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Friday 11/27 - Thursday 12/3

NOVEMBER

By Cara Jepsen

27 FRIDAY If you've ever looked up in the Aragon Ballroom and thought the starry ceiling looked familiar, it's probably because you've been to the Music Box. Both north-side venues were designed by the same architect--John Eberson--whose atmospheric touches were meant to recall a garden courtyard. The decor of his 1927 Avalon Theatre (now the New Regal Theater) at 79th and Stony Island even included flying doves and bubbling fountains. Why all the ornamentation? If the movie was bad, you could always look at the walls. You can check out a large-scale replica of the old Avalon at the American Movie Palace Museum's holiday open house today from 11 to 4. The museum is on the second floor of the old York Theatre building, 152 N. York in Elmhurst (630-782-1800). It's free.

28 SATURDAY Anyone who regularly listens to National Public Radio has heard David Sedaris's wry essay "The SantaLand Diaries," about the suffering he endured during his stint as an elf at Macy's. And any self-respecting Sedaris fan has read "Season's Greetings to Our Friends and Family!!!," a hyperbolic take on the holiday newsletter in which the narrator cheerfully describes her family's disintegration after an illegitimate daughter shows up on their doorstep. In 1996 the two pieces were adapted for the stage by Joe Mantello (who directed Love! Valour! Compassion! on Broadway), and now they've come to Chicago. But don't expect two actors mimicking Sedaris's deadpan delivery. "These are fully fleshed-out characters who each visit the darker side of the holidays and end up emerging in a totally different place," says codirector Shade Murray. The final preview of The SantaLand Diaries is at 8 tonight (it opens tomorrow and runs through December 28) at About Face Theatre, 3212 N. Broadway. Call 773-549-7943 for tickets, which are $12.

29 SUNDAY Lookingglass Theatre Company's current production of Metamorphoses, based on the stories of the Roman poet Ovid, features Midas as a modern-day businessman and a Phaeton who whiles away his time next to a Beverly Hills swimming pool. Today director Mary Zimmerman will discuss the play (which has been extended through January 6) and the life of Ovid at a preperformance symposium from 2 to 4:30 at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport; admission is $8. Metamorphoses will then be performed at 5 at the Ivanhoe Theater, 750 W. Wellington; tickets for that cost $15 to $25.50. Another discussion follows at Matilda's, 3101 N. Sheffield. It's free for people with ticket stubs ($8 without) and includes hors d'oeuvres. Call 773-477-9257, ext. 103, to reserve a spot at the discussions, 773-975-7171 for tickets to the play.

30 MONDAY When some people think of retirement, they picture world tours or a place in the country. Others worry about the collapse of social security and a dreary existence in an inner-city SRO. One way to ensure our last years are more comfortable is to plan ahead. Some ideas can be found in Retire Rich: The Baby Boomer's Guide to a Secure Future, a comprehensive, plainspoken how-to that takes into consideration changes in the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997. Author Bambi Holzer, who is a senior vice president of investments with PaineWebber, will hand out a few pearls of wisdom tonight at 7 at the Chicago Public Library's Lincoln Park branch, 1150 W. Fullerton (312-744-1926). It's free.

DECEMBER

1 TUESDAY As it is every year on World AIDS Day, the Cultural Center's GAR Rotunda will be filled with empty chairs and unfinished artwork. Throughout the day musicians, vocalists, actors, writers, and dancers will present 15-minute performances followed by 45 minutes of silence. Today's roster includes John Vorrasi, Alexandra Billings, Tomas de Utrera, and E. Donald Two-Rivers, who will dedicate his poetry reading to his late brother-in-law, Michael Moser. A Day Without Art: Reflections is from 11 to 6 at the Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington (312-744-6630). It's free.

British high tea takes place in the late afternoon and consists of "terribly dainty sandwiches, which of course you must eat with the little finger cocked," says Sylvia Brown of the Ragdale Foundation, the artists' retreat in Lake Forest. There are also little cakes, scones, and of course tea. Today the foundation will kick off a series of high tea holiday readings called Sonnets of the Season with an appearance by Evanston-based writer Nina Barrett, who'll read from The Girls: A True Story of Lifelong Friendship. The book, which follows five women from their 1950s girlhood through marriages, children, divorces, careers, and new relationships, has been likened to a modern-day, real-life version of Mary McCarthy's The Group. Barrett will read at 4 at Conway Farms Golf Club, 425 Conway Farms Drive in Lake Forest. It's $20; call 847-234-1063 to reserve a spot.

2 WEDNESDAY Few people know about Columbia College's unique fiction-writing workshop, in which the instructor throws out ideas and the students come up with images based on them. Some connect the images and turn them into books. That's what the three alums at tonight's free Story Week Festival of Writers event did. They include Yan Geling, author of Inner Space, Joe Meno, who wrote the coming-of-age-in-a-trailer-park novel Tender as Hellfire, and Don Gennaro De Grazia, author of the upcoming American Skin, about a boy who's a member of a Chicago gang of "good" skinheads. They'll read at 7 at Columbia College's Ferguson Theater, 600 S. Michigan. This week's festival also includes appearances by Bharati Mukherjee, April Sinclair, and Henry Louis Gates Jr. Call 312-344-7615 for more information.

3 THURSDAY There are no hard-and-fast rules about what makes an unconstitutional marriage of church and state, but it's been established that a government-owned creche sitting all by itself on government-owned property is a no-no--especially when the American Civil Liberties Union gets involved. Tonight representatives from the local chapter will explain the issues that are at stake, and why they continue to take such an unpopular stance, at a free public discussion called Creched Out: Is ACLU the Grinch? It takes place from 5:30 to 7 at the United Methodist Church, 77 W. Washington. Call 312-201-9740, ext. 405, for more.

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