and the climax features said cetacean getting stabbed with a phallic harpoon. When it comes to Moby-Dick, the penis jokes write themselves, so an all-female adaptation is guaranteed to come off as either gimmicky or inspired. According to Kerry Reid, the Mammals's All-Girl Moby Dick falls into the latter category.

Also on our recommended list this week is Hairspray, Drury Lane Oakbrook's high-energy revival of the Broadway musical; The Late Live Show, a Conan-esque talk fest hosted by comedian Joe Kwaczala at Stage 773; and an appearance by Armitage Gone! Dance, offering three works choreographed by company artistic director Karole Armitage.

Surprisingly, the problem with Melancholy Play isn't that it's a downer, but that it suffers from an overdose of quirk. And Neil LaBute's In a Forest, Dark and Deep turns out not to be so dark or deep after all. According to Justin Hayford's lead review, it's fairly obvious and mechanical.

Opus 1861: The Civil War in Symphony juxtaposes letters from modern soldiers stationed in Afghanistan with music from the Civil War era. The tunes strike the right note, with beautiful harmonies and a clear-eyed view of the costs of war, says Marissa Oberlander, but the letters offer a disappointingly narrow point of view.

Like All-Girl Moby Dick, Superboobs presents male characters—Superman, Batman, and other comic book heroes—played by very obviously female performers. Unlike All-Girl Moby Dick, the burlesque show feels tired. Julia Thiel notes uninspired dance routines and a threadbare plot. Likewise, Strawdog Theatre's The Duchess of Malfi might've benefited from a tighter focus on narrative. The addition of a six-person, Greek-style chorus detracts from the storyline. The one-act La Musica loses momentum to ill-advised staging gimmicks, too, such as a saxophone player who interrupts scenes and a set that gets drawn on with chalk. Ron Paul: The Musical is at best limply funny. Girl You Know It's True, a satire on modern celebrity, is only interesting when Armand Fields and Sentell Harper are onstage playing Milli Vanilli.

Familiarity breeds a certain dullness in a couple of this week's shows. Too many of the ensemble members in Second City's new mainstage show, Who Do We Think We Are?, fall back on old tricks, and Being Shakespeare, a biography of the bard performed solo by Simon Callow, relies on a trite structure and overused quotations.

Finally, don't forget to check out this year's entries in Stages. Sights & Sounds, a family-oriented Chicago Humanities Festival event.

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