"Goofball perfection" to emotion-killing monologues: this week's performing arts reviews

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The fall theater tidal wave is upon us. Here are Reader reviews to help keep you from drowning.

The new House Theatre of Chicago fantasy, The Iron Stag King: Part One, employs stunning aesthetics and technical savvy. But Keith Griffith reports that the show is hard to follow and lacks relatable characters. A commentary on power and government may be woven loosely into the plot, but who can tell for sure?

A hit for Piccolo Theatre in 2010, Six Dead Queens and an Inflatable Henry! is back. Reader contributor Laura Molzahn found the original production lively and amusing. Molzahn also recommends Annee Pocalypse—a raunchy, skillful adult spin on the Broadway hit Annie.

Another recommended comedy is Commedia King John. Marissa Oberlander writes that this commedia dell'arte version of Shakespeare's history play achieves "goofball perfection," with good masks, appropriately over-the-top postures, and clever writing. Spirits to Enforce also ventures into the world of Shakespeare. Offered here in an Abraham Werewolf production chock-full of comic performances, Mickle Maher's play skillfully balances a thorough breakdown of the Bard's The Tempest with a whirlwind romance.

On the other hand: Dan Jakes reports that would-be satire Blagojevich, Blagojevich! dances back and forth between fact and fiction in telling the tale of the disgraced Illinois governor, ultimately landing in a genre void. Tony Adler finds Gorilla Tango Theatre's Once Upon a Rom Com: The Bill Pullman Story dull, with a premise that doesn't support its 64-minute running time. Jack Helbig didn't find much to laugh about in the weakly written, poorly performed dark comedy The North Star. And Shakespeare's Female Women has a promising premise but comes across as underrehearsed.

Recommended dramas include Porchlight Music Theatre's A Class Act, a "musical about musicals" that follows the life of Edward Kleban, who wrote the lyrics for A Chorus Line. Bill Larkin gives a flawless lead performance, says Albert Williams. After playwright Chad Beckim has dedicated too much of his script to quirky antics from supporting characters—but, according to Justin Hayford, an excellent lead performance by J. Salome Martinez makes for an engrossing show.

Meanwhile, Impenetrable's essaylike monologues take precedence over character development, killing its emotional power despite Jennifer Pompa's strong performance. Similarly, the implausible plot of Illegal Use of Hands neutralizes an excellent American Blues Theater cast. And Another Production Company's staging of the two-person musical The Last Five Years suffers because Dominique Reid lacks the vocal power necessary for her role.

In dance, "Voices of Strength" proves an electric show. The two programs of dance theater at the Dance Center of Columbia College spotlight four performances by five African women.

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