1969 | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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A big heart beats a big budget anytime. Unpretentious and up-front, Tina Landau's 75-minute one-act, workshopped in four weeks for the 1994 Humana Festival, details a very messy turning point in the life of one young gay man, Howie. Of course the year is 1969--the year of the Stonewall riots, following a decade of protests and assassinations. Howie, played by Jeff Town with warmth and immediacy, breaks loose from his suburban high school--the kind of human obedience school where outspoken teachers are out of work. Drawing on her vivid memories, Landau surrounds Howie with 60s icons: a drug freak who can only bliss out after he stops wearing underwear, a popular black athlete who resists the civil rights struggle, a radical feminist who's ultimately afraid to run away from home. Charmingly confused, Howie can't understand why anyone would call him a pile of sticks. But like Dorothy Gale (Howie's alter ego here, with Greenwich Village standing in for the Emerald City), Howie is willing to entrust himself to a journey with no clear destination. Ryan Keller's staging is jerkily paced and technically clunky (though the relentless acid-rock music design makes its point) but carries the same conviction as Landau's more elaborate but no more warmhearted collaborations with Steppenwolf. Link's Hall, 3435 N. Sheffield, 773-784-7626. Through December 10: Friday-Sunday, 8 PM. $8.50.

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