Brave Like Them, The Bricklayers of Oz, and ten more new stage shows for the dog days | Performing Arts Feature | Chicago Reader

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Brave Like Them, The Bricklayers of Oz, and ten more new stage shows for the dog days

A "queer as f**k riot grrrl musical" and Chicago Dance Crash's latest story-length hip-hop showcase are among this week's best bets.

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An American in Paris By all rights An American in Paris should be an exercise in nostalgia. Based on the 1951 movie musical starring Gene Kelly and featuring such chestnutty Gershwin classics as "I Got Rhythm", it tells the tale of Jerry Mulligan, an ex-GI who falls in love while trying to make it as an artist in the City of Light. Thanks to playwright Craig Lucas and director-choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, however, the show doesn't depend on schmaltz for its richness. Lucas's book excavates each character's World War II trauma; Wheeldon's dances isolate and amplify Kelly's balletic impulse. The result is at once dark and beautiful. Though this Equity touring show is very fine in most ways, it's not as satisfying as it might be: McGee Maddox is a marvelous dancer, but his Mulligan comes across as callow—somehow untouched by the wartime experiences he describes. (Ryan Steele plays the role at certain performances.) —Tony Adler

Lil McGrady and ensemble in Brave Like Them - EMILY SCHWARTZ
  • Emily Schwartz
  • Lil McGrady and ensemble in Brave Like Them

[Recommended] Brave Like Them About Face Youth Theatre's "queer as f**k riot grrrl musical" focuses on Danni, a biracial teenager in 1990s Washington State, who's swept into the riot grrrl movement of that time—a feminist reaction to, and against, the male-dominated punk music and art scene of the day. Initially inspired by the rhetoric and charisma of riot grrrl leader Kathleen Hanna (real-life lead singer-songwriter of the band Bikini Kill), Danni (Kyla Norton), an aspiring artist and writer, gradually becomes disenchanted with the riot grrrls' white, cisgender insularity, even as she grapples with her own shifting gender identity. The show—devised by the ensemble (aged 12-23) under the direction of Ali Hoefnagel and Kieran Kredell—celebrates the radical impulse of the 1990s riot grrrls while bringing a 2017 perspective to the story. Featuring aggressive choreography by Erin Kilmurray and hard-edged musical direction by Nicholas Davio, the show sensitively and accessibly explores the tensions between young people's passion to create a better world and their need for individual self-affirmation and peer approval. —Albert Williams

Bobby Bowman and Amanda Forman in Oak Park Festival Theatre's The Fair Maid of the West - COLE SIMON
  • Cole Simon
  • Bobby Bowman and Amanda Forman in Oak Park Festival Theatre's The Fair Maid of the West

[Recommended] The Fair Maid of the West People who went to see Thomas Heywood's plays in the 17th century were a lot like us. They thought a good story was one with the absolute maximum of sword fighting in it. They loved to see virtue rewarded and evil punished. And they believed there were still great adventures to be attempted out in the world, and gleefully lapped up any opportunity to imagine one for the price of a ticket. In 1994, Kevin Theis reworked one of Heywood's more seldom-seen Elizabethan comedies—the tale of a barmaid, Bess Bridges (Amanda Forman), and her chaste love for a gentleman, Spencer (Zach Livingston)—into a well-received adaptation. The outdoor festival setting is ideal for this cheerful, rapier-twirling spectacle. Theis directs the revival, which is notable for Bobby Bowman's exceptional reading of Clem, the fool. —Max Maller

Sandra Delgado in Teatro Vista's La Havana Madrid, at the Goodman Theatre - ERIK SCANLON
  • Erik Scanlon
  • Sandra Delgado in Teatro Vista's La Havana Madrid, at the Goodman Theatre

La Havana Madrid At the center of Sandra Delgado's two-hour immersive performance piece for Teatro Vista, nominally set in the erstwhile titular Lakeview nightclub, are six true stories of transplanted Latinos struggling for survival (cultural, psychological, and sometimes literal) in a virulently intolerant 1960s Chicago. When the performers favor plain truth over forced exuberance, the stories are quite affecting. But they'd be more so if they weren't buried under conceptual overload; Delgado, as the club's embodied spirit, mystically invokes each storyteller, skulks about listening, then delivers songs with more showiness than conviction. And the intoxicating rhythms of the five-piece Carpacho y Su Super Combo are often so far in the background it's hard to imagine this reconstituted nightclub drawing crowds. It's a shame that so much vital, disquieting history ends up in a muddle. —Justin Hayford

The Comrades' In the Wake, at the Greenhouse Theater Center - PAUL GOYETTE
  • Paul Goyette
  • The Comrades' In the Wake, at the Greenhouse Theater Center

In the Wake In Lisa Kron's play, set in 2000, Ellen (Rose Sengenberger), a smart but slightly aimless intellectual and writer, wants more than she can have. She wants to see Amy (Alison Plott) while staying committed long-term to Danny (Mike Newquist). She wants to register her outrage at the flawed American "system" during dinner gatherings, and to be pleasant and inoffensive at them too. Between bouts of relationship battling and political speechifying, clips from the nonstop news cycle are projected against the back wall of Rachel Rauscher's plain, domestic set for this production by the Comrades. Bush II defeats Gore. Bush II mutters threats into a megaphone at Ground Zero. Helicopters pull bodies off of rooftops in New Orleans. As each chaotic blip fades to static, it's clear that some connection is being posited between the footage and the play, but the two run on parallel tracks, never meeting up. Alex Mallory directed. —Max Maller

Deverin Deonte and cast in Black Ensemble Theatre's Last Dancer Standing (More Than Hip-Hop) - MICHAEL COURIER
  • Michael Courier
  • Deverin Deonte and cast in Black Ensemble Theatre's Last Dancer Standing (More Than Hip-Hop)

Last Dancer Standing (More Than Hip-Hop) "Welcome to our live broadcast," chirps each usher at Rueben Echoles's Last Dancer Standing (More Than Hip-Hop) as contestants mark through choreography before vying for money, glory, and the opportunity to tour with R&B star Justin Paul (Deverin Deonte). Between the ritual catchphrases of the contest, the cattiness of the competitors, and the egotism, sexual harassment, and mansplaining that dominate the off-camera scenes, "it's like you've been here before," notes one contender. And you have. The panel of judges on the side. The contrived group challenges. The public confessions. The mean girl, the underdog, the sassy gay man, and the others, who have little function beyond protracting the process. Just when you dismiss it as mere entertainment, the show makes a stunning salute to Black Lives Matter, minorities in the arts, and your mama—but if you like dance contests, you'll have fun too. —Irene Hsiao

Huggable Riot's Judgmental Institutions, at the Annoyance - SAM BENGSTON
  • Sam Bengston
  • Huggable Riot's Judgmental Institutions, at the Annoyance

Judgmental Institutions Huggable Riot’s 12th sketch revue has some great ideas sadly overshadowed by its actors' not-so-great stage presences. An example of the former: a scene about a vampire slumber party (held during the day, natch) includes the bloodsuckers lamenting that they have no idea what they look like—no reflections, of course. In another office workers gush about their thrilling weekends only for us to discover that their actual plans were pretty lame. The performers, however, aren’t adept at adapting to the myriad locations and circumstances—or reacting to each other. In one scene a woman celebrates her half birthday with a game of putt-putt golf, exclaiming that if she doesn’t get a hole in one, she’ll kill herself. Holy bombshell! Yet there's no build from there—as the actors take turns reacting, all that's reached is a plateau. (Plus, they take turns?) —Steve Heisler

Chicago Shakespeare Theater's Romeo and Juliet - LIZ LAUREN
  • Liz Lauren
  • Chicago Shakespeare Theater's Romeo and Juliet

[Recommended] Romeo & Juliet Chicago Shakespeare Theater brings the Bard's tale of star-crossed lovers to 18 neighborhood parks for 25 free performances through August 27. Utilizing headsets to help amplify dialogue to the farthest outskirts of the lawn, staging that frequently has cast members circulating through the lounging crowd, and drawing on contemporary dance music, this production (directed by Marti Lyons from her own adaptiation) does a lot to bridge the centuries-long gap between this immortal text and contemporary Chicago picnickers. The temporary stage, which makes a rather feeble attempt to evoke 13th-century Verona, and the actors' period garb seem unnecessary distractions in this otherwise stripped-down staging. But just letting these beautiful words ring out in the summer air for thousands of our city's citizens to hear—perhaps for the first time—is an invaluable service. Performances this week are as follows: Wed 8/2, 6:30 PM, Gage Park (2411 W. 55th); Thu 8/3, 6:30 PM, Kelvyn Park (4438 Wrightwood); Fri 8/4, 6:30 PM, Eckhart Park (1330 W. Chicago; ACL interpreted); Sat 8/5, 6:30 PM, Welles Park (2333 W. Sunnyside); and Sun 8/6, 4 PM, also at Welles Park (ACL interpreted).
—Dmitry Samarov

Aleatoric Theatre Company's The Vagina Monologues, at Mary's Attic Theatre - NICHOLAS RYAN LAMB
  • Nicholas Ryan Lamb
  • Aleatoric Theatre Company's The Vagina Monologues, at Mary's Attic Theatre

[Recommended] The Vagina Monologues The Aleatoric Theatre Company’s empowering production of Eve Ensler’s 1996 episodic play is called an “immersive experience” and a “historical interpretation,” and both descriptions proved apt on the night I attended. With very little prompting, audience members described what their vaginas would wear, what they would say, what their essence comes down to, etc, making for an intimate, relaxed, and ultimately rallying theatrical experience. As far as updates to address modern issues, new monologues included an account of horrific atrocities against women witnessed by the Refugee Alliance Group as well as a powerful poem about navigating school bathrooms as a trans teenager. Sandy Smith is charming and relatable in “the vagina workshop,” and Joette Waters brought many to tears delivering “I Was in the Room,” a piece on a grandchild’s birth. —Marissa Oberlander

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