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As David Kodeski--the host of Live Bait's "Solo Sampler"--said last weekend, there was a time not long ago when you could swing a dead cat in Chicago and hit several monologuists. Those days are gone, but Live Bait artistic director Sharon Evans keeps the solo fires burning every summer with the Fillet of Solo Festival. The event is scaled back this year, running only three weeks (of which two remain) and featuring only one evening-length monologue, Edward Thomas-Herrera's Fun While It Lasted. But as a kind of compensation the "Solo Sampler"--previously a mixed bag of polished work and spotty rough drafts--is as solid a showcase as you're likely to see. The eight performers in the rotating roster offer ten-minute pieces, each as meticulous, human, and articulate as the next. Old pros like Kodeski, Susan Karp, and Stephanie Shaw set the standard, turning tiny personal anecdotes into meditations on mortality. But the newbies aren't far behind. Dan Telfer is hilarious and pathetic recounting his hapless attempts to become a marine biologist, and Robin Cline transforms a lecture-demonstration on the science of apologies into a brutal act of self-recrimination. But it's Columbia College student Cavan Hallman who turns the evening upside down: in his bewildering, beguiling piece, he perches atop a ladder to imitate an operatic bird, reminisce about his first role (in West Side Story), and wonder if he'll ever learn how to be a man. A mesmerizing and idiosyncratic performer, he skillfully manipulates ambiguity to render confusion tantalizing. Bucket space, Live Bait Theater, 3914 N. Clark, 773-871-1212. Friday-Saturday, August 6-7, 9 PM. Friday, August 13, 7:30 PM. $10.

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