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The Actors' Gang

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I hear that LA is not the most hospitable town for theater. The cost of living is high. The audiences are sparse. And it's hard to keep a good ensemble together for a full run--you never know when someone will be offered a plum role in a movie or sitcom. Still, when you have that many actors milling around, some are bound to band together. The Actors' Gang--founded a decade ago by Tim Robbins and a group of LA colleagues--has often been compared to John Cusack's old Chicago-based company, the New Criminals: both had reputations for gutsy, intense, not always polished performances. And the Actors' Gang brings two plays to "New Play 2000" that have clearly been created in this spirit, their rawness perhaps a response to LA's famed slickness. A Fairy Tale is a camp retelling of the Hansel and Gretel story that revels in the sight of two large, somewhat awkward men behaving as if they were lithe, light adolescent dancers. Four Roses begins as a very actorly recitation of Tennessee Williams's most beautiful monologues for women but quickly devolves into a touchy-feely recovery-movement-style wallow in narcissistic, self-indulgent self-exposure. Some might find this a profaning of Williams's work--it is. But there are moments that are liberating--as when one woman describes the paradox of being larger than society's emaciated Ally McBeal ideal and still feeling sexy. Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division, Chicago, 773-486-7767. Opens Thursday, June 8, with Four Roses at 8 PM. Through June 18: Four Roses plays Thursdays and Fridays at 8 PM, Saturdays at 10 PM, and Sundays at 3 PM; A Fairy Tale plays Fridays at 10:30 PM, Saturdays at 3 and 8 PM, and Sundays at 7 PM. $20. --Jack Helbig

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