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Born Yesterday, The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz, and seven more new theater and comedy reviews

A classic from Remy Bumppo and a revival from the House Theatre of Chicago are among this week's best bets.

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[Recommended] Born Yesterday Garson Kanin's 1946 comedy crackles with sharp-witted dialogue, smartly drawn characters, and almost painfully fresh relevance in Remy Bumppo Theatre Company's timely revival. It concerns a crooked New Jersey scrap metal dealer, Harry Brock, who arrives in the nation's capital aiming to bribe a senator to pass legislation that will undo government regulations and benefit Harry's business. Hoping to make his uneducated but street-smart mistress, ex-showgirl Billie Dawn, a bit more "presentable" to the D.C. power elite, Harry hires a New Republic journalist, Paul Verrall, to tutor Billie, with unanticipated results not to Harry's liking. Kanin's theme—the right of the American people to know what's going on Washington and the people's responsibility to educate themselves and pay attention—is as basic as democracy itself. His targets are political corruption and public apathy—what one character calls "don't-care-ism." "I want everyone to be smart. As smart as they can be. A world of ignorant people is too dangerous to live in," says Paul in the play's most famous line. The top-flight cast is headed by Eliza Stoughton as Billie, Greg Matthew Anderson as Paul, and Sean M. Sullivan as a cocky, vulgar, yet strangely charismatic Harry. David Darlow directed. —Albert Williams

Benjamin Holliday Wardell in Theatre Y's Fatelessness - DEVRON ENARSON
  • Devron Enarson
  • Benjamin Holliday Wardell in Theatre Y's Fatelessness

Fatelessness Theatre Y director Melissa Lorraine's intriguing experiment with Imre Kertész's Noble Prize-winning novel Fatelessness is half brilliant. While we hear Michael Doonan's prerecorded voice reading a greatly condensed version of the book, which follows bemused, dispassionate 15-year-old Hungarian Jew Gyuri through three Nazi concentration camps, we watch Benjamin Holliday Wardell silently enact a 65-minute yoga routine. The juxtaposition of bodies—Gyuri's buffeted by chaotic external forces, Wardell's guided by disciplined internal commands, both contorted to the brink of recognizability—creates provocative tensions that never resolve. Even the unavoidable tedium nicely parallels Gyuri's languishing in what Kertesz called "the dreary trap of linearity." But in this adaptation by Andràs Visky and Adam Boncz, Kertész's richly detailed text is stripped to an overly efficient outline, and Doonan's disgruntled bro persona gives the story an unaccountable peevishness. Wardell's meticulous work needs a stronger foil. —Justin Hayford

Amelia Bethel and Lady Grace Murphy in Feminism and Other Things, at Drinking and Writing Theater - MINDY GRIBBLE
  • Mindy Gribble
  • Amelia Bethel and Lady Grace Murphy in Feminism and Other Things, at Drinking and Writing Theater

Feminism & Other Things Midway through Drinking & Writing Theater's hour-long two-woman show, pictures of nine murdered transgender women appear on video screens while performers Amelia Bethel and Lady Grace Murphy recite their names and offer them a toast. This one-minute ritual is one of the few focused, theatrically effective moments in an otherwise scattershot piece. Bethel and Murphy begin by saying they want to talk about "what it means to be a 21st-century woman," but it's difficult to piece together a meaningful portrait given the range of issues they skate over, from sexual experimentation at teen sleepovers to the American court system's unwillingness to take sexual assault seriously to the frustrations of planning a wedding. By bringing up anything, they develop almost nothing. Tellingly, the murdered transgender women are entirely forgotten after their minute in the spotlight. —Justin Hayford

The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz - COURTESY HOUSE THEATRE OF CHICAGO
  • Courtesy House Theatre of Chicago
  • The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz

[Recommended] The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz This Dorothy has a cell phone. Yes, she desperately wanted out of Kansas, but, no, she didn't expect to leave by way of tornado. Now, terrorized by the Wicked Witch of the West, she's leading a motley crew down the yellow brick road and thinking Kansas wasn't so bad after all. Revived by the House Theatre of Chicago, which premiered it in 2005, Phillip Kapperich's stage version of the L. Frank Baum classic is inventive, amusing, familiar without getting slavish about it, and just arch enough to be hip without spoiling things. AnJi White is Marvels Comics sleek rather than Margaret Hamilton shriveled as the evil witch. Joe Steakley is sweet and fey as that original friend of Dorothy, Toto. But Christine Mayland Perkins is the luckiest cast member: her Scarecrow gets to build a brain of her own, delightfully, from scratch.
—Tony Adler

The Last Circus, at the Revival - CASSIE AHIERS
  • Cassie Ahiers
  • The Last Circus, at the Revival

The Last Circus Given the sheer quantity and variety of Barnum & Bailey-style shit-show material that comes out on the daily, you'd think this circus-themed, politically bent sketch comedy revue at the Revival in Hyde Park would pick from the freshest headline scandals for inspiration. Instead, the ensemble plays it curiously tepid, with quasi-musical bits that could have been written last October and short-form improv games. Clearer points of view come into focus during a recurring "freak show" bit, in which ensemble members get personal in stand-up sets about neuroses, body fears, love, and racial dynamics. But combined, they elicit more head nods and knowing smiles than laughs. —Dan Jakes

Tekki Lominicki - KYOJI NAKANO
  • Kyoji Nakano
  • Tekki Lominicki

Metamorphosis Tellin' Tales Theatre is a staple in the Chicago storytelling community, one that brings together disabled and nondisabled artists to share nonfiction narratives built around a universal theme. This set of long-form stories, curated by artistic director Tekki Lomnicki, finds hope and humor in the frightening, unsparing realities of aging. Steve Glickman revisits his relationships over the years as a gay man in Chicago, and Judi Lee Goshen chats about the social pressures of being a woman at any age dating a younger man. The biggest takeaway is from Lomnicki herself who, in a story that makes no effort to romanticize taking care of an elderly parent, makes a powerful case for accepting major life transitions as they come. —Dan Jakes

First Folio Theatre's Silent Sky - D. RICE
  • D. Rice
  • First Folio Theatre's Silent Sky

[Recommended] Silent Sky Lauren Gunderson's simple, gracefully written biographical play, about pioneering American astronomer Henrietta Leavitt—whose discoveries in the early 20th century greatly expanded our conception of the size of the universe—is well matched by director Melanie Keller's strong, elegant, moving production for First Folio Theatre. Cassandra Bissell is especially compelling as Leavitt, communicating at once her quirky brilliance and the persistence she needed to make her discoveries and forge ahead in a field dominated by men eager to use her talents but much less eager give her credit. The lighting, costumes, and set mirror the strengths of the script; Christopher Kriz's sound design is particularly evocative. —Jack Helbig

Adventure Stage Chicago's Six Stories Tall - JOHNNY KNIGHT
  • Johnny Knight
  • Adventure Stage Chicago's Six Stories Tall

[Recommended] Six Stories Tall First produced by Adventure Stage Chicago in 2012 and now about to tour nationally, this wonderfully entertaining show for the tween set leans grown-up in all the right ways. Marco Ramirez's 2008 collection of short plays, inspired by Latino folktales, focuses on themes of courage while coming up with lots of melancholy foils. For example, a young boy dreams of becoming Batman to protect his depressed father from danger; a young girl battles Satan to save her widowed father's soul; a grandson takes a circuitous jaunt to the south side for the benefit of his ailing grandfather. It appears director Tom Arvetis decided to trim at least one tale from the 2012 version, perhaps in favor of a more fluid 60-minute performance. No matter: the cast embrace doing more with less, and their exuberance is contagious. —Matt de la Peña

Wolfgang Stein in The Wolfgang Stein Show, at the Annoyance - JON WES
  • Jon Wes
  • Wolfgang Stein in The Wolfgang Stein Show, at the Annoyance

[Recommended] The Wolfgang Stein Show Wolfgang Stein stars as a smarmy, ever-squinting, bow-tied variety show host named Wolfgang Stein in this fast-moving production directed by Anneliese Toft. Running breathlessly through nearly a dozen bits in just under an hour, the talented ensemble cast rarely lingers on a setup long enough to wear out its welcome. The most successful scenes combine gleefully corny wordplay and fully committed characterizations that manage to wink self-referentially without falling into all-out camp. They're putting on a show and never pretend not to be, yet are able to sell most of the premises through sheer enthusiasm, whether portraying punning nuns battling Beelzebub or disgruntled supporting cast members taking revenge on the narcissistic Wolfgang himself. —Dmitry Samarov

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