It Came From the Neo-Futurarium XII, In the Soundless Awe, and six more new stage shows | Performing Arts Feature | Chicago Reader

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It Came From the Neo-Futurarium XII, In the Soundless Awe, and six more new stage shows

The Neo-Futurists' takes on camp classics and the evocation of a torpedoed WWII ship are among this week's best bets.

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Going to a Place Where You Already Are A couple of years ago, the Pew Research Center confirmed that the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans has risen significantly over the last decade. For a culture that already isn't great at having conversations about end-of-life issues, that's just a further wrench in how folks emotionally prepare for the inevitable. With shades of Calderón's 17th-century allegory Life Is a Dream, Bekah Brunstetter's 2016 drama follows an avowed atheist couple's spiritual splintering after Roberta (Kathleen Ruhl) receives a stage 4 cancer diagnosis. Her newfound faith is met with passive discomfort from her granddaughter and—inexplicably—totally unsympathetic condescension and a sense of personal betrayal from her husband. Matt Hawkins's Redtwist Theatre production makes a clear-eyed case for faith even if Brunstetter's script relies too heavily on a straw man to do it. —Dan Jakes

The Greatest One Man Show of All Time: An Ensemble Piece - KYLA DOETCH
  • Kyla Doetch
  • The Greatest One Man Show of All Time: An Ensemble Piece

The Greatest One Man Show of All Time: An Ensemble Piece Dylan Doetch's one-man show is actually a show about several Dylans, each a clone of the original. So the joke, of course, is that this hour-long romp isn't about one man at all. The dodge is creative, less so the gags, which feel awfully familiar. What starts as an autobiographical story about moving to the big city turns into a James Bond-like thriller as a rogue clone goes full world-domination-mode, threatening to kill its host's body and take over the show altogether. Meanwhile, time travel makes its way into the mix, and it all happens via the space-time continuum with one notable cameo: Austin Powers meets Back to the Future? Doetch is a clever writer, and he seems to revel in pop culture. It's all in good fun, but the clone conceit gets old as it's replicated again and again. —Matt de la Peña

Akvavit Theatre's Hitler on the Roof - KARL CLIFTON-SODERSTROM
  • Karl Clifton-Soderstrom
  • Akvavit Theatre's Hitler on the Roof

Hitler on the Roof Danish playwright Rhea Leman’s expressionistic 2011 one-act traps an unrepentant, undead Joseph Goebbels in Hitler’s subterranean bunker, where he sings, dances, kvetches, and broadcasts Nazi propaganda. Eventually a decrepit Leni Riefenstahl shows up, playing the simpering sexpot in an unaccountable effort to reunite Goebbels with the six children he murdered before committing suicide in 1945. Pitting these morally atrophied souls against each other in the underworld should generate a theatrical firestorm, but Leman and this Akvavit Theatre production play it safe, content to belabor the obvious dangers of 20th-century fascism with equally obvious nods to contemporary nationalistic fervor. Directors Kirstin Franklin and Amber Robinson struggle to keep their cast in the same play; Amy Gorelow’s frenetic Goebbels is a one-dimensional cartoon, while Jay Torrence’s smoldering Riefenstahl is a multilayered clown. —Justin Hayford

Saltbox Theatre Collective's In the Soundless Awe - AARON BEAN CINEMA
  • Aaron Bean Cinema
  • Saltbox Theatre Collective's In the Soundless Awe

[Recommended] In the Soundless Awe Saltbox Theatre Collective's production team create a minimalist visual feast for this 85-minute fantasia on the 1945 sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the subsequent mental torment for court-martialed captain Charles McVay. With only a shallow pool of water, one piece of rope, a few lights, and simple projections, they paint alluring images of terror, tedium, heroism, hubris, and above all, paranoia. Director Brian Fruits enhances their design with graceful formal blocking, his eight cast members morphing effortlessly from one hallucinogenic moment to the next. The script, by Jayme McGhan and Andy Pederson, lingers too long on Hollywood war tropes, ultimately shedding little light on the traumatic event or McVay's ultimate demise. Still, the intoxicating imagery gives even the most cliched moments an epic sweep. —Justin Hayford

Julie Williams in It Came From the Neo-Futurarium XII - ICFTNF
  • ICFTNF
  • Julie Williams in It Came From the Neo-Futurarium XII

[Recommended] It Came From the Neo-Futurarium XII: Dawn of the Neo-Futurarium Nobody said it would be easy, but 12 years down the line, the Neo-Futurists are still out there bringing Chicago and its adjacent territories the finest in staged readings of terrible movie scripts. This year's series begins with Caged!, a forgotten 1950 noir about a women's prison. It seems to have not altogether awesomely been a propaganda movie about how going to jail makes you a lesbian, and the Neo-Futurarian rendition featured radiant off-the-cuff work from Ida Cuttler and the always-excellent Julie Williams, whom I've enjoyed in a number of storefront shows since last year. Next up is Face/Off (1997), which I actually like, followed by Suspiria (1977), and then the made-for-TV movie about venereal disease Someone I Touched (1975). Special mention must go to Dina Walters, whose preview for Face/Off was sublime. —Max Maller

Cor Theatre's Late Company - MATTHEW GREGORY HOLLIS
  • Matthew Gregory Hollis
  • Cor Theatre's Late Company

[Recommended] Late Company The knives come out before hors d'oeuvres are even served at the dinner party in Cor Theatre's midwest premiere of Jordan Tannehill's lacerating meditation on loss and forgiveness. A year after their gay teen son's suicide, his parents invite the family of a classmate who tormented him over in an attempt to heal and move on with their lives. But no one in the dining room trusts anyone else's motives, and it becomes clear that the grown-ups barely knew the boy, while his classmate will never reveal the extent of their relationship. Despite one crucial plot point which strains belief, this is a tense and at times devastating study of the limits of parents' understanding of their children. Jessica Fisch directed.
—Dmitry Samarov

Urban Theater Company's Water + Power - ANTHONY AICARD
  • Anthony Aicard
  • Urban Theater Company's Water + Power

[Recommended] Water + Power In his 2006 drama, revived here by Urban Theater Company, Chicano playwright Richard Montoya uses a mixture of dramatic styles—the gritty noir realism of TV, movies, and graphic novels and a much more mystical magic realism (one brother is haunted by a spirit animal, who appears throughout the play)—to tell the story of two Latino brothers, one a rogue police officer, the other a sell-out politician. Sometimes intriguing, sometimes just confusing, this hybrid style ultimately redeems Montoya's tale, saving it from its occasional lapses into the worn tropes of TV police dramas, and giving the author room to create rich, layered, complicated characters. A less capable director might have gotten lost in Montoya's material; Richard Perez's simple, powerful production brings out its best. Ivan Vega is particularly stellar as the conflicted cop. —Jack Helbig

The Winter's Tale - COURTESY HONEST THEATRE
  • Courtesy Honest Theatre
  • The Winter's Tale

The Winter's Tale Since winter stock isn’t a thing, summertime’s as good a time as any to be putting on a production of The Winter’s Tale. Honest Theatre does Shakespeare’s late romance as a five-hander in 90 minutes, with cuts deeper than a Republican budget and a dinky movable set made of tulle and some PVC pipe. Britain Willcock is less compelling as Leontes—a jealous king who wrecks his family by suspecting his faithful queen, Hermione (Kelly Helgeson), of adultery—than he is as the unnamed Shepherd, who finds a baby girl lying next to some money on the beach, figures he’s rich, and lets his sheep run away. There was a scene so short on bodies that Martin Diaz-Valdes had to play both sides of an argument, which I loved. —Max Maller

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