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Five performance festivals worth your while

With June comes the summer theater season.

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It's theatrical horticulture 101: In our Zone Five arts environment December is for A Christmas Carol and June is when the festivals start coming into bloom. Here are the first flowers of the 2016 fest season.

Premier Premieres! A Weekend of New Musical Comedies A half-dozen new works get full-out stagings, thanks to fest host MCL Chicago. Academia and politics figure big this year: five of the six finalists (culled from among 21 submissions) deal with one or the other. The exception is Muffins: The Musical, featuring a book, lyrics, and additional music (Bonnie Janofsky composed the rest) by former Reader critic J. Linn Allen. One lucky show will be picked for a later run at MCL. (6/2-6/4, mclchicago.com)

Kristina Isabelle Dance in And the Spirit Moved Me, part of the Pivot Arts Festival - WILLIAM FREDERKING
  • William Frederking
  • Kristina Isabelle Dance in And the Spirit Moved Me, part of the Pivot Arts Festival

Pivot Arts Festival Various sites in Edgewater and Uptown form the mattress for this ten-day orgy of edgy performance pieces. Probable highlights include the Ruffians (responsible for the marvelous Burning Bluebeard) in Ivywild, a look at flamboyantly corrupt Chicago alderman "Bathhouse" John Coughlin. Then there's Midsummer Dream, in which the Hypocrites—famous for their beach-party Pirates of Penzance, among others—mess with the Bard. And a double bill pairs Kristina Isabelle Dance, performing on stilts in And the Spirit Moved Me, with Juan Villa, whose new solo, Finding Pancho, follows up on the family saga initiated in Empanada for a Dream. (6/2-6/12, pivotarts.org)

American Players Theatre Although it technically takes place in "another state" called Wisconsin, this venerable, Shakespeare-centric festival always bears a heavy Chicago footprint. Among the productions at APT's big outdoor amphitheater this season will be a King Lear directed by our town's William Brown. Inside, at the festival's 200-seat Touchstone Theatre, Derrick Sanders of Congo Square Theatre will stage The African Company Presents Richard III, about a black ensemble in antebellum New York. And if you (very appropriately) loved Chicago Shakespeare Theater's production of The Tempest last fall, you'll want to know that one of architects of that show, Aaron Posner, will be helming Samuel Beckett's Endgame. (6/3-10/16, americanplayers.org)

NBCUniversal Second City Break Out Comedy Festival Tim Meadows hosts a showcase for 25 ethnically diverse local comics, including some—like the Defiant Thomas Brothers and Afro-Futurism veterans Sonia Denis, Felonious Munk, Martin Morrow, Dewayne Perkins, and Dave Helem—whom I'm happy to see even though I wouldn't have thought they need breaking out. (6/3-6/4, upcomedyclub.com)

Malgosia Szandera's The Bag Lady, part of Physical Festival - COURTESY PHYSICAL FESTIVAL CHICAGO
  • Courtesy Physical Festival Chicago
  • Malgosia Szandera's The Bag Lady, part of Physical Festival

Physical Festival Chicago Moved to tears by the dancing bag in the 1999 Sam Mendes movie American Beauty? Then you'll want to be there when Malgosia Szandera of Spain's Bag Lady Theatre takes things a step further. Her The Bag Lady comprises an hour of stories told wordlessly, with nothing but plastic bags. Some other entries in this third annual celebration of body-based performance: Brazilian troupe Cia de Teatro Manual in Hominus Brasilis, a history of humanity as recounted by four actors working sans props on a 15-square-foot platform; New York company Recent Cutbacks parodying Jurassic Park in Hold Onto Your Butts; and Chicago's own Rough House Theatre, using everything from puppetry to cantastoria to cover morbid tunes in Sad Songs for Bad People. (6/3-6/11, physicalfestival.com) v

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