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The School for Lies, At the Table, and seven more new stage shows to see now

A spritely update of the Molière classic and a revival of Broken Nose Theatre's hit are among this week's best bets.

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Alone, With Friends Steve (Jonathan Rivera), the awkward star of Lee Peters's new play, is gay, lonely, and miserable. He's always around straight boys (he feels safe with them) but he wants to know—are they really his friends? Is Alex (Ben Page) a friend, or do they just hang out? Conveniently, they're both getting over breakups; but trading bong rips in Alex's gross apartment and brooding over mayonnaise sandwiches about how their exes could possibly have left them doesn't feel all that genuine. How about Greg (Henry Steinken), that jock from Steve's fraternity who just keeps handing Steve his ass in beer pong? Or David (Chris Lysy), who's always showing up at the bar—cute, secretly gay, perhaps, so possibly? Searching for stable definitions of friendship in unstable times, it's a wistful and funny play, if occasionally dull. —Max Maller

At the Table - COURTESY BROKEN NOSE THEATRE
  • Courtesy Broken Nose Theatre
  • At the Table

[Recommended] At the Table Michael Perlman's brilliant 2015 dramedy is the sort of aural masterpiece that would feel at home in the lineup at LA Theatre Works' Radio Theatre series, which streams top-tier performances of language-driven theater. A group of thirtysomething friends gather, sans social media, in a vacation country house over the course of two weekends one year apart. Over whiskey and hits off a weed pen, Robert Altman-style conversations play out about privilege, growing pains, relationships, politics, and good ol' existential dread. Back in February, when Broken Nose Theatre and director Spenser Davis debuted the show's current iteration, I was too caught up in how astute and prescient it was to appreciate just how blisteringly funny it is. Though Perlman's script has the goods to be great over many productions, audiences would do well to see it now with Echaka Agba. —Dan Jakes

Marriott Theatre's The Bridges of Madison County - LIZ LAUREN
  • Liz Lauren
  • Marriott Theatre's The Bridges of Madison County

The Bridges of Madison County Some things work in Marriott's revival of the 2014 musical adaptation of Robert James Waller's 1992 best-selling romance novel, about an affair between an unfulfilled wife and a rootless National Geographic photographer. The casting, performances, and staging are strong—Kathy Voytko is outstanding as the heroine, and Jeffrey D. Kmiec's set design is brilliant. But the story, adapted by Marsha Norman from Waller's novel, takes way too long to unfold, then feels rushed at the end as Norman and songwriter Jason Robert Brown try to squeeze a couple decades of the character's lives into about 20 minutes of stage time. Likewise, Brown's score, though intelligent and accomplished (it won multiple Tony awards in 2014), is oddly cold and unmemorable. —Jack Helbig

[Recommended] The Chiraq Wall Chicago civic order has collapsed. Finn and Cutter, fending their way through an abandoned city walled off from the rest of the nation and patrolled by sadistic federal police and marauding gangs, first attack each other, then team up in an effort to find a way out. Playwright and director Jeff Newman's dystopic one-act is the sort that invites testosterone-fueled overacting, but fortunately Newman and company play things tight to the vest (except during multiple eruptions of terrifically unconvincing stage violence), resulting in a thoughtful, tense, and occasionally philosophical pulp fantasy. Though there's some irony overkill via a roving madman quoting various American presidents between scenes, the story avoids easy moralizing and overwrought symbology, ultimately asking us to ponder interpersonal responsibility in an amoral world. —Justin Hayford

Drury Lane's The Gin Game - BRETT BEINER
  • Brett Beiner
  • Drury Lane's The Gin Game

The Gin Game S.L. Colburn's 1977 two-act two-hander, about two prickly senior citizens who forge a friendship of sorts while playing gin in a retirement community, is by turns funny, moving, and way too drawn-out. Even when performed by top-flight eminences of a certain age—Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy in the 70s, Charles Durning and Julie Harris in the 90s—the play drags and disappoints. Here it's performed by Chicago stalwarts (and real-life married couple) Paula Scrofano and John Reeger and directed by Ross Lehman, but while the actors comedy and heart into the thin material, all their sweet, quirky sparking only makes the play's rough, unresolved ending seem all the more a cop-out. —Jack Helbig

Luz Estrada - COURTESY MERCY STREET THEATRE COMPANY
  • Courtesy Mercy Street Theatre Company
  • Luz Estrada

Luz Estrada Mercy Street Theatre Company’s final show of its third season puts the focus squarely on Luz Estrada (Valeria Rosero), an aspiring lawyer turned sheriff whose family is killed by a nefarious Mexican drug cartel. The setup is ripe for this strong female heroine to inflict serious revenge, in part by mobilizing the town’s women to refuse sex. But the problem with resident playwright Dusty Wilson’s contemporaneous telling of Lysistrata is that it can’t decide whether it’s pushing comedy, drama, or something more unseemly—I’m thinking specifically of a fistfight pitting two grown men against a petite woman that ends with an attempted joke and a climactic scene that elicits shock, disbelief, and even snickers from the audience. Mutilation shouldn’t be that funny. —Matt de la Peña

Macguire: Too Hot for TV Brother comedy duo Matt and Ryan Kappmeyer devise a channel surfing-inspired sketch show that, in their words, "feels like you’ve given the remote control to your stoner cousin." They're not wrong, in that a stoner cousin seems to be in charge of all of the scenes' endings as well as most of the technical aspects of the show. Musician Dave Matthews responds to a late-night host's questions with song riffs; hyperaggressive sales managers give a pep talk; a Five Hour Energy-addicted man wakes up Memento-style in a motel room. Both Ryan and Matt share a wry, droll straight-man sensibility best showcased in a laugh-out-loud-good recurring bit that mocks small-state tourism bureau ads. The rest would be funnier if the ideas were fully baked as opposed to just . . . baked. —Dan Jakes

The Portrait of Dorian Gray - COURTESY RUNAWAYS LAB THEATRE
  • Courtesy Runaways Lab Theatre
  • The Portrait of Dorian Gray

The Portrait of Dorian Gray In Oscar Wilde's 1890 novel, innocent young Dorian descends into decadence and depravity even as he ascends London's social ladder. His moral ugliness fails to leave a physical mark, though, because the titular portrait has somehow absorbed his soul. All his grotesqueness registers there, leaving his outward persona deceptively perfect. Runaways Lab Theatre deserves kudos for recognizing how well the tale aligns with social-media culture, where your brand so easily overwhelms your being. Yet this 70-minute adaptation plays like a rough draft for the show that might be. As devised by Olivia Lilley and the ensemble, it lacks clarity and velocity while, strangely, failing to make real use of the technology around which it revolves. The portrait itself consists of nothing more than a couple transparencies seen through an overhead projector. Peter Wilde is tart and Jojo Brown sweet in supporting roles (I'd like to see a version with Brown in the lead), but Dorothy Humphrey doesn't push convincingly past innocence as Dorian. —Tony Adler

The Artistic Home's The School for Lies - JOE MAZZA
  • Joe Mazza
  • The Artistic Home's The School for Lies

[Recommended] The School for Lies Molière, in his 1666 comedy The Misanthrope, skewered the hypocrisies of French aristocratic society. David Ives, in his giddily unfaithful 2011 adaptation of Molière's masterpiece, packs so many impudent anachronisms into his nonsensical 17th-century France (Frank, the updated misanthrope, detests, for starters, "fat fucks in flip-flops") that no coherent social order remains. Thus it's never clear why this coterie of do-nothings hang together, whether they fit into any pecking order, or how their private notes put them in great legal jeopardy. The performances alone carry the day, and in director Kathy Scambiatterra's spritely but overlong staging for Artistic Home, they're mostly delightful, and none more so than Brookelyn Hébert's unimpeachable Eliante. She's mouse, lion, virgin, slattern, doormat, and dominatrix in equally intoxicating doses. —Justin Hayford

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