When Mayor Daley began burbling about the downtown theater district, it was obvious that City Hall had forgotten--or chosen to ignore--the real source of Chicago's national reputation for theater: the off-Loop troupes. Partly this was politics: run-down storefronts aren't very sexy compared to multimillion-dollar construction or rehab projects. But the city also suffered a failure of imagination: it was hard to conceive how a neighborhood theater movement could be transplanted downtown. Well, the folks at Gallery 37--expert as they are at turning snafus like the empty Block 37 into cultural assets--have found a way. Taking over an empty storefront on Randolph across the street from the Chicago Cultural Center, they've created a gallery-cum-theater. More important, they've started inviting local companies to work there. Last week Jenny Magnus and members of the Curious Theatre Branch performed, and this week the Neo-Futurists will be doing Sean Benjamin's Kafkaesque comedy Devolution. Highly reminiscent of Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind (Benjamin is an ensemble member of that show), Devolution presents 40 scenes about a man trapped in an insane asylum in a different sequence at each performance. Moments before the play begins, the running order is chosen--revealing how would spoil things--and from that point on the four performers know no more than we do about which scene will come next, giving Devolution the same crazy energy and spontaneity as Too Much Light. Storefront Theater, Gallery 37 Center for the Arts, 66 E. Randolph, 312-742-8497. Opens Thursday, April 20, 7 PM. Through April 29: Thursdays-Saturdays, 7 PM. $10.

--Jack Helbig

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