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All heil Dr. Strangelove

Veteran Chicago actors perform a staged reading of the classic Stanley Kubrick satire



The premiere of Dr. Strangelove was a landmark event in the annals of modern dread. Nothing before or since has distilled Cold War anxiety—not to say absurdity—like Stanley Kubrick's sick black comedy about the end of the world. Subtitled How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, the movie posits Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper, commanding officer of Burpelson Air Force Base and paranoid patriot. (Think Ted Nugent in a uniform.) Convinced—as plenty of John Birch types actually were at the time—that fluoridation is a communist plot to contaminate America's water supply and thereby destroy our "precious bodily fluids," Ripper exploits glitches in the U.S. air defense system to call out his own personal nuclear attack against the Soviet Union. Little does he know that the Russians have the Doomsday Machine . . .

Peter Sellers plays three roles in Dr. Strangelove—including that of the title character, a de-Nazified German rocket scientist a la Wernher von Braun, with a not-quite-de-Nazified prosthetic hand. A big Sellers fan, Nate Herman saw the movie when it first opened, and it made a big impression on him. Big enough, in fact, that he wanted to do something special for its 50th anniversary. So Herman—a Second City vet who currently codirects the writing program at Improv Olympic—got together with 11 of his longtime buddies from Chicago's theater community to put together a staged reading of the screenplay. Fellow Second Citizen Tim Kazurinsky is in on it, as is Warren Leming, who played with Herman in the 60s rock band Wilderness Road, and Chicago storefront statesmen Gary Houston and Bob Swan.

They'll do the show Monday evening at SPACE in Evanston, and Herman supposes that if all goes well, he may arrange readings of other vintage films, like Howard Hawks's His Girl Friday, Carol Reed's The Third Man, and Preston Sturges's The Great McGinty. Stuff, in short, with snappy dialogue. A minor problem has already cropped up, though: this isn't really Dr. Strangelove's 50th anniversary year. It was scheduled to premiere in November 1963, but with John Kennedy's assassination, the date got pushed back to January 1964. Happy 49th, everybody!

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