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The Chicago Fringe Festival: Satire! Burlesque! Nonsense!

A critical guide to the ongoing jamboree, which features 47 shows.

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Six Reader critics fanned out across the Chicago Fringe Festival performance sites in Jefferson Park last weekend to see what we could see. The result is this selective guide to shows that will be continuing on through the fest’s second and final weekend. For times, tickets, and other info, go to —Tony Adler

Am I a Grownup Yet?

In rambling, sad-sack monologues and a couple brief interludes with shadow puppets, solo performer Grayson Morris recounts her halfhearted efforts to find a job, a boyfriend, and a purpose in her late 20s. She shows a refreshing indifference to conventional benchmarks of success, but her stage presence is nil. —Zac Thompson

Ankle Boots: Absurd Miniature Memoirs

Three personally engaging but ideologically voguish young women offer a series of brief, apparently autobiographical performance pieces chock-full of therapeutic platitudes and current radical orthodoxies. You don’t see this show for discovery but for a certain kind of gender-based affirmation. (TA)

[Recommended] The Anti-Boss

Chicago’s Mike Maxwell leads a disquietingly honest orientation session for new employees at “the industry leader in superlatives.” He elucidates company dress code (“Slightly better than brunch”), explains microwave usage, cautions against fucking underlings, and reassures us our jobs will be pointless. It’s a nimble, delightfully dispiriting hour. —Justin Hayford

Betwixt Between

This show, about a young girl who’s initiated into a magical world, is enhanced by Nathan Fivecoate’s original score and Cindy Henkin’s marionette-like moves. Still, something’s missing: the story lacks the resonance we associate with well-told fairy tales. It doesn’t help that Henkin’s vocal performance lacks richness and variety. —Jack Helbig


Vincent Truman admits his play stems from a personal revenge fantasy, and by golly, it reads that way onstage. Drill in hand, a sanctimonious nerd tracks down his former bully, who is of course an unhappily wed slob. With or without its twist, not much is turned on its head here. —Dan Jakes

CODA (Children of Deaf Adults)

Brooklynite Mark Murray grew up son and interpreter to deaf parents. His roving autobiographical monologue is by turns dutiful (deaf people aren’t “retards”) and revelatory (can deaf parents fully trust their nondeaf son?). The 45-minute show is short on structure and subtlety but long on affecting candor. (JHa)

Cocooned in Kazan

If you’re a chill enough parent to overlook the cartoonish fellatio jokes, this one is actually pretty solid for young audiences. London-based Royal Kung Foolery act like human marionettes in this bawdy, fish-slapping farce about a man marrying for inheritance money. Accents and wacky faces abound. (DJ)

[Recommended] Everything: Something About Nothing

Pianist Andy Costello cobbles together music, speech, and silence for a refreshingly perplexing 30-minute concert. It’s uneven (he muddles Cage and Beckett, though he brings some clarity to Gertrude Stein), but he’s a precise, engaged, welcoming performer unafraid of deep ambiguities. It’s the sort of way-off-the-radar stuff every fringe festival needs in abundance. (JHa)

Femme FATales

This plus-size burlesque troupe presents an array of joyful, sexy, body-positive striptease acts, though the bits in between could use some tightening. Dommenique Dumptrux brings the heat belting out “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” (Rizzo’s signature song in Grease) and Molotowcocktease gives good face as the Big Bad Wolf. —Marissa Oberlander

[Recommended] Gruesome Playground Injuries

Pulitzer Prize finalist Rajiv Joseph’s twisted 2011 two-hander is ideal for a fringe fest. All you need is a simple set, a couple of costumes, some light and sound cues, a cunning director (Tea Toplak), and two high-caliber actors (Danny John Ford and Frannie Morrison) adept at playing the many facets of the quirky, accident-prone pair at the center of this dark, rich comedy. (JHe)

Identity Quickies

It wouldn’t be a fringe festival without some esoteric sexual metaphors, now would it? But on a “Fan-tasty” train line conducted by a flamboyant poet, Marianna Staroselsky flies well past esoteric into inscrutable terrain as her cast shouts about vampire desires and ritualistically flickers sidelights on and off. (DJ)

Ladies Night of the Living Dead

Cute but cliched, this show from Random Acts, a kind of Bridesmaids meets The Walking Dead, chronicles a bachelorette party that takes some sharp turns: first, into the requisite cat fights that follow a group of girls drinking too much Everclear, then a zombie outbreak that leads to some hilarious deaths by dildo. Lucy Chmielewski shines as Laurie, the lovable group drunk. (MO)

Man’s Dominion

In 1916, Mary, a circus elephant, killed her handler and was lynched for it by the citizens of Erwin, Tennessee. The true story is vividly retold here, Tim Powell assuming the personas of various participants. But Powell and playwright David Castro go a step too far in giving Mary herself a speech: by anthropomorphizing her to make a moral point, they imitate her executioners. (TA)

Men Will Be Boys

Scot Moore plays out the seven sexist ages of man, starting with a little boy getting in trouble for imitating his misogynistic dad and ending with a young father trying to change his ways for the sake of his baby daughter. The show is thoughtful fun despite a pat, moral-of-the-story ending. (TA)

Occupy Your Vagina

Mariann Aalda delights as Ginger Peechee-Keane, a chipper, bawdy, prone-to-song adult sex-ed evangelist and mojo motivator whooffers empowering words of wisdom. The setting: orientation for her “What’s Sex Got to Do With It?” workshop, where audience members are welcomed and heartily encouraged to come well. (MO)

Our Fair City: Human Resources

This incisive radio-style drama—performed by four actors stationed at microphones alongside a sound-effects artist—unfolds in a futuristic dystopia ruled by a totalitarian life insurance company. Following Orwell, playwrights Kat Evans and Ele Matelan have a keen sense of the heartlessness behind the bland jargon of control. ZT

Queer Heartache

Kit Yan’s earnest slam poetry celebrates the various pieces of his identity—transgender, Asian-American, and so on. He’s candid, ebullient, and verbally dexterous. But his poems‘ unvarying rhythms and relentless uplift eventually grow monotonous, and touching or telling details tend to get lost in the endless torrents of words. (ZT)

[Recommended] William Shakespeare Lives

In this wise and witty solo show Nathan Wonder plays William Shakespeare, transported to Chicago, where he’s doing storefront theater. The modern-day Bard drinks PBR while he ruminating about the setbacks that have knocked him on his ass—no woman, no job, and latest play, Titus Andronicus, eviscerated by the critics. A clever take on the city’s off-Loop theater scene. (JHe)

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