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The Chicago Fringe Festival is back

Jefferson Park hosts 50 groups from near and far, all drawn by lottery.

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Four Reader critics did triple—and, yes, even sextuple—duty last weekend, checking out entries in this year's Chicago Fringe Festival so that you can see or strategically avoid them during the fest's final days, September 8 through 11. For times, tickets, and other info, go to chicagofringe.org. —Tony Adler

[Recommended] Big Balloon Show Exuberantly childlike clown-magician Smarty Pants delivers 35 minutes of silly, impressive balloon tricks while his unaccountably dour wife, Lovely Miss Dena, moves props about. Mr. Pants overworks some comedic bits, but throughout he's refreshingly foolish.
—Justin Hayford

The Biscuiteater In a thick drawl, Jim Loucks recounts pivotal moments from his southern upbringing and lessons from his grandfather. Taken as monologues, there's some superb material about the morality of "justified homicide" and how religious values square with reality over time. Folk song interludes and the choice to act out key family exchanges dampen the impact and mire the piece in black-box-theater cliches. —Dan Jakes

Definitely No Ghosts Here! In Shut Up Theatre's inaugural production, the members of Miss Applebaum's middle school drama club are afraid to perform their original musical when one thinks he's spied a ghost. It's a cute concept with a satisfying payoff, but the muddled internal logic and challenging acoustics prevent the story from cohering. (JH)

Elieida Rhiannon Frazier and Kate Farmin are so close to a classical vaudeville duo at times, the electrical charge between them so nearly attuned, that Ellieida should be required viewing for every self-respecting Marxist (Groucho, not Karl) in the greater Chicago area. —Max Maller

Epic Tales From the Land of Melanin A kid-friendly piece from FEMelanin, a collective for femme artists of color, this interactive piece saw participation from all ages on the afternoon I attended. It's a feel-good story of three "girl warrior-explorers taking on the world," and the constant refrain—"We are strong. We are wise. We are unstoppable!"—sets the tone for an uplifting hour. —Marissa Oberlander

For the Love of Pie Melissa Paulson is positively off her rocker as 80s cooking-show host Georgia Peach, desperate to reclaim her former glory without the interference of her inexplicably charming seven-year-old son, Sylvester, also played by Paulson. Exuding saccharine southern hospitality while issuing divalike demands, chef Peach gets laughs as a Stepford wife gone haywire. (MO)

[Recommended] Metropolis Triptych Playwright Brian D. Foster aligns three seemingly unrelated two-person scenes set in what might as well be Superman's hometown for a phenomenological look at heroism, villainy, and fate. It's a provocative 50 minutes, expedient conclusion aside, convincingly staged by Chicago's Loft Productions. (JH)

Mutiny On surveillance video we watch two runaways from a postapocalyptic dystopia read violent stories—acted out by four live actors—which may be historical annals. Chicagoan Alicia Hynes's production is visually inventive, but the lurid, overwrought script feels downloaded from the disorganized imagination of an addled teen. (JH)

Myths Untold Promethean Theatre Ensemble heavily reworks three stories about divinity from different origins into a movement-heavy, colloquial adaptation. The creation myth gets examined through an indigenous story, Persephone gets a feminist makeover, and Thor and Loki try to assert dominance. It mostly adds up to flailing about with flashlights, grunting, and delivering elaborate and arcane fantasy exposition. (DJ)

Penny In this wordless two-hander, DeKalb's Nico Fernandez and Kearstyn Keller act out the beginning and middle of a young romance. Their coy playfulness and 19030s costumes evoke Chaplin, as do bits of physical ingenuity (the umbrella produces rain). But lacking distinct personalities, the characters aren't especially engaging. (JH)

Songs From My Closet Larry Todd Cousineau and friends belt and harmonize their way through musical scraps and snippets from his unfinished projects. The vocalists are solid, the between-song banter is charming, and the gay men's chorus-style comedy is innocuously cheesy. One autobiographical tune about an unfortunate locker-room conversation is particularly cute. (DJ)

Stalking Grace Barbara Selfridge, a former student of writer-activist Grace Paley, dissects a life spent in the service of her mentor in this one-woman show. Grace told her to "write what you don't know about what you know," and Selfridge attempts just that. There's a little too much plot for serious self-reflection, but it's a great story. (MO)

Three Daughters Who Are Not Daughters Sam Hurwitz is wrapped in a denim quilt her mother made her from jeans. Her is lipstick is red; this is a daughter without a name. The scene changes: we hear of Mexico, revolution, kidnappings, Aztec rights. Warring with history, Three Daughters makes evasion beautiful. (MM)

Velour If you like your satire all faux sincerity and reminders that one is joking, Vinny Velour might please you. Kevin Holliday is clearly up there having a good time, enjoying the laughs. But I prefer Tony Clifton, Andy Kaufman's creation, who looks at you and says, "What's so funny?" (MM)

Washed Away In Alea Iacta Est's one-act, Lisa wears a wire in hopes of clearing Dad, who's got advanced brain cancer, from federal fraud charges. Also, she hates her Alzheimer's-stricken mother. Packing all of this into 55 minutes is problematic. Staging it in a cavernous gymnasium is deadly. (JH)

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