Eighteen theater companies are presented in six different programs of two to four plays each, organized along loose thematic lines by producer Doug Bragan and associate producer Judith Easton. That's two more companies and two more programs than last year, when Bragan first stepped in to revive this non-Equity showcase founded and then discontinued by the League of Chicago Theatres. At the Theatre Building, through June 2. Wednesdays-Fridays, 8 PM, Saturdays, 6:30 and 9:15 PM; Sundays, 3 PM. Each program $12 in advance, $15 at the door; single plays $5 in advance, $8 at the door. The schedule is as follows:
"ISN'T IT ROMANTIC!": PARENTHESES, SEX LIVES OF SUPERHEROES, and FORECAST First: Confrontation turns to courtship when an angry father visits his child's first-grade teacher, Bailiwick Repertory presents Bill Wine's comedy, which Reader critic Lawrence Bommer calls "tedious, talky, cloying." Second: Stephen Gregg's comedy about relationships on and off the comic-book pages, performed by the Griffin Theatre, is "a delightful discovery--a four-star charmer," says Bommer. Third: A young astronaut encounters a thick-skinned peasant woman, in Elizabeth Wray's play presented by Blind Parrot Productions; Bommer calls this "an oddly poetic series of cryptic blackout scenes that brims with unforced but almost antiromantic feelings." Wednesdays, 8 PM.
"QUARTET TRIO WITH A LATIN BEAT": FATTY TISSUE, YEARS AGO, FRAGMENTS FROM THE PERMANENT COLLECTION, and LA PETENERA First: Edwin Sanchez's surrealistic comedy about a woman with an eating disorder who does battle with her refrigerator is presented by Theater By Design. "Sanchez doesn't seem to have been able to decide whether to go for the laughs or the pathos...[so] we don't dare laugh [or] feel much sympathy," says Reader critic Jack Helbig. Second: The Synergy Theatre Company's Chrysalis Project, which develops new plays, offers Lisa Dillman's one-woman play about a woman reflecting on her impending divorce; "it's hard to go wrong when you have...an actress as capable as Pamela Webster performing a text as moving and well written as Dillman's," says Helbig. Third: The meeting and courtship of a young couple in the galleries of the Art Institute of Chicago is complemented by living images reflecting the paintings around them, in Michael Brayndick's play presented by the Playwtights' Center, Helbig calls the piece an "inept bit of mediocrity." Fourth: La Barraca '90 performs La Petenera (see description in separate listing in regular theater listings). Thursdays, 8 PM.
"SHEER DRAMA": WILD DOGS, DATES WITHOUT CHICKS, and THE SHIRT "These three plays...could run under the heading "Misogynist's Delight" for all three involve male hostility toward women," says Reader critic Tom Valeo. In the first play, written by Matt Borczon and produced by Mary-Arrchie Theatre, "two males turn their hostility toward women on each other...[Richard] Cotovsky's manic energy chives the piece, [while] Brian Sandstrom does a masterful job of...unveiling...quiet strength," says Valeo. The second, written by Scott Turner and performed by Theatre of the Reconstruction, "also focuses on two drunk buddies who are complaining bitterly about women....[Jim] Bernacki and [Paul] Tamney work well together, drawing a full measure of humor from their dialogue," says Valeo. In the third play, Leonard Melfi's drama about an encounter between a southern tourist and an interracial couple performed by the Chicago Actors Project, "things turn deadly serious," and the "hatred [actor Paul] Connell projects is so raw, unrestrained, and convincing that he turns this brief scene into a nightmare." Fridays, 8 PM.
"WAR STORIES, DOG STORY": THE LETTER, NEXT, and DOG STORIES First: Mina Sama No, a theater company devoted to the Asian-American experience, presents the world premiere of Suzy Nakamura and Connie Munoz's drama about a family's reaction to the U.S. government's reparation payments to Japanese-Americans confined in internment camps during World War H. Reader critic Mary Shen Barnidge calls the play "a thoughtful exploration of a problem too often ignored." Second: Terrence McNally's Vietnam-era comedy about a middle-aged man's encounter with a sadistic female physician during the man's draft physical is performed by the BDI Theater Company; "George Lugg as the unfortunate draftee is spectacular," says Barnidge. Third: Phoenix Productions presents Keith Huff's comedy, which Barnidge calls "a series of vignettes satirizing the extraordinary affection many modern Americans have for their pets" buoyed by a group of good performances. Saturdays, 6:30 PM.
"PRIDE AND PREJUDICE": RED TANGO and COUP First: The Chicago Actors Ensemble presents Tom Yore's pop opera in which the story of Georg Buchner's Woyzeck is reset in South Africa and augmented with a text by Heiner Muller. Reader critic Mary Shen Barnidge calls this "one of the most original and entertaining works in this year's festival." Second: Jane Martin, the pseudonymous author of Talking With, wrote this comedy about small-town southern racism; Zebra Crossing's production is driven by "high-spirited and irreverent performances," says Barnidge. Saturdays, 9:15 PM.
"A MATINEE FOR MUSIC AND LAUGHTER": HIGH FIDELITY, MO' BETTER BLUE VELVET, OR DAVID LYNCH MOB MENTALITY, and BABES IN ARMS, ACT I First: New Tuners presents the first act of Philip Seward's comic opera about a widow who is challenged to a duel by a boorish man, based on Anton Chekhov's The Bear and George Bernard Shaw's How He Lied to Her Husband. The score "shows substantial promise," but "as it stands now...it's a bore," says Reader critic Albert Williams of this work in progress. Second: North Avenue Productions' improv-style comedy revue is "truly mediocre," says Williams. Third: Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's 1937 musical about a group of young amateur vaudevillians who put on a show is performed by Musical Repertorie Theatre in George Oppenheimer's updated adaptation. "The cast generally sing well" says Williams. "But Ben Tweel's direction...prompts from the actors the worst imaginable combination of exaggeration and lifelessness." Sundays, 3 PM.