Arts & Culture » Performing Arts Feature

The Wizengamot, Three Hotels, and seven more new theater reviews

A Harry Potter debate and a hard-hitting drama are among this week's best bets.


Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beeholder In a postapocalyptic world, nothing will grow except honey, and the best and brightest are trained to become beekeepers. That's the premise of Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beeholder at the Annoyance Theatre & Bar. The nemesis in this screwy tale is a giant mutant hornet that wants to kill scientists offstage with its big stinger. If this sounds hokey, that's because it is. If you think plotwise it sounds like a recipe for disaster, you're right. The only thing Beeholder has going for it is some improvisatory banter from Kristen Tallon and Nate Dicken. But even this is odd. I couldn't figure out if the show had an actual script; my guess is it did and that nobody took the time to memorize it. From the silly title to Dicken and Tallon's cringeworthy romance, this play makes no sense and probably only exists as a way to sell "bee"-r. —Max Maller

Hell in a Handbag's Bette, Live at the Continental Baths - RICK AGUILAR
  • Rick Aguilar
  • Hell in a Handbag's Bette, Live at the Continental Baths

[Recommended] Bette, Live at the Continental Baths This loving tribute to Bette Midler and her days as a young performer in the early 70s stars Hell in a Handbag diva Caitlin Jackson. Midler credits her shows at New York City gay bathhouse the Continental Baths with helping her develop her iconic Divine Miss M persona, and it's this that the captivating Jackson, full of sass and power, channels here. David Cerda's graceful, mildly campy adaptation, based in part on Midler's 1971 farewell performance, gives Jackson lots of room to play Bathhouse Bette to the hilt. Jeremy Ramey plays accompanist Barry Manilow to Jackson's Midler. —Jack Helbig

Crushed, at the Public House Theatre - RYAN BURKETT
  • Ryan Burkett
  • Crushed, at the Public House Theatre

[Recommended] Crushed If you happen not to be interested in the Cubs, just down the street from Wrigley Field you'll find this show, a series of tales of love and loss. However overdone the premise might be, the work here is lively and smart. Six actors enact a range of characters and scenarios, from a May-December pair to a girl-dog romance to the most excruciating proposal fail ever. My favorite was a younger man hitting on an older woman, assuring her that his sister taught him to stay "woke" because he believes "females should have agency." "Please don't say 'females,'" she replies quickly. This is just one of many lines in a script as funny as it is surprising. However fashionable it is to trash millennials these days (um, guilty) there's wisdom here, and insight into the ways an evolving (or devolving) culture shapes the contemporary experience of finding and losing love. —Suzanne Scanlon

The Forks & Hope Ensemble's A Hero's Journey - CANDICE CONNER
  • Candice Conner
  • The Forks & Hope Ensemble's A Hero's Journey

A Hero's Journey The Forks & Hope Ensemble derives inspiration from classic folklore, their own lives, and Joseph Campbell's monomyth to create this movement-heavy montage piece. Set in a blanket fort, the show ranges from tales about forest creatures, Odysseus, Sejong the Great, and Psyche to stories about addiction, living up to the family name, and learning to appreciate elders' faith. A few kid-friendly bits, like an animal chorus accompanied by Austin D. Oie and John Szymanski's ethereal music, achieve fanciful heights. Much, though, is lost to the forced twee aesthetic, and a lot of the personal anecdotes come off as tenuous. —Dan Jakes

Collaboraction's Peacebook - JOEL MAISONET
  • Joel Maisonet
  • Collaboraction's Peacebook

Peacebook I saw Peacebook, Collaboraction's festival promoting peace through dance, theater, spoken word, and music, on a rainy night in the heart of Englewood. "This rain is about peace," performer and emcee Ray of Light told the audience. "You know how many shootings are not happening tonight?" Of the seven pieces on the bill that night, some were more polished than others, but I sense that the majority came from worlds where violence is the norm, and where Ray of Light's statement is nothing but ordinary realism. Peacebook will change its program with each new venue, but judging from what I saw, each will showcase spirited portrayals, less theatrical than documentary, of Chicago's most dire realities. —Max Maller

Gina DeLuca's Relatively Meaningless - JESSIE CADLE
  • Jessie Cadle
  • Gina DeLuca's Relatively Meaningless

[Recommended] Relatively Meaningless Writer-performer Gina DeLuca is cognitive dissonance made flesh. Her onstage persona is disarming and understated, more restaurant hostess than aggressive comedian. But her material, which she both reads and performs in this brilliant solo show, is savage and smart and relentlessly honest. No one escapes her incisive wit. Family, friends, old boyfriends, customers at work—all provide her with comedy fodder, though she performs her cruelest and most killing deconstructions on herself. One of her funniest stories recounts an overseas trip that goes awry when she develops a case of vaginitis so extreme she believes she must be sprouting a penis. —Jack Helbig

Strike 3* - FUZZY GERDES
  • Fuzzy Gerdes
  • Strike 3*

Strike 3* Cast member/coauthors Benjamin Vigeant and Stephen Winchell deploy their own idiosyncratic comic vocabulary in this baseball-movie parody. Vigeant stars as Phil, the very picture of haplessness. His mom is dead, his stepdad runs him down, he lacks a pronounceable last name, and though he works for his favorite baseball team—the San Francisco Trolley Cars—he spends all his time cleaning the stadium chimney under the gaze of a sadistic boss. But one day when Phil is pressed into service selling peanuts, the team's manager discovers his phenomenal pitching arm. The rest is a pageant of tropes from every diamond epic you've ever seen. What makes the show fun is its kids-in-the-rec-room aesthetic. Naive line readings, semaphore-style acting, conscientious efforts to make every joke last too long, plus a director in a black beret (Zack Mast) who wanders in from time to time to explain his method and lose his train of thought—it's all kind of goofy sweet. —Tony Adler

Bluebird Arts' Three Hotels - ANTHONY LA PENNA
  • Anthony La Penna
  • Bluebird Arts' Three Hotels

[Recommended] Three Hotels This 80-minute one-act by Jon Robin Baitz (who wrote the screenplay for Stonewall) chronicles the rise and fall of the career and marriage of Ken Hoyle, vice president of a transnational corporation clearly modeled on Nestle. Ken is in charge of marketing infant formula to African women as a substitute for breast milk, with scant regard for the consequences in nations with unsafe water supplies. His soul-rotting job—jetting around the world to cavalierly fire employees, knowingly conducting irresponsible sales practices in the Third World (such as dressing sales reps in nurses' uniforms)—is eroding his relationship with his wife, Barb, who's torn between loyalty to Ken and disgust at the man he's become. The play is structured as a series of monologues, each set in a different hotel room, in which Ken and Barb recount—and relive—their crisis. Baitz's theme of moral responsibility and his critique of global corporate bottom-line ruthlessness is, if anything, harder-hitting today than when the play premiered off-Broadway in 1993. Directed by Luda Lopatina Solomon, this Bluebird Arts production features imaginative multimedia visual and sound design, and actors Dave Belden and Jaimelyn Gray bring fierce conviction to their storytelling. —Albert Williams

Under the Gun Theater's The Wizengamot - JACKI SCHWARZ
  • Jacki Schwarz
  • Under the Gun Theater's The Wizengamot

[Recommended] The Wizengamot: A Harry Potter Debate! Folks who already know what a Wizengamot is (the wizarding world's high court, for the uninitiated) have a leg up at this forensics league-style competition at Under the Gun Theater. Two Potterheads square off and argue positions centered on J.K. Rowling's franchise, like which book in the series is the worst and whether or not the Sorting Hat is an antiquated enabler of segregation. Comedic debates tend to be funniest when they're taken the most seriously, and these company members really do know their stuff. Even more impressive, though, was a group of young kids on opening night who came dressed in costume and showed off PhD-level mastery of arcane Potter trivia during an audience participation lightning round. —Dan Jakes v

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