Coming Out Under Fire, a new documentary based on a book of the same name by Allan Berube, examines the history of gay men and women who were part of the armed services in World War II. Directed by Arthur Dong, it traces the military's long-standing homophobia, from stereotyping in early training movies to methodical expulsion and abuse in recent times. Interviews with veterans are juxtaposed with news clips from the military's recent hearings on gays in the military. Together with some military training films of the 40s, Coming Out Under Fire shows at 6 and 7:45 tonight at the Film Center, Columbus Drive at Jackson; screenings continue tomorrow at 4:15 and 6, Sunday at 4, and next Saturday, August 13, at 6 and 7:45. It's $5. Call 443-3737.
In the wake of its successful June debut, Orpheus Descending, an opera by Lyric composer in residence Bruce Saylor, receives an encore performance from the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists, the company's training program. Based on the Tennessee Williams play in which an itinerant drifts into a southern town and sets off a tragic chain of events, the opera plays at 8 tonight and tomorrow, in Hutchinson Courtyard behind the University of Chicago's Reynolds Club, 1131 E. 57th. In case of rain, the performance will be in the club's Mandel Hall; before the show there are free discussions with Saylor and librettist J.D. McClatchy in the club's north lounge. Tix are $14, $12 in advance; $10, $8 in advance, for students and kids. Call 702-8069.
Richard Crowe has been a professional ghost researcher, storyteller, folklorist, tour guide, and self-styled ghostbuster for more than 20 years. Tonight he's leading a Chicago Historical Society-sponsored ghost tour by boat. The Chicago Supernatural Cruise leaves the southwest corner of the Michigan Avenue bridge at 9:30 PM and goes to midnight; the route allows Crowe to expatiate on spirits both asea (the site of the Eastland ferry disaster) and on land (ghosts of the city skyline). The trip costs $35, $30 for society members; refreshments are included. Call 642-4600 for more. Crowe's regular tours continue every Saturday night in August; these leave from the same place at 11 PM and cost $16. 708-499-0300 is the number to call for info on those.
The eighth edition of the Evanston Historical Society's Lawn Croquet Tourney pits two-person teams over eight hours of play on the grounds of the Evanston house once occupied by general, financier, pop songwriter, and vice president Charles Gates Dawes. Things get under way at 8:30 AM at 225 Greenwood in Evanston. It's too late for would-be participants to register, but the public is welcome to bring a picnic and watch the action. Tours of the Dawes house will be given from 10 to 4 for only $1. Call 708-475-3410.
Trying to get your kids interested in art? Museum Menagerie, a free family workshop sponsored by the Museum of Contemporary Art, is designed to show kids how artists use animals in their work. The event begins in Seneca Park, which is on Chicago Avenue a block east of Michigan and just west of the museum's under-construction new digs. Activities in the park center around a horse sculpture by Deborah Butterfield; afterward, the kids get taken to the museum proper, 237 E. Ontario, to see some Alexander Calder beasts featured in the museum's current exhibition, notably Performing Seal, Crinkly Giraffe, and Black Headed Goat. The workshop will be delivered twice, once at noon and once at 1:30 PM. It's designed for kids accompanied by adults. Call 266-4086.
The University of Chicago's Midway Plaisance hosts a potpourri of sporting events in SportFest '94, the annual fun-in-the-sun competition sponsored by Windy City Sports magazine. You can walk, run, bike, or skate in various competitions all morning or participate in noncompetitive in-line skating or aerobics. Entry fees range from $13 (for aerobics) to $25 (for the biking event); the fees also get you a T-shirt, a water bottle, food, drink, and a goody bag. The first event starts at 8 AM; call 421-6827.
David Parris is one of the city's hardest working improvisers: right now he appears weekly in both the Free Associates' Cast on a Hot Tin Roof and the Annoyance Theatre's Carpet of Pain and also does regular gigs at the ImprovOlympic. His new one-man show, Don't Cha Know!, a collection of six portraits, is a follow-up to his well-received I Was a Child of Depression Parents. See it at Cafe Voltaire, 3231 N. Clark, on Monday and Tuesday nights at 7:30 through August 16. Call 665-1409. Tickets are $7.
"The issue of film preservation most often comes to the attention of the public in relation to the saving of the work of recognized masters," writes Film Center capo Barbara Scharres in its most recent newsletter, "and it's easy to forget that our international film heritage consists of so much more." To make this point clearer, the center's Thrills and Chills series this month salutes the overlooked--from "the tawdy little horror film" to the "odd piece of science fiction." The series features 35-millimeter prints, some of them newly struck, of minor classics from a variety of directors, including Japan's Inoshiro Honda (best known for Godzilla), Italy's Dario Argento, and Canada's David Cronenberg; it starts tonight with a pair of voodoo exercises, Black Moon with Fay Wray and Zombies of Mora Tau. Things get under way at 6 PM. It's $5; the Film Center is at Columbus Drive at Jackson. Call 443-3737.
"Shakespeare Unplugged" is how the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express describes its versions of the canon. The group, which was started six years ago by a professor and student at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, thinks that Shakespeare's plays should be performed as they were in Shakespeare's time--with bright lights, no scene changes (there's no scenery), a minimum of props, and no intermission. The changes result in a normal running time of "two hours' traffic on our stage," as the line from Romeo and Juliet goes. The group tours incessantly, putting on 220 performances in 30 states this year. It'll be in repertory at the Theatre Building, 1225 W. Belmont, through August 21, doing a total of 18 performances of The Taming of the Shrew, Othello, and Much Ado About Nothing, which opens the residency tonight at 8. Tix are $20 and $17; matinees are $12; call 327-5252 for more.
Starting today through next Monday, a pair of Polish tall ships is docked at Navy Pier. For $5 you can tour both the Pogoria and the Zawisza Czarny; the Pogoria, 154 feet long, is said to be the largest boat with sails to dock in Chicago in nearly 20 years. The ships will be accompanied by a bevy of performers from around the world who will perform sea chanteys and other maritime entertainment on the pier for free. Performances will occur Thursday to Saturday from noon to 7. Navy Pier is at 600 E. Grand. Call 286-8686 for details.
"The family of nations is alive and well in Chicago," proclaim organizers of a thriving French conversation group, pointing to similar meetings for other languages. The group is proud to have no name, officers, dues, or rules; it just meets weekly to talk, nasally but delightfully. The group has a new home: Rio, 546 N. Wells, where it meets Wednesday nights from 6 to 11 PM to practice French and swap French newspapers, magazines, and videos. It's free. Call Patrick Cooper at 335-8048 for more.
Retired University of Illinois prof Chet Long has taught a lot of things: literature, theater, jet airplane maintenance--the usual stuff. He's also a director and actor, has managed a Latin-jazz fusion band, and writes poetry. This last avocation, influenced by the time he spent living in Japan and Korea, will be on display tonight at a poetry reading at the Guild Complex at the HotHouse. Long's performance follows an open mike at 7:30 at the club, 1565 N. Milwaukee; it's $4, $2 for open mikers. Call 278-2210.
Two noted local jazz artists are playing for free at Tower Records tonight. Jackie Allen, a chanteuse and songwriter, has a new record out on the local Lake Shore Jazz label, Never Let Me Go. Its title song has gained a fair amount of national radio airplay. The Jeff Stitely Quartet, which also records for Lake Shore Jazz, is a fave rave at 'BEZ and recently appeared at the Autunno Musicale Festival in Como, Italy. Tower is at 2301 N. Clark. Call 477-5994 for more. The performance starts at 6.