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HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Agamemnon, European Repertory Company. Being at Choice, Factory Theater. Citizen Gates, Second City. The Clearing, Seanachai Theatre Company at the Theatre Building. Coffee Will Make You Black, City Lit Theater Company at Theatre on the Lake. The Cryptogram, Steppenwolf Studio Theatre. Doo Wop Shoo Bop, Black Ensemble Theater at the Mercury Theater. Forever Plaid, Royal George Theatre Center cabaret. Hats on Fire/Shoes on Fire, Die Hanswurste at the Annoyance Theatre. Having Our Say, Briar Street Theatre. Hellcab, Famous Door Theatre Company at the Ivanhoe Theater. In the Deep Heart's Core: A Mystic Cabaret, Kiltartan Road at Theatre on the Lake. Late Nite Catechism, Ivanhoe Theater. Night of the Mime, StreetSigns at the Griffin Theatre. The Secret of the Old Queen, Stage Left Theatre. Shannen Doherty Shoots a Porno: A Shockumentary, Torso Theatre. Show Boat, Auditorium Theatre. The Talisman Ring, Lifeline Theatre. The Thirst: A New Work for Jew and Clarinet, Blue Rider Theatre. Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, Neo-Futurarium. Also: The Hick, the Spic, and the Chick, Strawdog Theatre Company; The Trips: A Madras Parable, Curious Theatre Branch at Steppenwolf Studio Theatre (see listings under Performance).

OPENINGS

American Tabloid, Keyhole Productions at Bailiwick Arts Center, 7/12. Desdemona--A Play About a Handkerchief, Thunder Road Ensemble at Victory Gardens, 7/12. Life in the Trees, SummerNITE at Bailiwick Arts Center, 7/12. The Miss Firecracker Contest, Saint Sebastian Players at Saint Bonaventure Church, 7/12. Plan 9 From Outer Space, Sweetback Productions at Famous Door, 7/12. Summer Shorts '96, Neo-Futurarium, 7/12. Wombat Man: Episodes 11 and 12, "The Rain of Terror" and "The Hellion From the Hills," National Pastime Theater, 7/12. Francesca da Rimini, Yugen Theatre at Footsteps Theatre, 7/13. Before I Disappear, Bailiwick Repertory, 7/16. In the Deep Heart's Core: A Mystic Cabaret, Kiltartan Road at Theatre on the Lake, 7/16. Loves Light in Flight, ETA Creative Arts Foundation, 7/18. What's My Problem?, Cafe Voltaire, 7/18. The Woolgatherer, Jughead Productions at Victory Gardens Studio Theater, 7/18. Also: The Bong Show, Transient Theatre, 7/13; Fez: A Performance Arena, Chicago Actors Ensemble, 7/18 (see listings under Performance). Also: Bailiwick Repertory's Directors Festival '96, Bailiwick Repertory, 7/15 (see sidebar listing).

FINAL DAYS

A Score to Settle, Live Bait Theater, closes 7/12. Hats on Fire/Shoes on Fire, Annoyance Theatre, 7/12. As the Mascara Runs, Bailiwick Repertory, 7/13. Criminal Hearts, Strawdog Theatre Company, 7/13. Devour the Moon, Live Bait Theater, 7/13. Girl to Be Named Later, Ma'at Production Association of Afrikan Centered Theatre at Victory Gardens Studio Theater, 7/13. Hour Town, Stage Left Theatre, 7/13. Blakk Love (Storeez of a Darker Hue), Chameleon Productions at Preston Bradley Center for the Arts, 7/14. Cleopatra's Sex Manual and The Brooklyn Bridge's Sale, JDM Players at Cafe Voltaire, 7/14. The Dresser, Apple Tree Theatre, 7/14. The Story of Ferdinand, Lifeline Theatre, 7/14. Chapman, Cafe Voltaire, 7/16. Self Torture and Strenuous Exercise and Springtime, Cafe Voltaire, 7/18.

By Albert Williams

Performing arts listings are compiled from information available Monday; since performance schedules are subject to change on short notice, readers are advised to call ahead to confirm information. In addition to the base prices given here, many venues offer special discounts for students, children, senior citizens, the disabled, and armed forces personnel, as well as group rates, preshow rush discounts, subscription and membership rates, dinner-show packages, benefit performances, promotional specials, free actors nights, and reduced-price previews; on the other hand, some charge additional fees for telephone or box-office service. Details should be confirmed when you order tickets. • The League of Chicago Theatres operates Hot Tix booths that sell tickets to participating productions at a substantial discount plus a service charge; the catch is you have to stop by a booth to find out what shows are on sale that day (the booths also offer full-price tickets through Ticketmaster). Booths are located in Chicago at 108 N. State; Chicago Place, 700 N. Michigan (sixth floor); and Tower Records, 2301 N. Clark. Booths are also located in the suburbs: in Evanston at the city parking garage, 1616 Sherman; in Schaumburg at Tower Records, 1209 E. Golf Rd.; and in Bloomingdale at Tower Records, 383 W. Army Trail Rd. For hours of operation and other information, call 977-1755.

Agamemnon

British director Steven Berkoff penned this ritualistic, updated, highly physical adaptation of Aeschylus' tragedy about the Trojan War hero murdered by his vengeful wife. Dale Goulding's taut, well-cast staging suggests both archaic ritual and absurdist anarchy by juxtaposing the poetic text with enigmatic, eloquent passages of mime, dance, and martial-arts movement. Agamemnon captures a sense of moral outrage as well as the sheer fascination of one of mythology's most enduring horror tales. European Repertory Company, Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ, Baird Hall, 615 W. Wellington (courtyard entrance), 248-0577. Open run: Fridays-Saturdays, 8 PM. $15.

Aladdin

Marionettes perform the Persian tale of a poor lad who wins the love of the sultan's daughter with the aid of a magic genie. Puppet Parlor, 1922 W. Montrose, 774-2919. Through September 15: Saturdays-Sundays, 2 PM. $5; "reservations required."

Aladdin and His Lamp

Marc Robin adapted this children's theater version of the in-genie-ous legend. Drury Lane Dinner Theatre, 2500 W. 95th, Evergreen Park, 708-422-0404. Through July 26: selected Mondays-Fridays, 10:30 AM; selected Sundays, noon (call for weekly schedule). $5.50 on weekdays; weekends, $7.50, $6.50 for children.

American Divine: The Spirit

Scenes from "The Spirit," the first and best part of Dolphinback Theatre Company's trilogy American Divine, are performed as part of a benefit for the production's upcoming engagement at the Edinburgh [Scotland] Festival Fringe. Directed by Matt Tauber and beautifully acted in its original run last fall, "The Spirit" consists of short plays by Joe Pintauro connected by the theme of death and transcendence. This program of selections features live music by Joe Cerqua. Famous Door Theatre Company, Jane Addams Center Hull House, 3212 N. Broadway, 271-2709. Monday, July 15, 7:30 PM. $20 (includes refreshments).

American Tabloid

Keyhole Productions presents writer-director Charles Bila's satire on contemporary culture and "our obsession with the sick and twisted." Bailiwick Arts Center, 1229 W. Belmont, 883-1090. Opens Friday, July 12, 10:30 PM (preceded by reception at 10 PM). Through August 3: Fridays, 10:30 PM; Saturdays, 8:30 and 10:30 PM. $11.

Annie Get Your Gun

The Summer Place community theater presents Irving Berlin and Herbert and Dorothy Fields's musical comedy about Annie Oakley, the backwoods sharpshooter who learns that there's no business like show business. Naperville Central High School auditorium, 440 W. Aurora (at West St.), Naperville, 708-355-7969. July 12 through 28: Fridays-Saturdays, 8 PM; Sundays, 2 PM. $12; $5 for children.

The Armando Diaz Experience, Theatrical Movement & Hootenanny

This program of comic improvisation features veterans of Lois Kaz, Jazz Freddy, Second City, the Family, and other improv troupes; ImprovOlympic alumni who've been co-opted by TV are expected to drop in periodically as well. "Every time I think nothing new can be done with long-form improvisation, a show comes along to remind me just how inspired and entertaining pure improv can be," says Reader critic Jack Helbig. ImprovOlympic, 3541 N. Clark, 880-0199. Open run: Mondays, 8:30 PM. $7.

Arsenic and Old Lace

Joseph Kesselring's venerable farce concerns a family of murderers trying to keep their crimes secret from one another. Riverfront Playhouse, 11-13 South Water Street Mall, Aurora, 708-896-7144. Through July 13: Fridays-Saturdays, 8 PM. $10; $6 for children.

As the Mascara Runs

This soap-opera spoof focuses on two couples, one gay and one lesbian, as they face a multitude of personal and political crises. Writer-director Ed Basden's comedy is offered as part of the gay- and lesbian-oriented Pride Performance Series '96. Reader critic Lawrence Bommer calls the show "85 minutes of unreconstructed stereotypes [whose] formulas could be borne . . . if the writing weren't lame." Bailiwick Repertory, Bailiwick Arts Center, 1229 W. Belmont, 883-1090. Through July 13: Fridays-Saturdays, 11 PM. $15.

As We Like It:

Shakespeare in Your Face

The Free Associates bait the Bard, improvising a Shakespearean spoof from audience suggestions. "Though no one would ever have confused the improvisation with the real thing, . . . there was more than enough inspiration and energy to keep things merry and light," says Reader critic Jack Helbig. Ivanhoe Theater, 750 W. Wellington, 975-7171. Through July 27: Saturdays, 10:30 PM. $10. A $30 pass offers admission to any six performances in the Free Associates' "Strut & Fret" summer theater series, which also includes: Chicago on the Rocks; Divamatic; The Greatest Story Never Told; Mary, Me; and Road Show (see separate listings).

As You Like It

Shakespeare's pastoral romance is performed by the Inclusive Theatre in an outdoors setting. Port Clinton Square, Robert M. Buhai Plaza, 600 Central, Highland Park, 871-3963, ext. 5. Saturday, July 13, noon. Free.

Balm in Gilead

Lanford Wilson's portrait of urban outcasts is presented in a student production. College of DuPage Arts Center, Theatre 2, 22nd and Park, Glen Ellyn, 708-942-4000. Preview Friday, July 12, 8 PM. $5. Opens Saturday, July 13, 8 PM. Through July 27: Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 PM; Sundays, 7 PM. $8.

Bang Bang

"Bang Bang, with its discipline and considerable wit . . . consists of a core group of some of Chicago's finest actors," says Reader critic Tim Sheridan of this improv-comedy ensemble. "But the real star of the show is the nerve and spirit of exploration that every member of the group displays." No Exit Cafe, 6970 N. Glenwood, 743-3355. Open run: Wednesdays, 10:45 PM. $2. The price includes admission to In One Ear (see separate listing under Performance) earlier the same evening.

The Bat

This vintage thriller by Mary Roberts Rinehart and Avery Hopwood is directed by Rodney Higginbotham. Northeastern Illinois University, Stage Center, 5500 N. Saint Louis, 794-6652. July 11 through 27: Thursdays-Saturdays, 7:30 PM. $8; $4 for children.

Before I Disappear

Alexandra Billings's autobiographical musical recounts her transformation from suburban boy to professional female impersonator to self-invented woman. It's offered as part of the gay- and lesbian-oriented Pride Performance Series '96. Bailiwick Repertory, Bailiwick Arts Center, 1229 W. Belmont, 883-1090. Opens Tuesday, July 16, 8 PM. Through August 14: Tuesdays-Wednesdays, 8 PM. $15.

Being at Choice

Michael Meredith's new comedy concerns a group of people in a self-help seminar. This "loud, crass, hilarious parody . . . contains more laughs per minute than any show I've seen in a long, long time. . . . This is not a brilliant or particularly ambitious play. A few moments are sappy, some of the jokes don't work or are in bad taste, and the structure is . . . essentially a series of sketches. . . . But the characters' responses are so unexpected and amusing and the performances so right on the money that Meredith's simple approach is never bothersome," says Reader critic Adam Langer. Factory Theater, 1257 W. Loyola, 274-1345. Through August 24: Fridays-Saturdays, 9:30 PM. $7. Tickets are $10 for both Being at Choice and Win, Place or Show (see separate listing) the same night.

The Best Little

Whorehouse in Texas

Carol Hall, Larry L. King, and Peter Masterson's musical is based on the true story of a down-home bordello that became the center of political controversy. "Ripe with cornpone humor and country songs, [this is a] joyous revival," says Reader critic Lawrence Bommer. Marriott's Lincolnshire Theatre, Route 21 (Milwaukee Ave.), Lincolnshire, 847-634-0200. Through August 18: Wednesdays, 2 and 8 PM; Thursdays-Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 5:30 and 9 PM; Sundays, 2:30 and 7 PM. $33; dinner-show packages available; regular ticket price includes a free steak or fish dinner most Thursdays.

Bite

Denise La Grassa plays multiple characters in this "poetic jam of streetwise satirical social geopolitical jive." Bop Shop, 1807 W. Division, 235-3232. Open run: Tuesdays, 7 PM. $4.

Blakk Love

(Storeez of a Darker Hue)

Chameleon Productions' theater piece draws on stories and poems by local black writers, including Tsehaye Hebert, Quraysh Ali, Tyehimba Jess, Oscar Brown III, Emily Hooper, Glenda Baker, and Lisa Duncan. "[The] four storytellers and two musicians weave dance, melody, and narrative into a pageant of healing self-celebration," says Reader critic Mary Shen Barnidge. Preston Bradley Center for the Arts, 941 W. Lawrence (fifth floor), 275-4463. Through July 14: Fridays-Saturdays, 7:30 PM; Sundays, 5:30 PM. $10.

Blithe Spirit

Noel Coward's comedy concerns a man whose second marriage is threatened when he's haunted by his first wife's ghost. Stage Two Theatre, 410 Sheridan, Highwood, 847-432-7469. Through August 24: Thursdays, 7:30 PM; Fridays-Saturdays, 8 PM; Sundays, 3 PM. $15.

Boston Chicken Is Made

From People

The Neighbors, a seven-person improv ensemble directed by Jim Carrane, seek to combine a cappella music and scenes in this comedy show. Cafe Voltaire, 3231 N. Clark, 327-7071. Through July 13: Saturdays, 7 PM. $5. Then at Live Bait Theater, 3914 N. Clark, 235-8021. July 19 through July 27: Fridays-Saturdays, 8:30 PM. $7.

Brigadoon

Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's musical fantasy, about two New Yorkers who discover a magic village in the Scottish highlands, is directed by David Perkovich; Gordon Peirce Schmidt's choreography follows the original Agnes de Mille dances. "The plaid kilts are in full swirl in [this] sturdy revival of Lerner and Loewe's early hit," says Reader critic Lawrence Bommer. Candlelight Dinner Playhouse, 5620 S. Harlem, Summit, 708-496-3000. Through July 21: Wednesdays, 2 and 8:15 PM; Thursdays-Fridays, 8:15 PM; Saturdays, 4:15 and 9:30 PM; Sundays, 2:15 and 7:30 PM; Tuesday, July 16, 8:15 PM; Wednesday, July 17, 8 PM only. Lunch or dinner precedes each performance by approximately two hours. $25-$47.50 (includes dinner and tax); show only, $23.50-$34.50.

Brigadoon

The same, in a student production as part of Northwestern University's Summer Theatre Festival 1996, which also includes The Good Doctor (see separate listing) and the forthcoming The Barber of Seville. Northwestern University Theatre and Interpretation Center, Ethel M. Barber Theatre, 1979 South Campus Dr., Evanston, 847-491-7282. July 13 and 14: Saturday, 2 and 8 PM; Sunday, 2 PM. Then July 18 through 20: Thursday, 8 PM; Saturday, 2 and 8 PM. Then July 24 through 26: Wednesday, 2 PM; Friday, 8 PM. $20; $45 for subscriptions to the whole festival.

Bye Bye Birdie

Michael Stewart, Lee Adams, and Charles Strouse's 1960 musical--the first Broadway show to use rock songs--concerns a pop star's visit to a small midwestern town. It's presented by Wheeling Park Productions. Wheeling Park District Community Recreation Center, 333 W. Dundee, Wheeling, 847-465-3333. July 12 through 21: Fridays-Saturdays, 8 PM; Sundays, 3 PM. $10.

Camelot

Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's musical about the legend of King Arthur is based on T.H. White's epic novel The Once and Future King. Pheasant Run Dinner Theatre, 4051 E. Main (Route 64), Saint Charles, 708-584-6342. Through January 12: Thursdays-Fridays, 8:15 PM; Saturdays, 5:15 and 9:45 PM; Sundays, 2:15 PM and 7 PM. Lunch or dinner precedes each performance by approximately an hour and 15 minutes. $38-$45 (includes dinner, tax, and tip); show only, $20-$25.

Cannibal Cheerleaders on Crack

Billy Bermingham wrote and directed this long-running comedy about life in a hellish, reactionary future. "What distinguishes [this] satire from mere sophomoric irreverence is the seriousness with which . . . Bermingham and his company present their apocalyptic vision, . . . coupled with a manic energy and agility [that] keeps our attention focused on the message even while holographic strippers are masturbating with office machines, homeless people are being murdered for their organs, privileged citizens are dining on Clorox and third-world babies, and bodily fluids of all descriptions are spurting in fountains all over the stage. Not for the faint of heart--or weak of stomach--Cannibal Cheerleaders on Crack is a two-fisted farce that leaves no cultural taboo unviolated, no hypocritical demon unexorcised," says Reader critic Mary Shen Barnidge. Torso Theatre, 2827 N. Broadway, 549-3330. Open run: Fridays-Saturdays, 10:30 PM. $11. The same theater also presents Shannen Doherty Shoots a Porno: A Shockumentary (see separate listing).

Canus Lunis Balloonis

This comedy-drama by Christian Stolte, about a group of drinking buddies at a poker game, is presented in its world premiere. Reader critic Jack Helbig calls this "an all-male show that leans heavily on guy-play traditions to give the first act the appearance of depth and to try to cover up the enormously flawed second act . . . despite fine performances." A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells, 943-8722. Through July 21: Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 PM; Sundays, 7 PM. $12.50-$16.50.

Chapman

Timothy Hiatt plays John Lennon's assassin in this one-man show, set in New York during the days prior to the December 8, 1980, killing. "Hiatt neither demonizes nor deifies Chapman, but he never really convinces us that he's come to understand his subject in more than a superficial way. The result is a rather generic portrayal of a confused, profoundly depressed man who in some twisted way thought he was fighting for justice when in fact he was committing cold-blooded murder," says Reader critic Adam Langer. Cafe Voltaire, 3231 N. Clark, 348-4860. Through July 16: Mondays-Tuesdays, 7 PM. $7.

Chicago Dramatists Workshop Saturday Series

This near-weekly program features staged readings of works in progress. Scheduled for July 13: Going Up, John Green's theatrical concert about "what it means to truly be an artsy guy." Chicago Dramatists Workshop, 1105 W. Chicago, 633-0630. Open run: Saturdays, 2 PM. $3.

Chicago on the Rocks

Reader writer Neal Pollack penned this evening of monologues drawn from his journalism; it's offered as part of the Free Associates' summer series of new and old shows, "Strut & Fret." Ivanhoe Theater, 750 W. Wellington, 975-7171. Opens Thursday, July 11, 8:15 PM. Through July 26: Saturday, July 13, 8:15 PM; Wednesday, July 17, 8:15 PM; Sunday, July 21, 7:30 PM; Friday, July 26, 8:15 PM. $8. A "Strut & Fret" pass for $30 offers admission to any six performances in the series, which also includes: As We Like It: Shakespeare in Your Face; Divamatic; The Greatest Story Never Told; Mary, Me; and Road Show (see separate listings).

Chicago's Gangstertown

A dinner-theater revue evokes the Capone era. Chicago's Gangstertown, 9351 W. Irving Park, Schiller Park, 847-746-6863. Open run: Wednesdays-Thursdays, 7:30 PM; Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays-Sundays, 7 PM; additional matinee selected Wednesdays and Thursdays, noon (call for weekly schedule). $37.95-$47.95 (includes dinner, tax, and tip).

Chump Fiction

Joel Calderon's one-man show about a Chicago teenager who runs away to New York retells the story of the Prodigal Son in a modern setting. Calderon "has accomplished something extraordinary: he's recast an ancient myth in a hip-hop landscape without draining the story of resonance or reducing its spiritual aspect to irony or kitsch. . . . Chump Fiction is still a long way from a finished piece of theater. . . . But [Calderon's] remarkable, and remarkably raw, talent carries the evening," says Reader critic Justin Hayford. National Pastime Theater, 4139 N. Broadway, 929-3016. Through July 30: Mondays, 8 PM. $7.

The Clearing

British playwright Helen Edmundson penned this drama set in 17th-century Ireland, about an Englishman and his Irish wife torn by personal and political pressures. Kevin Theis directs the Seanachai Theatre Company in a U.S. premiere. This "is one of those rare productions that's entirely right in its larger-than-life, intensely intimate portrait of cultural dissolution [and] an affecting love story told with intelligence and passion," says Reader critic Carol Burbank. Theatre Building, 1225 W. Belmont, 327-5252. Through August 11: Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 PM; Sundays, 6:30 PM. $18-$22.

Cleopatra's Sex Manual and The Sale of the Brooklyn Bridge

The JDM Players perform two world premieres written and directed by Jovan Demetrius Milhailovic. The first concerns a search for an ancient diary of love-making; the second tells of a master swindler. The scripts "are a cornucopia of playwriting mistakes: unconvincing dialogue, uninteresting stories, unbelievable characters, incredibly predictable plot twists," says Reader critic Jack Helbig. Cafe Voltaire, 3231 N. Clark, 561-9215. Through July 14: Thursdays, 9 PM; Sundays, 4:30 PM. $10.

Clue, The Musical

Why would anyone go to see a stage version of the popular Parker Brothers whodunit board game? Either to have the fun of "playing" the game in a theatrical setting, or to sit back and marvel at the witty, clever material the game inspired. But this tepid, dull effort falls short on both counts. Despite a token nod to audience participation involving a few pre-selected individuals, viewers have little real involvement in the action; and while the music by Galen Blum, Wayne Barker, and Vinnie Martucci is competent and interestingly arranged, Peter DePietro's script and Tom Chiodo's lyrics are functional at best and dumb at worst. Organic Theater Company, main stage, 3319 N. Clark, 327-5588. Through September 1: Wednesdays, 2 and 8 PM; Thursdays-Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 5 and 8 PM; Sundays, 3 and 7 PM. $24.50-$34.50; $15 for children; "Summer Sunday Family Special" available.

Coed Prison Sluts

"The secret to Coed Prison Sluts . . . is that it's a carefully constructed satire masquerading as an artless mess. Faith Soloway's hilarious, well-written songs artfully mate sweet, sappy, very pop tunes . . . with taboo-breaking lyrics. . . . Likewise, the screwy plot . . . wittily marries the cliches of prison movies [with] those of old-fashioned musical comedies," says Reader critic Jack Helbig of this long-running show. Annoyance Theatre, 3747 N. Clark, 929-6200. Open run: Fridays-Saturdays, 10:31 PM. $10.

Coffee Will Make You Black

City Lit Theater Company presents Michael A. Shepperd's stage version of April Sinclair's book about a black girl in the late 1960s learning about identity, sex, love, and personal integrity. "In [this] compelling adaptation, City Lit reveals the extraordinary theatricality of literature and ordinary life. . . . Andrea Dymond's direction, like Shepperd's adaptation, is fast paced and savvy. . . . Charming and complicated, [this] is chamber theater at its strongest," says Reader critic Carol Burbank. Theatre on the Lake, Fullerton and Lake Shore, 742-7994. Through July 13: Tuesday-Saturday, 8 PM. $7. Then at Victory Gardens Theater, main stage, 2257 N. Lincoln, 871-3000. July 19 through August 25: Fridays, 8:30 PM; Saturdays, 5 and 8:30 PM; Sundays, 5 PM. $16-$19.

ComedySportz

An evening's worth of short improv games, played for laughs by two four-comic teams. "Quick thinkers all, the players keep what could be some routine games quirky and fresh, while the format keeps the show moving at a highly charged, gratifying pace," says Reader critic Stephanie Shaw. TurnAround Theatre, 3209 N. Halsted, 549-8080. Open run: Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 8 and 10:30 PM. $10.

Criminal Hearts

"Jane Martin," the pseudonymous author(s?) of Talking With . . ., penned this comedy about a Chicago divorcee who finds inspiration in the female burglar who tries to rip off her Gold Coast apartment. "Predictable and heavy-handed, glib and oversimplified, the play contrives to connect two women from very different backgrounds who've both been exploited. . . . In Richard Shavzin's high-energy staging this edgy sitcom is suitably cartoony, slowing down only for the calculated pathos," says Reader critic Lawrence Bommer. Strawdog Theatre Company, 3829 N. Broadway, 528-9696. Through July 13: Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 PM; Sundays, 7 PM. $10-$14.

Crisis on Improv Earth

The Superhero Society of America improvises a comic-book fantasy adventure based on audience suggestions. "[The] lame . . . opener . . . . was perversely slow and tentative" and "the comics neglected

. . . to honor their own rules," says Reader critic Lawrence Bommer. ImprovOlympic, 3541 N. Clark, 880-0199. Through August 8: Thursdays, 8 PM. $5.

The Cryptogram

David Mamet's troubling recent drama concerns a young boy whose world is transformed by the disintegration of his parents' marriage. Told in cool, coded language to convey a child's confused perception of adult crises, this rich, eerie drama combines surface naturalism with a surreally dreamlike inner life. Scott Zigler's staging stars Amy Morton and Marc Vann. Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Studio Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted, 335-1650. Through July 21: Wednesdays-Fridays, 7:30 PM; Saturdays, 5:30 and 8:30 PM; Sundays, 2:30 PM. $14.50-$19.50; day-of-show discounts available. Discussions follow the shows on Thursday, July 11, 18, and 25.

Damn Yankees

Jerry Lewis stars in this musical twist on the Faust legend, about a middle-aged sports fan who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for becoming a hot young baseball star. This touring company of the recent Broadway revival, directed by Jack O'Brien and choreographed by Rob Marshall, features songs by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross and a script by George Abbott, Douglass Wallop, and Richard Bissell (based on Wallop's novel), considerably revised by O'Brien. Shubert Theatre, 22 W. Monroe, 902-1500. Through July 27: Tuesdays, 7:30 PM; Wednesdays, 2 and 7:30 PM; Thursdays, 7:30 PM; Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 2 and 8 PM; Sundays, 3 PM; Friday, July 26, 2 and 8 PM. $32-$67.

Desdemona--A Play About a Handkerchief

Paula Vogel's comedy puts a satiric spin on Othello's portrait of a pure woman doomed by her husband's jealousy. It's presented by the Thunder Road Ensemble. Victory Gardens Theater, second-floor studio, 2257 N. Lincoln, 871-3000. Preview Thursday, July 11, 8:30 PM. $8. Opens Friday, July 12, 8:30 PM. Through August 17: Thursdays-Fridays, 8:30 PM; Saturdays, 5 and 9 PM. $12; two for one on Thursdays. The performance on Thursday, July 18, is a benefit for Season of Concern.

Devour the Moon

Futurist fuhrer F.T. Marinetti preached radicalism in food as well as art; this musical by S.L. Daniels and Eric Lane Barnes is inspired by The Futurist Cookbook, Marinetti's mealtime manifesto. Rob Chambers directs a world premiere. "Proposing fantastical edibles to replace the stultifying Italian staple pasta, [Marinetti] established the Holy Palate Restaurant, essentially a chic performance event. . . . Daniels and his team have done a good job of re-creating a Holy Palate banquet . . . full of wonderful surprises,

. . . but in the end it's all a little too fun.

. . . In many ways [this is] a conventional musical about an unconventional man," says Reader critic Carol Burbank. Live Bait Theater, 3914 N. Clark, 871-1212. Through July 13: Fridays-Saturdays, 8 PM. $10-$15.

Diary of a Skokie Girl

Comic monologuist Caryn Bark recalls growing up as a 60s suburbanite (plastic-covered furniture and all) in this one-woman show. "Bark transforms a stand-up comedy routine into an irreverent, hilarious, and deeply moving portrait of Jewish family life a generation ago," says Reader critic Justin Hayford. Apple Tree Theatre, 595 Elm Place, Highland Park, 847-432-4335. Through July 30: Tuesdays, 7:30 PM. $21.50.

Divamatic

See review in this section. Ivanhoe Theater, 750 W. Wellington, 975-7171. Through July 25: Sunday, July 14, 7:30 PM; Saturday, July 20, 8:15 PM; Thursday, July 25, 8:15 PM. $8. A "Strut & Fret" pass for $30 offers admission to any six performances in the series, which also includes: As We Like It: Shakespeare in Your Face; Chicago on the Rocks; The Greatest Story Never Told; Mary, Me; and Road Show (see separate listings).

The Dodo Bird

This drama by Emanuel Fried concerns a man forced to reveal painful secrets to his barroom buddies. "Fried's intense one-act . . . explores what it means to live on the fringes of our society. . . . [This] fine . . . production . . . showcases Fried's ear for naturalistic writing, his ear for dialogue and knack for real characters, and his deep grasp of human behavior. . . . But it's Stephan Turner's [lead] portrayal . . . that really makes the production work," says Reader critic Gabrielle S. Kaplan. Stage Actors Ensemble, 3829 N. Broadway (third floor), 262-7286. Through July 20: Fridays-Saturdays, 7:30 and 9:30 PM. $12.

Dominium

(L. The Right of Ownership)

See review in this section. National Pastime Theater, 4139 N. Broadway, 409-3884. Through August 3: Thursdays-Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 8:30 PM; Sundays, 7 PM. $8-$11; $20 per pair on Fridays and Saturdays; Sundays, $8 "or pay what you can."

Doo Wop Shoo Bop

Jackie Taylor and Jimmy Tillman concocted this revue of African-American music from the late 50s. This "heartfelt, roof-raising tribute celebrates not only black doo-wop . . . but the underreported progress in civil rights during the Eisenhower era and the comparative innocence of a time when singing groups, not gangs, competed for the big money, harmonizing so sweetly it hurt," said Reader critic Lawrence Bommer of this Black Ensemble Theater production when he reviewed its original run. Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport, 325-1700. Reopens Wednesday, July 17, 8 PM. Open run: Wednesdays-Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 5 and 9 PM; Sundays, 3 PM. $22.50-25.50.

Doorslam

"This disorienting, overstimulating web of self-conscious, ritually repetitive physical theater makes the audience work for its metaphysical supper. Developed by director Dexter Bullard in collaboration with Plasticene, Doorslam creates a paranoid dream out of four actors, three doors, a chair, a rolled-up newspaper, a hat, projected images, and a coffee cup. . . . The audience is all but coerced into supplying a narrative to explain the increasingly bizarre and threatening relationships, a coercion that may not sit well with those who prefer to have sense made for them. Yet this obsessive, fluid 'storytelling' does create strong emotions, exploring issues of power, anonymity, and conformity with a driving purpose and deceptive simplicity," said Reader critic Carol Burbank when she reviewed this production's original run last year. This performance is a benefit for the show's upcoming engagement at the Edinburgh [Scotland] Festival Fringe. American Blues Theatre, 1909 W. Byron, 227-6487. Saturday, July 13, 9 PM. $20 (includes postshow reception).

Dorothy L.--A Dramatic Portrait of Dorothy L. Sayers

Catherine Kenney's one-woman play about the famed British mystery writer is presented by the Playwrights' Center. "Kenney explores the contrast between Sayers's public and private images in a show that's quite droll, exceedingly well researched, and liberally sprinkled with Sayersisms. And though Molly Glynn Hammond is much too young to play Sayers . . . she makes a clever and amiable afternoon tea companion. But the play is somewhat too arcane and concerned with minutiae to hold one's interest too long," says Reader critic Adam Langer. Loyola University Chicago, Mertz Hall, studio theater, 6525 N. Sheridan (lower level), 508-3839. Through July 21: Thursdays-Saturdays, 7:30 PM; Sundays, 2 PM. $10.

Dream Boy

See review in this section. Eclipse Theatre Company, 2074 N. Leavitt, 409-4863. Through July 28: Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 PM. Then August 1 through 18: Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 PM; Sundays, 7 PM. $12.

The Dresser

Ronald Harwood's 1980 comedy-drama honors the great actor-managers of World War II-era English theater--and the overworked "little people" who made the stars shine. Harwood's witty, keenly observed script portrays the relationship between a fragile but flamboyant old actor, struggling through one last Lear amid the thunder of German bombs, and his neurotic personal assistant, who tends to the old man's ravaged ego as well as his costumes. Funny and touching in its examination of the characters' heroism and foolishness, the script is a shrewd actors' vehicle; Mark E. Lococo's well-played though somewhat maudlin staging features Nicholas Rudall and Ross Lehman as the actor and his aide. Apple Tree Theatre, 595 Elm Place, Highland Park, 847-432-4335. Through July 14: Friday-Saturday, 8 PM; Sunday, 3 and 7 PM. $22-$25.

Emma

This new musical by Judy Freed and Jon Steinhagen, based on an Edna Ferber story about a turn-of-the-century lingerie saleswoman, is performed in a developmental reading. New Tuners Theatre, Theatre Building, 1225 W. Belmont, 327-5252. July 14 and 15: Sunday, 3 PM; Monday, 7:30 PM. $5.

Fairy Tales

Eric Lane Barnes's musical is "a bouncy assemblage of scenes from gay life" buoyed by "eminently singable, dazzlingly clever Tin Pan Alley confections," said Reader critic Justin Hayford when he reviewed this show's run last year at Bailiwick Repertory. Theatre Building, 1225 W. Belmont, 327-5252. Through August 11: Thursdays-Fridays, 8:15 PM; Saturdays, 6 and 9 PM. $18-$20.

A Few Good Men

Aaron Sorkin's formulaic but rousing courtroom drama concerns a lawyer whose lazy sense of ethics and duty is stirred by the attempted cover-up of a young marine's murder. Albright Theatre, Government Center Building, 100 N. Island, Batavia, 708-406-8838. July 12 through 27: Fridays-Saturdays, 8 PM; Sunday, July 21, 2 PM. $8.

529 South Something

This "flesh-and-blood comic book" by Molly Brennan examines the role of dreams in a futuristic society. Factory Theater, 1257 W. Loyola, 274-1345. Open run: Thursdays, 8 PM.

Flanagan's Wake

Zeitgeist Theater's audience-interactive improv show, directed by Jack Bronis, takes place at an Irish wake. "The ensemble members are adept at drawing out the shy and capitalizing on the hammy in their audience, so that . . . the livelier [the audience members] are, the better the show will be," said Reader critic Stephanie Shaw when she reviewed the show in its original run at the Improv Institute. Royal George Theatre Center Gallery, 1641 N. Halsted, 988-9000. Open run: Fridays-Saturdays, 7:30 and 10 PM; Sundays, 7 PM. $15-$18.

Forever Plaid

Boys keep singing: Stuart Ross and James Raitt's musical incorporates a plethora of 50s and 60s pop tunes into its slim story of a long-dead male quartet, the Four Plaids, who return from the grave as teen angels to give the ultimate comeback concert. Honoring the beauty of close-harmony crooning while spoofing its Formica-shiny squareness, the show is a delightful blend of hilarious comedy and heavenly harmonizing. Royal George Theatre Center, cabaret theater, 1641 N. Halsted, 988-9000. Open run: Wednesdays, 2:15 and 8 PM; Thursdays-Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 5 and 8 PM; Sundays, 3 and 7 PM; additional shows selected Tuesdays at 8 PM (call for weekly schedule). $27.50-$35.

Francesca da Rimini

The Yugen Theatre presents a verse drama by 19th-century poet George Henry Boker, based on the medieval tragedy of a woman engaged to one man but in love with his brother. Footsteps Theatre Company, 5230 N. Clark (second floor), 409-9222. Previews through July 12: Thursday-Friday, 8 PM. $8. Opens Saturday, July 13, 8 PM. Through August 31: Fridays-Saturdays, 8 PM; Sundays, 7 PM. $10. A Yugen Theatre benefit evening starting at 6:30 PM on Saturday, August 3, includes "medieval cuisine" and entertainment as well as the show. Benefit tickets are $25 in advance, $30 at the door.

Fringe Benefit '96

This evening of theater and music is a fund-raiser for Chicago performers who are appearing in next month's Edinburgh [Scotland] Festival Fringe. Among those appearing tonight are festival-bound Shirley Anderson, the Chicago Improv Syndicate, Michelle Banks, and the cast of Trance (see separate listing), as well as singer Heather Donaldson and the Dysfunctionells rock band. Martyrs, 3855 N. Lincoln, 772-9567. Tuesday, July 16, 7:30 PM. $10.

Girl to Be Named Later

This drama by Nambi E. Kelley uses movement, music, and poetry to explore the mind of a young girl dealing with urban life. It's presented in its world premiere by the Ma'at Production Association of Afrikan Centered Theatre. "The best part of this show is the live music group Obaki, a three-person ensemble that pushes this sluggish play forward with its jazzy, subtle riffs and melodies. [But] Kelley's story . . . is a sloppy psychological fantasy that preproduction pruning could have grounded," says Reader critic Carol Burbank. Victory Gardens Studio Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln, 871-3000. Through July 13: Thursdays-Fridays, 8:30 PM; Saturdays, 5:30 and 9 PM; Sundays, 3:30 PM. $16.

The Good Doctor

Students perform Neil Simon's adaptation of stories by Anton Chekhov as part of Northwestern University's Summer Theatre Festival 1996, which also includes Brigadoon (see separate listing) and the forthcoming The Barber of Seville. Northwestern University Theatre and Interpretation Center, Ethel M. Barber Theatre, 1979 South Campus Dr., Evanston, 847-491-7282. July 11 and 12: Thursday-Friday, 8 PM. Then July 17 through 21: Wednesday, 2 PM; Friday, 8 PM; Sunday, 2 PM. Then July 25 through 27: Thursday, 8 PM; Saturday, 2 and 8 PM. $12; $45 for subscriptions to the whole festival.

Grease

Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey's spoof of 50s teen culture, inspired by the authors' Windy City boyhoods, is presented by the Woodstock Summer Theatre. Woodstock Opera House, 121 Van Buren, Woodstock, 815-338-5300. Through July 21: Fridays-Saturdays, 8 PM; Sundays, 6 PM; Saturday, July 13 and 20, 2 and 8 PM. $12.

The Greatest Story Never Told

The Free Associates are ready for their close-up, Mr. DeMille, with their timely spoof of Hollywood Bible epics. This comedy troupe, whose specialty is improvising one-act parodies of literature and drama based on audience suggestions, invites viewers to offer their own commandments when it comes to plot, characters, etc. Ivanhoe Theater, 750 W. Wellington, 975-7171. Through July 26: Fridays, 10:30 PM. $10. A $30 pass offers admission to any six performances in the Free Associates' "Strut & Fret" summer theater series, which also includes: As We Like It: Shakespeare in Your Face; Chicago on the Rocks; Divamatic; Mary, Me; and Road Show (see separate listings).

Grow Up!

Telemachus Productions presents an evening of long-form improv, featuring eight adult actors hosted by a seven-year-old girl. ImprovOlympic, 3541 N. Clark, 880-0199. Through July 20: Saturdays, 8 PM. $7.

Hamlet

Henry Godinez stars as the melancholy Dane in Dale Calandra's open-air staging of Shakespeare's tragedy. Oak Park Festival Theatre, Austin Gardens, Forest and Lake, Oak Park, 708-524-2050. Through August 25: Wednesdays-Sundays, 8 PM; "twilight show" Tuesday, July 30, 6 PM. $16-$18. Additional "Family Day" matinees Sunday, July 21 and August 11, 3 PM (preceded by stage combat demonstrations, storytelling, and other children's activities at 2 PM). Special Family Day prices: $12, free for children. Picnickers welcome; box suppers are available with advance orders.

Hansel & Gretel

The Chicago Kids Company's musical version of the fairy tale boasts "plenty of audience participation and sing-along songs." Wilbur Wright College, north campus, 4300 N. Narragansett, 472-3304. Through August 9: Mondays-Fridays, 10:30 AM. $4.75-$5; "reservations are necessary."

Hats on Fire/Shoes on Fire

Die Hanswurste, a group of Chicago improv-trained actors who pose as German clowns, offers what Reader critic Jack Helbig calls "an evening of related comedy sketches expertly executed by a team who clearly understand how to entertain an audience and who enjoy performing together." Annoyance Theatre, 3747 N. Clark, 929-6200. Through July 12: Fridays-Saturdays, 8 PM. $12.

Having Our Say

Centenarian sisters Sadie and Bessie Delany, who lived and witnessed 100 years of African-American history, are the focus of playwright-director Emily Mann's drama. "Mann's wonderful 1995 play . . . is a theatrical gem," says Reader critic Lawrence Bommer. Briar Street Theatre, 3133 N. Halsted, 348-4000. Through August 4: Tuesdays, 8 PM; Wednesdays, noon and 8 PM; Thursdays-Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 3 and 8 PM; Sundays, 3 PM; Sunday, July 14, 3 and 7 PM. $32.50-$39.50.

Hellcab

"Will Kern's incredibly black comedy about a day in the life of a poor beleaguered cabdriver [is] biting and funny [as it] presents in a series of short, strikingly real blackouts the motley crew of druggies, drunks, and assholes who pass through the Hellcab on an average day," says Reader critic Jack Helbig of this long-running Famous Door Theatre Company production. Ivanhoe Theater, 750 W. Wellington, 975-7171. Open run: Fridays-Saturdays, 10 PM; Sundays, 8 PM. $10-$13.

Hitting for the Cycle: Nine Short Plays About Baseball

This anthology evening, developed by San Francisco's Bay Package Productions, features brief scripts by nine authors--and none of them is Marge Schott. The lineup: Rain and Darkness, by Heather McDonald; Gamboling on the Game, by Quincy Long; Division III, by Wendy MacLeod; Elegy for the House That Ruth Built, by Arthur Kopit; Ted Williams, by Howard Korder; The Dalai Lama Goes Three for Four, by Eric Overmyer; Closet Games, by Eduardo Machado; The Bottom of the Ninth, by Y York; and The Real Cheese, by Gary Leon Hill. Famous Door Theatre Company, Jane Addams Center Hull House, 3212 N. Broadway, 404-8283. Through August 4: Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 PM; Sundays, 7 PM. $12-$15. (See review in Section One.)

Hour Town

The Union Palace Players perform a fully improvised comedy set in a small American town. "Marred by awful acting, cliched characterizations, and truly graceless improvisation, it lacks both the playful spontaneity of pure improv and the polish and structure of a play," says Reader critic Jack Helbig. Stage Left Theatre, 3408 N. Sheffield, 883-8830. Through July 13: Fridays-Saturdays, 11 PM. $7.

The House of Martin Guerre

This new musical by Leslie Arden and Anna Theresa Cascio is based on the case of a 16th-century French soldier who returned from war a changed man--because he was actually an impostor. The authors and a fine cast under David Petrarca's direction give the story a dynamically varied, historically detailed texture. But after a fine first act, the work bogs down in a steady flow of graceful but increasingly similar-sounding melodies that diminish the complexity of the plot and characters and bland, preachy lyrics that declaim rather than illuminate the show's themes of the individual versus society and women's difficulties in negotiating a man's world. The House of Martin Guerre needs extensive rebuilding on its solid foundation. Goodman Theatre, 200 S. Columbus, 443-3800. Through August 4: Tuesdays-Thursdays, 7:30 PM; Fridays-Saturdays, 8 PM; Sundays, 2 and 7:30 PM; Thursday, July 11 and 18, 2 and 7:30 PM; Saturday, July 13 and 27 and August 3, 2 and 8 PM. $25-$38; day-of-show rush discounts and dinner-show packages available.

Improv at the Library

The comedy troupe Novel Ideas presents a children's show (recommended for kids in the fourth through eighth grades) based on audience suggestions. Harold Washington Library Center, auditorium, 400 S. State, 747-4200 or TDD 747-4219. Friday, July 12, 10:15 AM. Free.

The Improv Orgy

Eight Degrees Below Normal hosts an audience-participation evening of improvisational comedy and games. Gallery Cabaret, 2020 N. Oakley, 489-5471. Open run: Wednesdays, 10:30 PM. Free.

Improv the Night Away

"I guarantee this is improvisation like you won't see anywhere else"--Ted Sarantos, prop. "The improvs I saw . . . were fairly fresh stuff, refreshingly rooted in character rather than in . . . a snappy punch line"--Reader critic Lawrence Bommer. Sarantos Studios, 2857 N. Halsted, 528-7114. Open run: Fridays, 8 PM. $8.

ImprovOlympic

This comedy theater features teams of players, trained by Del Close and Charna Halpern, creating improvised performances from audience suggestions. The core of the ImprovOlympic style is the Harold, Close's extended improv game, which eschews the usual sketch format in favor of more conceptual comic scenes. There's "real charm [in] watching young energetic improvisers joyfully putting Close's spin on" the standard form, says Reader critic Jack Helbig. ImprovOlympic, 3541 N. Clark, 880-0199. Open run: Thursdays, 8 PM; Fridays-Saturdays, 8 and 10:30 PM; Sundays, 7 and 8:30 PM (new team night). $7. Improvisational "jam sessions" follow the regular Saturday shows at midnight. Free. Note: The theater also hosts The Armando Diaz Experience, Theatrical Movement & Hootenanny; Think Loud and the Idiot Box; Night of the Mutant Harolds; Crisis on Improv Earth; and Grow Up! (see separate listings).

In the Deep Heart's Core:

A Mystic Cabaret

The Irish poet William Butler Yeats fused the roughness of folklore with literary refinement in his search for "the deep heart's core" of himself and his people, and composer Joseph Daniel Sobol achieves the same goal in this rich, sometimes ravishingly beautiful music-theater piece based on Yeats's verse and essays. The Kiltartan Road string band, which boasts wonderful singing and buoyant instrumentals augmented by the occasional burst of charming folk dance, performs Sobol's arrangement of sung and spoken texts, which illumines Yeats as artist, politician, theatrical producer, unrequited lover, and apocalyptic visionary. Theatre on the Lake, Fullerton and Lake Shore, 742-7994. Opens Tuesday, July 16, 8 PM. Through July 27: Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 PM. $7.

Late Nite Catechism

Patti Hannon stars as a nun instructing her Catholic-school class (that's you) on the dos and don'ts of dogma, in this long-running comedy by Vicki Quade and Maripat Donovan. "At once nostalgic and satirical, Late Nite Catechism . . . depends entirely on its lead actress for warmth and comic range. . . . Hannon . . . definitely has the maternal/teacherly edge that will win both our affection and respect," says Reader critic Jack Helbig. Ivanhoe Theater, 750 W. Wellington, 975-7171. Open run: Fridays-Saturdays, 7:30 PM; Sundays, 2:30 PM. $15-$18.

Life in the Trees

Catherine Butterfield's trilogy of one-acts, about 90s urbanites "struggling to cope with neuroses and relationships," is presented by SummerNITE, a professional summer theater sponsored by Northern Illinois University. Bailiwick Arts Center, 1229 W. Belmont, 883-1090. Opens Friday, July 12, 8 PM. Through August 11: Thursdays-Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 4 and 8 PM; Sundays, 4 PM. $13.

The Lion in Winter

And you thought Charles and Diana had marital angst. The Des Plaines Theatre Guild performs James Goldman's comedy-drama about medieval England's King Henry II, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine--whom he's just released from prison for the holidays--and the sons they quarrel over. Prairie Lakes Community Center, 515 E. Thacker, Des Plaines, 847-391-5720. Through July 28: Fridays-Saturdays, 8 PM; Sundays, 2:30 PM. $12.

Loves Light in Flight

Charles Michael Moore directs his own comedy about a romantic triangle. ETA Creative Arts Foundation, 7558 S. South Chicago, 752-3955. Opens Thursday, July 18, 8 PM. Through August 25: Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 PM; Sundays, 3 and 7 PM. $15.

Lunacy

The Pride Performance Series '96 offers an evening of "movement, drumming, and poetry celebrating lesbian sexuality and women's power." Bailiwick Repertory, Bailiwick Arts Center, 1229 W. Belmont, 883-1090. July 14 through August 11: Sundays, 6 PM. $10.

Martin and John

Dale Peck's novel about a gay man dealing with his lover's death is adapted for the stage by Sean O'Neil, who also stars under Eileen Vorbach's direction in this Stratford-on-Guy Productions offering. O'Neil "hyperliteralizes Peck's oblique and contrived novel, . . . squeezing out every ounce of pain and pity, overarticulating every other gesture," says Reader critic Justin Hayford. Live Bait Theater, 3914 N. Clark, 409-0720. Through July 23: Mondays-Tuesdays, 8 PM. $8.

Mary, Me

See review in this section. Ivanhoe Theater, 750 W. Wellington, 975-7171. Through July 24: Sunday, July 14, 5:30 PM; Friday, July 19, 8:15 PM; Wednesday, July 24, 8:15 PM. $8. A "Strut & Fret" pass for $30 offers admission to any six performances in the series, which also includes: As We Like It: Shakespeare in Your Face; Chicago on the Rocks; Divamatic; The Greatest Story Never Told; and Road Show (see separate listings).

Me and Jezebel

Playwright Elizabeth R. Fuller hosted the elderly Bette Davis as a house guest in 1985--and lived to tell the tale in this comedy, presented by Theatre Eclectic. The Funny Bone, 1504 N. Naper, Naperville, 708-810-9057. Open run: Sundays, 7 PM; Wednesday, July 17 and August 14, 2 PM. $15; dinner-show packages available.

The Miss Firecracker Contest

The Saint Sebastian Players perform Beth Henley's comedy about a would-be beauty queen in a small Mississippi town. Saint Bonaventure Church, basement-level theater, 1625 W. Diversey (enter on Marshfield), 404-7922. Opens Friday, July 12, 8 PM. Through August 4: Fridays-Saturdays, 8 PM; Sundays, 2 PM. $10; $3 for children.

Mist Over 10,000 Mountains

This dramatic presentation of imperial Chinese poetry is offered as part of "Voices," a series of programs that augment visual art displays. Art Institute of Chicago, Price Auditorium, Michigan and Adams, 443-3600. Thursday, July 11, 12:15 PM. Free with museum admission ($7 suggested donation).

Molly Sweeney

Brian Friel's recent drama, directed by Kyle Donnelly, concerns a blind woman whose sight is surgically restored at the prompting of her husband. Steppenwolf Theatre Company, 1650 N. Halsted, 335-1650. Previews through July 20: Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 5 and 9 PM; Sunday, July 14, 3 and 7 PM. $22.50-$25.50. Opens Sunday, July 21, 7 PM. Through August 25: Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 5 and 9 PM; Sundays, 3 and 7 PM; Wednesday, August 21, 2 and 8 PM; Sunday, August 25, 3 PM only. $30-$35; day-of-show rush discounts available. The 8 PM show on Wednesday, August 21, is sign-interpreted; the 8 PM show on Thursday, August 22, features audio description. Discussions follow the 3 PM show on Sunday, July 28, and the 2 PM show on Wednesday, August 21.

My Brother George

This comedy troupe performs sketches and improvisation. TurnAround Theatre, 3209 N. Halsted, 847-864-4905. Through August 9: Fridays, 10:30 PM. $6.

My Fair Lady

The Alan Jay Lerner-Frederick Loewe-Moss Hart musical version of Pygmalion, George Bernard Shaw's classic comedy about a phonetics teacher who sets out to turn a cockney flower seller into an aristocrat, is offered in a community production by the Glenview Theatre Guild. Glenbrook South High School, 4000 W. Lake, Glenview, 847-724-5670. Through July 13: Fridays-Saturdays, 8 PM. $9 in advance, $10 at the door.

My Shins

This improv ensemble spins a 45-minute show from a single word given by the audience. Subterranean, 2011 W. North, 278-6600. Open run: Tuesdays, 9:30 PM. Free.

The Nerd

An architect's life is disrupted by an obnoxious houseguest in Larry Shue's comedy, directed by Larry Wyatt. Candlelight's Forum Theatre, 5620 S. Harlem, Summit, 708-496-3000. Through August 25: Wednesdays, 8 PM; Thursdays, 2 and 8 PM; Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 6 and 9 PM; Sundays, 2 and 7:30 PM; Thursday, July 11, 8 PM only. $20.75-$29.75; dinner-show packages available with the adjacent Bravo! restaurant.

Newt Faces of '96: A Musical Welcome to the Democratic Convention

This revue spoofs election-year politics and features songs by members of the New Tuners musical-theater writing workshop. New Tuners Theatre, Theatre Building, 1225 W. Belmont, 327-5252. Open run: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Sundays, 7:30 PM. $12.

Night & Day

This musical revue, featuring Todd Vitale and directed by Sandy Morris, features songs by Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, the Gershwins, and others. Royal George Theatre Center, cabaret theater, 1641 N. Halsted, 988-9000. Tuesday, July 16, 7:30 PM. $15.

Night of the Mime

George Brant's comedy about a farm girl and her pet mime is performed by the StreetSigns theater as a parody of story-theater literary adaptations. "Brant's clever satire on the Old Yeller-Yearling-Charlotte's Web school of juvenile fiction delivers plenty of laughs, tossed off with deadpan seriousness by the precision-drilled cast," says Reader critic Mary Shen Barnidge. Griffin Theatre Company, Calo Theatre, 5404 N. Clark, 296-1875. Through July 27: Fridays-Saturdays, 10:30 PM. $10.

Night of the Mutant Harolds

Del Close directs new variations on his extended improv form, the Harold. "The greatest contribution the . . . Harold has made to improvisational theater is the way it forces young performers to construct complex narratives rather than go for the quick, the cheap, or the loud laugh. The three variations [here] challenge the cast's ingenuity even more--and with no script, ingenuity is of the essence," says Reader critic Mary Shen Barnidge. ImprovOlympic, 3541 N. Clark, 880-0199. Open run: Fridays, 10:30 PM. $7.

Nunsense

Mother Superior jump the gun: Dan Goggin's goofy musical about disorderly nuns who put on a show to raise money for their convent is presented by Stage Right Dinner Theatre. Giorgio's Banquets, 276 E. Irving Park, Wood Dale, 708-595-2044. Through July 21: Fridays-Saturdays, 8:30 PM; Sundays, 6:30 PM. Dinner precedes each performance by approximately 90 minutes. $38 (includes dinner).

The Old Jew

Reid Ostrowski stars in Murray Schisgal's one-man one-act, about an elderly man who's the subject of his neighbors' complaints. Cafe Voltaire, 3231 N. Clark, 481-9686. Through July 13: Fridays-Saturdays, 11 PM. Then July 19 through August 10: Fridays-Saturdays, 7 PM. $8.

On a Slow Boat to China: Frank Loesser Goes Traveling

Recent Broadway and touring revivals of Guys and Dolls, The Most Happy Fella, and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying have sparked new awareness of Frank Loesser's distinctive contributions to American pop; this new concept revue draws on the songwriter's material for Hollywood ("Heart and Soul," "Baby, It's Cold Outside," etc) as well as the stage. Conceived by Sheldon Patinkin, it's staged by Jim Corti and features musical direction by Kingsley Day. National Jewish Theater, Mayer Kaplan Jewish Community Center, 5050 W. Church, Skokie, 847-329-9411. Previews July 17 through 21: Wednesday, 7:30 PM; Thursday, 2 and 7:30 PM; Saturday, 9 PM; Sunday, 2 and 7 PM. $16-$22. Opens Monday, July 22, 7:30 PM. $35. Through August 18: Wednesdays-Thursdays, 7:30 PM; Saturdays, 9 PM; Sundays, 2 and 7 PM; Wednesday, August 7 and 14, 2 and 7:30 PM. $22-$28. Note: Discussions follow the shows on Wednesday and Thursday evenings.

One Man Band Without Instruments

Andrew Gregory Krzak performs a solo evening of stories whose program changes weekly. Cafe Voltaire, 3231 N. Clark, 815-485-0855. Through July 17: Wednesdays, 9 PM. Then July 24 and 31: Wednesdays, 7 PM. $5.

Opera in Focus

In the tradition of Chicago's beloved, now-defunct Kungsholm restaurant-theater, this company (directed by William Fosser) features selections from operatic literature as performed by vivid rod puppets whose movement is synchronized to classic recordings. Rolling Meadows Park District, Park Central, 3000 Central, Rolling Meadows, 847-818-3220. Open run: Wednesdays, 1:30 PM; Saturdays, 1:30 and 8 PM. $8; reservations required.

Passion

Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's musical, based on Ettore Scola's 1981 film Passione d'amore, concerns a handsome young military officer whose notion of love is transformed when an ugly woman becomes obsessed with him. Perhaps Sondheim's most romantic musical, this is also his lamest--a musically derivative, dramatically unconvincing soap opera whose intended insight into love's darker corners is undercut by the tedious score, uninspired rhymes, and contrived, irritating characters. Warner Crocker's staging is attractively designed and competently performed, but the bathetic material is too much to overcome. Pegasus Players, O'Rourke Performing Arts Center, Truman College, 1145 W. Wilson, 878-9761. Through July 21: Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 PM; Sundays, 2 PM. $15-$19.50.

Peter Pan

AlphaBet Soup Productions offers its musical adaptation of James M. Barrie's fairy tale. Candlelight's Forum Theatre, 5620 S. Harlem, Summit, 708-496-3000. Through August 10: selected Tuesdays-Fridays, 10:15 AM; selected Saturdays, 10 AM and noon (call for weekly schedule). $5.50-$6.

Les Petites Follies

Marionettes impersonate Josephine Baker, Fred and Adele Astaire, Sophie Tucker, and other legendary entertainers in this puppet show for grown-ups. Puppet Parlor, 1922 W. Montrose, 774-2919. Open run: Fridays, 8 PM. $10; reservations required.

Piece of Cake

Two women friends face the pressure of the upcoming wedding of one of them, in this comedy by Bobbi Panter and Kate McClanaghan. "[The] subject . . . is ripe for jokes. . . . [The] script . . . ridicules all the right things. . . . But unfortunately [the] great opportunities for satire aren't mined below the surface, the characters

. . . are pretty one-dimensional, and the scenes conclude just as they're starting to get interesting, [so that] despite strong performances, the material is too light to succeed," says Reader critic Gabrielle S. Kaplan. Live Bait Theater, 3914 N. Clark, 871-1212. Through July 27: Saturdays, 10:30 PM. $8.

Plan 9 From Outer Space

Ed Wood's cheapo-cinema classic about alien grave robbers, best known as Bela Lugosi's last film and often referred to as the worst movie ever made, comes to the stage courtesy of Sweetback Productions. "[This] charming, energetic send-up . . . has been created in the spirit of Tim Burton's [film] Ed Wood. . . . The result is a wonderfully entertaining late-night show that manages to be both homage and parody," said Reader critic Jack Helbig when he reviewed the production's original run last spring. Famous Door Theatre Company, Jane Addams Center Hull House, 3212 N. Broadway, 409-3925. Reopens Friday, July 12, 10:30 PM. Through August 10: Fridays-Saturdays, 10:30 PM. $7.

Poor Super Man

The gay- and lesbian-oriented Pride Performance Series '96 offers a new dark comedy by Brad Fraser about a Canadian artist whose affair with a restaurateur affects the women in both their lives. Bailiwick Repertory, Bailiwick Arts Center, 1229 W. Belmont, 883-1090. Through August 31: Thursdays-Fridays, 7:30 PM; Saturdays, 5 and 9 PM; Sundays, 7:30 PM. $18-$25.

Marilyn Price

The puppeteer presents a program of food-themed stories in conjunction with the Chicago Public Library's summer reading game, "The Great Book Feast." Bezazian Branch Library, 1226 W. Ainslie, 744-0019. Saturday, July 13, 2 PM. Then at the Brainerd Branch Library, 8945 S. Loomis, 747-6291. Monday, July 15, 10 AM. Then at the Kelly Branch Library, 6151 S. Normal, 747-8418. Monday, July 15, 2 PM. Then at the Douglass Park Branch Library, 3353 W. 13th, 747-3725. Tuesday, July 16, 10 AM. Then at the Clearing Branch Library, 6423 W. 63rd Place, 747-5657. Tuesday, July 16, 2 PM. Then at the Garfield Ridge Branch Library, 6348 S. Archer, 747-6094. Tuesday, July 16, 7 PM. Then at the South Shore Branch Library, 2505 E. 73rd, 747-5281. Wednesday, July 17, 10 AM. Then at the Cabrini-Green Branch Library, 375 W. Elm, 744-0992. Wednesday, July 17, 7 PM. Then at the Thurgood Marshall Branch Library, 7506 S. Racine, 747-5927. Thursday, July 18, 10 AM. Then at the Woodson Regional Branch Library, 9525 S. Halsted, 747-6900. Thursday, July 18, 2 PM. Then at the Northtown Branch Library, 6435 N. California, 744-2292. Thursday, July 18, 7 PM. Then at the Bessie Coleman Branch Library, 731 E. 63rd, 747-7760. Saturday, July 20, 2 PM. All performances are free.

Rat Dog, Princess Toad & the Pea

A precocious eight-year-old and her cocker spaniel companion embark on an adventure in this kids' show. Pheasant Run Dinner Theatre, 4051 E. Main (Route 64), Saint Charles, 708-584-6342. Through October 27: Saturdays, 1 PM; Sundays, 11 AM. $7; $15 for show and postperformance children's brunch (Sundays only).

The Reading Machine on Sunnyside Lane

This family musical by Runako Jahi and Anthony Llorens preaches the value of learning. ETA Creative Arts Foundation, 7558 S. South Chicago, 752-3955. Through August 7: selected Mondays-Fridays, 10 AM and noon (call for weekly schedule). $4.

Road Show

See review in this section. Ivanhoe Theater, 750 W. Wellington, 975-7171. Through July 27: Friday, July 12, 8:15 PM; Thursday, July 18, 8:15 PM; Sunday, July 21, 5:30 PM; Saturday, July 27, 8:15 PM. $8. A "Strut & Fret" pass for $30 offers admission to any six performances in the series, which also includes: As We Like It: Shakespeare in Your Face; Chicago on the Rocks; Divamatic; The Greatest Story Never Told; and Mary, Me (see separate listings).

Schoolhouse Rock Live!

Theatre BAM's stage adaptation of the animated educational TV series "is one of those rare shows that work both as an evening of amusing, mildly campy nostalgia . . . and as a compelling piece of children's theater," said Reader critic Jack Helbig when he reviewed the show's original run at the Body Politic a couple of years ago. Victory Gardens Theater (second floor), 2257 N. Lincoln, 871-3000. Through August 24: Wednesdays-Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 7:30 and 9:30 PM; Sundays, 2:30 PM. $15-$18.

A Score to Settle

This fully improvised show invites the audience to witness the events surrounding the creation of a musical based on a title suggested by the audience. Live Bait Theater, 3914 N. Clark, 871-1212. Through July 12: Fridays, 11 PM. $5. Tickets are $3 with a program to the same theater's Devour the Moon (see separate listing).

The Screw Puppies

Metraform presents an evening of experiments in long-form improvisation. Annoyance Theatre, 3747 N. Clark, 929-6200. Open run: late Saturdays, 12:30 AM. $5. Tickets are $3 if you've just seen Coed Prison Sluts (see separate listing).

Second City

Citizen Gates, the 81st revue at Chicago's venerable improv comedy theater, is directed by Mick Napier. This is "one of the keenest main-stage revues yet. [It] preserves the innovations of the last revue, Pinata Full of Bees: running sketches, a wizard sound design, the refreshing absence of TV-generated humor, sharp transitions, and music as backdrop rather than foreground. [It] is also unashamedly political, [featuring] one of the quickest ensembles to hit Wells Street," says Reader critic Lawrence Bommer. The Second City, 1616 N. Wells, 337-3992. Open run: Tuesdays-Thursdays, 8:30 PM; Fridays-Saturdays, 8 and 11 PM; Sundays, 8 PM. $10.50-$15.50. Also: a national touring company performs The Best of Second City in an open run. Mondays, 8:30 PM. $5.50. Special improvisational sessions follow the regular shows. Mondays-Thursdays, 10:30 PM; late Saturdays, 1 AM; Sundays, 10 PM. Free. The theater also hosts a family show, A Tale of Two Kiddies (see separate listing).

Second City E.T.C.

Farewell My CompuServe, the 16th revue on Second City's second stage, is directed by Pete Zahradnick. The show, which "offers more fluid transitions, . . . more running jokes, and fewer hit-and-run blackout scenes" than its predecessors, and "the playing here is superior to the writing," says Reader critic Lawrence Bommer. The Second City E.T.C., Piper's Alley, 1608 N. Wells, 642-8189. Open run: Wednesdays-Thursdays, 8:30 PM; Fridays-Saturdays, 8 and 11 PM; Sundays, 8 PM. $10.50-$15.50. Special improvisational sessions follow the regular shows: Wednesdays-Thursdays, 10:30 PM; late Saturdays, 1 AM; Sundays, 10 PM. Free.

The Secret of the Old Queen

This charming, slightly campy musical spoof of the Hardy Boys, penned by Minneapolis writers Timothy Cope and Paul Boesing, finds the youthful sleuths solving a rash of crimes against Bayport's "bachelor elite" and probing the real-life mysteries of love, friendship, and sexual identity. Played with a cheerful, tongue-in-cheek smile instead of a leer or a sneer, the show combines warm, witty material with buoyant performances to produce funny, tuneful, smart entertainment with a few surprising twists. Stage Left Theatre, 3408 N. Sheffield, 883-8830. Through July 28: Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 PM; Sundays, 7 PM. $10-$18.

Self Torture and Strenuous Exercise and Springtime

Green Highway Theater presents a pair of one-acts. The first is Harry Kondoleon's dark comedy about a woman's sexual suspicions; the second is Maria Irene Fornes's portrait of two women in the 1950s trying to reconcile their passion for each other with the world's conception of love. Reader critic Mary Shen Barnidge calls Self Torture and Strenuous Exercise "lightweight but amusing" and Springtime "flatly minimalist." Cafe Voltaire, 3231 N. Clark, 935-0371. Through July 18: Thursdays-Fridays, 7 PM. $7.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

This stage version of the Stanley Donen movie musical, featuring songs by Johnny Mercer and Gene de Paul, concerns a pack of Oregon fur trappers whose efforts at courtship result in a mass abduction. (The story by Stephen Vincent Benet is inspired by the tale of the rape of the Sabine women.) Marc Robin directs and choreographs. Drury Lane Oakbrook Terrace, Roosevelt and Butterfield, Oakbrook Terrace, 708-530-0111. Through August 18: Wednesdays, 8 PM; Thursdays, 2 and 8 PM; Fridays, 8:30 PM; Saturdays, 5:30 and 9 PM; Sundays, 2:30 and 7 PM. $18-$25; dinner-show packages available.

Shakespeare! Shakespeare! Oh! Shakespeare!

Two teams of improvisers bring together characters from five Shakespeare plays, in this production by the Independent Players. Elgin Community College, Visual and Performing Arts Center, SecondSpace Theatre, 1700 Spartan Dr., Elgin, 847-622-0300. Through July 20: Fridays-Saturdays, 8 PM. $12.

Shannen Doherty Shoots a Porno: A Shockumentary

In writer-director Billy Bermingham's comedy, inspired by the exploits of TV's favorite bad girl, "underneath the obligatory piss, vomit, blood, and ejaculate . . . is a brilliant, hilarious examination of cult figures, fame, and overkill," says Reader critic Stephanie Shaw. Torso Theatre, 2827 N. Broadway, 549-3330. Through August 10: Fridays-Saturdays, 8 PM. $7-$12.

Shear Madness

Capitalizing on people's prurient interest in murder trials that are none of their business, this long-running audience-participation "comedy whodunit" allows the audience to serve as judge and jury in the case of a concert pianist knocked off in a beauty parlor, where the prime suspects include a a pair of unisex hair stylists and their clients. The play is adapted from Paul Pörtner's German script and directed by Bruce Jordan for Cranberry Productions. "While the play is beneath any adjective even in my extensive vocabulary of aesthetic slurs . . . Shear Madness generates a crass but genuine party atmosphere," said Reader critic Bury St. Edmund when he reviewed the show many moons ago. Mayfair Theatre, Blackstone Hotel, 636 S. Michigan, 786-9120. Open run: Mondays and Wednesdays-Thursdays, 8 PM; Fridays, 9 PM; Saturdays, 6:30 and 9:30 PM; Sundays, 3 and 7:30 PM. $23-$28; dinner-show packages are available.

Sheila

The comedy group offers a program of "raw improv comedy" that features a free pitcher of beer for the best audience suggestion of the evening; Reader critic Jack Helbig says that "the performers work together with such joy that even the weakest improvisations are fun." Jimmy's Woodlawn Tap, 1172 E. 55th, 643-5516. Open run: Wednesdays, 9 PM. Free.

Show Boat

Harold Prince's spectacular staging brings new vividness to the classic musical by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, based on Edna Ferber's novel about three generations of theater folk in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. John McMartin, Dorothy Loudon, Marilyn McCoo, Mark Jacoby, Gay Willis, and Michel Bell headline this national company of Prince's Broadway hit. Prince's cinematic, colorful production highlights the inventiveness of the show's brilliant first act and greatly compensates for the drawbacks of the overlong, contrived second half. Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress, 902-1500. Open run: Tuesdays, 7:30 PM; Wednesdays, 2 and 7:30 PM; Thursdays, 7:30 PM; Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 2 and 8 PM; Sundays, 3 PM. $15-$70.

Sleeping Ugly

Based on Jane Yolen's story, this children's play by William Massolia concerns a sleeping princess whom no one wants to waken. Griffin Theatre Company, Calo Theatre, 5404 N. Clark, 769-2228. Through July 28: Saturdays-Sundays, 1 PM. $5.

Small Craft Warnings

Tennessee Williams's 1972 drama examines a group of wayward transients in a bar on the California seacoast. Mary-Arrchie Theatre, Angel Island, 731 W. Sheridan, 871-0442. Through August 11: Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 PM; Sundays, 7 PM. $10.

Smoke on the Mountain

The Stage Door Theatre Company, which calls itself "Chicagoland's only professional Christian theatre company," presents Connie Ray, Alan Bailey, Mike Carver, and Mark Hardwick's charming musical about an Appalachian gospel-singing family in the Depression. New Trier West Center, 7 S. Happ, Northfield, 847-537-3300. Open run: Fridays-Saturdays, 8 PM. $15.50; $10.50 for children.

Snake Charmer

Black Forest Productions presents a comedy by James Moeller, about a snake-oil salesman and the sexy nurses who take care of him. Cafe Voltaire, 3231 N. Clark, 708-629-7773. Through August 31: Fridays-Saturdays, 9 PM. $7; actors night Friday, July 12.

Soiree Dada

Die Hanswurste presents an evening of dada-style comedy. Trap Door Theatre, 1655 W. Cortland, 384-0494. Open run: Sundays, 7 PM. $7 "or pay what you can."

Story Hour

Actors from Kaleidoscope Children's Theatre entertain kids aged two to six. Barbara's Bookstore, 3130 N. Broadway, 477-0411. Open run: Saturdays, 10:30 to 11:15 AM. Free.

The Story of Ferdinand

James Sie and Douglas Wood penned this kids' musical, based on Munro Leaf's tale about a bull who'd rather smell flowers than fight matadors. "Leaf's children's story . . . beckons us to the nearly forgotten part of ourselves that indulges idleness without guilt. Plumbing the story's playful depths, [Sie and Wood] turn this simple fable into a cartoonish opera, elevating children's theater above its usual pedantry," says Reader critic Justin Hayford. Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood, 761-4477. Through July 14: Saturdays-Sundays, 1 PM. $6 with advance reservations; "pay what you can" at the door on the day of the show.

Story Time Extravaganza

Puppet plays and stories are presented by staff of the Thomas Hughes Children's Library. Harold Washington Library Center, Thomas Hughes Children's Library program room, 400 S. State, 747-4200 or TDD 747-4219. Through July 31: Mondays and Wednesdays, 10:15 AM (for children aged three to eight). Free.

Suicide in B-Flat

Sam Shepard's dark comedy concerns two detectives trying to solve the death of a composer. Dan LaMorte directs. Center Theater Ensemble, studio theater, 1346 W. Devon, 508-5422. Through August 4: Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 6 and 8:30 PM; Sundays, 7 PM. $14-$16. (See review in Section One.)

Summer Shorts '96

The Neo-Futurists present two evenings of one-acts. "The Right Leg," which opens this weekend, features George Bernard Shaw's How He Lied to Her Husband and Keith Reddin's You Belong to Me, both directed by Kay Martinovich, and David Mamet's Litko: A Dramatic Monologue, staged by Phil Ridarelli. "The Left Leg," opening next week, contains Jeffrey Jones's Please Help Me I'm Falling, directed by Greg Allen, and two more Mamet pieces, A Sermon and Mr. Happiness, both staged by Phil Ridarelli. Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland, 275-5255. "The Right Leg" opens Friday, July 12, 8 PM, and continues through August 9 as follows: Saturday, July 13, 8 PM; Friday, July 26, 8 PM; Saturday, August 9, 8 PM; and Friday, August 9, 8 PM. "The Left Leg" opens Friday, July 19, 8 PM, and continues through August 10 as follows: Saturday, July 20 and 27, 8 PM; Friday, August 2, 8 PM; Saturday, August 10, 8 PM. $8 for one "Leg" or $12 for both.

Sweetie, Baby, Cookie, Honey

This show features an hour of comic and serious improvisation. Cafe Voltaire, 3231 N. Clark, 348-9872. Through July 28: Sundays, 9 PM. $5.

A Tale of Two Kiddies

Second City actors perform a family-oriented comedy, featuring songs and improvisation, about two children who tour a magical library. The Second City, 1616 N. Wells, 337-3992. Open run: Sundays, 3 PM. $5; brunch-show packages available.

The Talisman Ring

Georgette Heyer's 1936 novel, a romantic swashbuckler set in 18th-century England, is adapted for the stage by playwright Christina Calvit and director Dorothy Milne. The show captures "The Talisman Ring's intricate plot, larger-than-life characters, and lofty language," producing "an effervescent romp from beginning to end," says Reader critic Mary Shen Barnidge. Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood, 761-4477. Through August 4: Fridays-Saturdays, 8 PM; Sundays, 7 PM. $15-$18.

They're Playing Our Song

Neil Simon, Marvin Hamlisch, and Carole Bayer Sager's musical about a male/female songwriting team is offered in a student production. College of Lake County, Building 5 theater, 19351 W. Washington, Grayslake, 847-223-6601, ext. 2300. July 12 through 20: Fridays-Saturdays, 8 PM. $7.

Think Loud and the Idiot Box

The first half of this evening of long-form improv "examines the functional forms and colorful habits of conversation and argument," advises a press release; the second half features a fully improvised TV sitcom based on the outcome of the first half. ImprovOlympic, 3541 N. Clark, 880-0199. Open run: Saturdays, 10:30 PM. $7.

The Thirst: A New Work for Jew and Clarinet

In her new solo show, Donna Blue Lachman "reveals with disarming honesty a woman who has taken a long time to accept who she is. . . . Lachman uses her acceptance of her Jewish heritage as a metaphor for . . . the final embracing of oneself, warts and all. . . . Lachman's gift for reaching beyond . . . easy cliches . . . gives her work . . . resonance and universality," says Reader critic Jack Helbig. Blue Rider Theatre, 1822 S. Halsted, 733-4668. Through July 21: Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 PM; Sundays, 2 PM. $15; Thursdays, $12 "or pay what you can."

Tommy Gun's Garage

The restaurant-cabaret presents a "roaring twenties musical comedy revue" in a speakeasy setting, with dining and drinking integrated into the show. Tommy Gun's Garage, 1239 S. State, 728-2828. Open run: Thursdays, 6:30 PM; Fridays, 7:30 PM; Saturdays, 6:30 PM; Sundays, 6 PM. $38-$45 (includes tax and tip).

Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding

"[This] freewheeling, audience-interactive re-creation of a contemporary Italian wedding is living proof of the marvelously spontaneous theater that can be made when the audience is included. True, the premise here is kind of silly. For three hours you are part of the wedding party--you attend the service and reception, eat authentic cheap Italian food, even dance (for a dollar) with the bride and groom. Woven into the evening are all the usual Catholic-wedding jokes. . . . But they're presented with such finesse and subtlety that even the most well worn are funny.

. . . This surprisingly lifelike and remarkably funny re-creation reminds one . . . of the entertaining chaos of Robert Altman's best films," says Reader critic Jack Helbig. Piper's Alley, 230 W. North, 664-8844. Open run: Tuesdays-Fridays, 7:30 PM; Saturdays, 5 and 9 PM; Sundays, 5 PM; additional matinee the first Wednesday of each month, 12:30 PM. $47-$60 (includes food). Note: "All Wednesday nights are smoke-free."

Tony 'n' Tony's Wedding

Bob Dole won't be there; neither will President Clinton. This audience-participation comedy, inspired by Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding (see separate listing) and set at a same-sex "commitment ceremony," features a receiving line, disco dancing, an Italian buffet, and female impersonator extraordinaire Honey West. Jay Leggett and Jamie Baron direct Leggett's script, creating what Reader critic Carol Burbank calls "a grown-ups' playground that affirms gay diversity and skewers sentimentality and traditionalism . . . savvy, playful political theater." Piper's Alley, 230 W. North, 664-8122. Open run: Fridays, 11 PM; Mondays, 7:30 PM. $45 (includes food).

Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind

The Neo-Futurists perform 30 plays in 60 minutes in this "futurist evening in the grand Italian tradition," created by Greg Allen. The show changes weekly, with between two and twelve new scripts written each week depending on the roll of the die by audience members. "Allen's tongue-in-cheek updating of a futurist entertainment exalts speed and chance.

. . . The result is unashamedly live and democratic theater," says Reader critic Lawrence Bommer. Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland, 275-5255. Open run: Fridays-Saturdays, 11:30 PM (doors open 10:30 PM); Sundays, 7 PM (doors open 6:30 PM). $3 "plus the roll of a single six-sided die" ($4-$9).

The Tough and Tender Troll

This kids' comedy about a troll-in-training puts a new twist on old Nordic legends. Bowen Park Theatre Company, Goodfellow Hall, Jack Benny Center for the Arts, 39 Jack Benny Dr., Waukegan, 847-360-4741. Through July 13: Friday, 10 and 11:30 AM and 1:30 PM; Saturday, 10 AM and 1:30 PM. $4.

Trance

This domestic drama by David Hauptschein "is a mesmerizing family tragedy [which] confronts the brutal extremes to which pathological interdependence can drive people," said Reader critic Justin Hayford when he reviewed its premiere last year. It's revived by Studio 108 and Pig American Productions in anticipation of its upcoming run at the Edinburgh [Scotland] Festival Fringe. A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells, 769-6136. Through July 20: Fridays-Saturdays, 11 PM. $8.

12 Angry Roaches . . . An Ecological Adventure

This play, written and performed by high-school students under the direction of Tanya White, concerns a time traveler who witnesses earth's environmental destruction. Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Theatre, 2010 Dewey, Evanston, 847-328-5740. July 13 through 21: Saturdays, 7 PM; Sundays, 3 PM. $6 in advance; $8 at the door.

2 Boys in a Bed on a Cold Winter's Night

David Zak directs the midwest premiere of James Edwin Parker's play about two naked guys' post-coital conversation. It's part of the gay- and lesbian-oriented Pride Performance Series '96. "Another postsex confessional drama, . . . 2 Boys is full of recycled pillow talk [that] amounts to deja vu stew," says Reader critic Lawrence Bommer. Bailiwick Repertory, Bailiwick Arts Center, 1229 W. Belmont, 883-1090. Through August 11: Fridays-Saturdays, 10:15 PM; Sundays, 8 PM. $15.

Walking the Dead

Theatre Q performs Keith Curran's comedy-drama about a female-to-male transsexual. Halsted St. Cafe, 3641 N. Halsted, 248-1451. Through July 28: Fridays-Saturdays, 7 PM; Sundays, 2:30 PM. $8. (See review in Section One.)

The Way I Wear My Hat

Ann Noble's new romantic comedy concerns a woman who falls for a female painter a month before her planned wedding. Mary Booker directs a Martini Productions/Seanachai Theatre Company co-production. "Noble has superimposed a typical coming-out tale on the heterosexual marital-panic comedy genre . . . and structured her play in functional, entertaining vignettes. . . . But . . . it's hard to believe any of the characters in the more intimate or emotional scenes," says Reader critic Carol Burbank. Theatre Building, 1225 W. Belmont, 327-5252. Through August 11: Fridays-Saturdays, 10:45 PM. $10.

What's My Problem?

Claire Kaplan performs an interactive comedy about a philosophical supermarket cashier and a wacked-out therapist. Cafe Voltaire, 3231 N. Clark, 404-2439. Opens Thursday, July 18, 9 PM. Through August 29: Thursdays, 9 PM. $5.

When I Was Your Age . . .

T.P. Mulrooney's one-man comedy show recounts his experiences growing up in the 60s. Hotel Baker, Rainbow Room, 100 W. Main, Saint Charles, 708-208-0800. Open run: Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 7 PM; Sundays, 3 PM. $15.

Whoop-Dee-Doo!

This campy musical revue, conceived by east-coast costume designer Howard Crabtree (who died of AIDS June 28) and penned by Crabtree and a team of writers, gives new meaning to the phrase "out of the closet." The chief delight here is the collection of outlandish, outre drag costumes that adorn the ten-man cast as they storm and scream their way through a series of novelty numbers that put odd and sometimes clever twists on classic Broadway shtick. A very gay cross between the Ziegfeld Follies and the old New Faces shows, Whoop-Dee-Doo! is performed in a spirit of disarming silliness well suited to the wacky clothing, which gives glitz-on-the-cheap just the right touch of lunacy. Royal George Theatre Center, cabaret theater, 1641 N. Halsted, 988-9000. Through July 27: Fridays-Saturdays, 10:30 PM; Sunday, July 14, 8 PM; Monday, July 15, 8 PM. $18.50.

Win, Place or Show

Nick Digilio and Ernest Deak's new comedy, a sequel to Digilio and Mike Meredith's play Alive, concerns a group of young guys spending a Saturday afternoon at a race track. This "raucous, foul-mouthed" comedy "bursts with . . . no-holds-barred, chest-thumping energy. . . . But midway through, [the] characters . . . become stale and predictable," says Reader critic Adam Langer. Factory Theater, 1257 W. Loyola, 274-1345. Through August 24: Fridays-Saturdays, 8 PM. $7. Tickets are $10 for both Win, Place or Show and Being at Choice (see separate listing) the same night.

Wombat Man: Episodes 11 and 12, "The Rain of Terror" and "The Hellion From the Hills"

Chrisi Collins, Ari Mulvaney, and Michael Collins wrote this spoof of super-hero comics. National Pastime Theater, 4139 N. Broadway, 409-6282. Opens Friday, July 12, 11 PM. Through August 17: Fridays-Saturdays, 11 PM. $9; $2 off "if you come dressed as your favorite super-hero."

The Woolgatherer

Jughead Productions presents William Mastrosimone's drama about a chance encounter between a man and a woman. Victory Gardens Studio Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln, 871-3000. Opens Thursday, July 18, 8:30 PM. Through August 11: Thursdays-Saturdays, 8:30 PM; Sundays, 4 PM. $10.

The Zoo Story, Words, Words, Words, and The Death of Trotsky

The first of these three one-acts is Edward Albee's early study of two men meeting on a park bench; the second two are short pieces by David Ives. Theatre Hut, 8412 N. Railroad, Ridgefield, 815-477-4881. Through July 27: Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 PM. $7.

By Albert Williams

The Bong Show

Comedians, dancers, poets, impersonators, performance artists, clowns, and the like compete in this variety show/talent contest. Transient Theatre, 1222 W. Wilson, 334-6811. Opens Saturday, July 13, 8 PM. Through August 10: Saturdays, 8 PM. $5; "BYOB."

Fez: A Performance Arena

This cabaret series features new material by local performance, theater, dance, and musical artists. Scheduled for opening week (July 18 through 21): The Vizards Masked Performance Ensemble, the debut of a troupe that seeks "to discover and embrace the creation of drama as a sacred spiritual and physical discipline"; Cameron Pfiffner directs. Chicago Actors Ensemble, Preston Bradley Center for the Arts, Mason Hall, 941 W. Lawrence, 275-4463. Opens Thursday, July 18, 8 PM. Through August 31: Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 PM; Sundays, 7 PM. $10 for most performances; Sundays, "pay what you can."

The Hick, the Spic, and the Chick

Performance artists Paul Turner, Antonio Sacre, and Donna Jay Fulks team up for an evening of solo storytelling. Turner's piece is inspired by his rural upbringing; Sacre's work recounts his upbringing in a Cuban-Irish household; and Fulks's The Magic Kingdom uses comedy to explore her reaction to her brother's death. The monologuists "achieve universality by plunging into the particular, connecting with the audience by simply and honestly revealing, using just a hint of humor, the details of their lives. . . . You'll leave this delightful hour-long show wanting more," says Reader critic Jack Helbig. Strawdog Theatre Company, 3829 N. Broadway, 528-9889. Open run: Fridays-Saturdays, 11 PM. $7.

In One Ear

An ongoing showcase for spoken word performance and comedy, hosted by Michael O'Toole. No Exit Cafe, 6970 N. Glenwood, 743-3355. Open run: Wednesdays, 9 PM. $1. Tickets are $2 for both In One Ear and Bang Bang (see separate listing under Theater) later the same evening.

Medicine Show

Redmoon Theater, which employs masks and oversize puppets as well as live actors in its pageantlike productions, evokes the traditional medicine shows that toured the American West in the late 1800s in its newest family-oriented touring spectacle. Played on a wagon cart that opens up to a bilevel stage complete with traps and doors, each performance of Medicine Show takes place in a different location around the city, drawing on the participation of community members and augmenting the show with a parade and on-site workshops. Clarendon Park, 4501 N. Clarendon, 388-9031. Saturday, July 13, 2:30 PM. Then at Monroe Park, 2617 W. 105th, 388-9031. Sunday, July 14, 2:30 PM. Then at Columbus Park, 500 S. Central, 388-9031. Saturday, July 20, 1:30 PM. Then at Ken-Wel Park, 2945 N. Kenosha, 388-9031. Saturday, July 27, 1 PM. Then at Commercial Park, 1845 W. Rice, 388-9031. Saturday, July 27, 4 PM. Then at Portage Park, 4100 N. Long, 388-9031. Sunday, July 28, 3:30 PM. Then at Fuller Park, 331 W. 45th, 388-9031. Saturday, August 3, 2:30 PM. Then at Robert Taylor Park, 41 W. 47th, 388-9031. Sunday, August 4, 5 PM. Then at Brands Park, 3259 N. Elston, 388-9031. Saturday, August 10, 1:30 PM. Then at Franklin Park, 4320 W. 15th, 388-9031. Saturday, August 17, 3:45 PM. Then at Carver Park, 939 E. 132nd, 388-9031. Sunday, August 18, 4:15 PM. Then at Madden Park, 3800 S. Rhodes, 388-9031. Saturday, September 7, 12:15 PM. All performances are free.

Noise From the Underground

Storytelling, monologues, and music are presented by "favorite regulars and invited guests." La Piazza Cafe, 3845 N. Broadway, 868-0998. Open run: Saturdays, 9 to 11 PM. Free.

Open & Out

This open-mike program encourages gay and lesbian performers to come out and forward with monologues, stories, comedy, poetry, songs, and the like. La Piazza Cafe, 3845 N. Broadway, 472-7340. Open run: "almost always the first and third Sunday" of each month, 7 to 9 PM; upcoming shows are scheduled for July 21 and August 4 and 18. Free.

The Testing Ground

Greg Gillam hosts a weekly open stage for spoken word, performance, circus acts, music, etc. Sweet Alice, 1056 N. Damen, 227-4906. Open run: Tuesdays, 9:30 PM. Free.

The Trips: A Madras Parable

Jenny Magnus's performance piece--the third in a series of mysteriously titled "Madras Parables," each performed with long-time artistic and romantic collaborator Beau O'Reilly--"actually represents two journeys at once. In one Magnus and O'Reilly take a long, aimless road trip together and drive each other crazy. In the other they travel through their scripts, sorting through what they've projected on each other and what they expect, wondering if two people so intimately intertwined can ever really know each other. Ingeniously, the performers maintain both realities with equal fervency and hilarity.

. . . The result is a playful yet exquisitely formal hallucination . . . performed by the subtlest, hippest comedy team in town," said Reader critic Justin Hayford when he reviewed this Curious Theatre Branch show's original run last year. Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Studio Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted, 335-1650. Through July 19: Fridays, 10 PM. $8.

The Vertigo Show

Emily Brady and Michele Walker offer poetry, storytelling, and music. Cafe Voltaire, 3231 N. Clark, 728-1935. Wednesday, July 17, 7 PM. $7.

By Laura Molzahn

Chicago Human Rhythm Project

Thursday, July 11, at 7:30: Lane Alexander, Especially Tap Company, Ernest "Brownie" Brown, Reginald "Reggio the Hoofer" McLaughlin, Rhythm I.S.S., Steppin' Out, the Swift Brothers, the Time Steppers, Rich Weinberg, Fred Kelly, Gregory Hines (schedule permitting), Jazz Tap Ensemble, Tapsichore, Six Feet of Rhythm, Josh Hilberman, and Dianne "Lady Di" Walker. Friday at 8: Alexander, Especially Tap, Brown, McLaughlin, Steppin' Out, Tapsichore, Hilberman, Walker, and Mark Mendonca pay tribute to Paul Draper and Sammy Dyer. Saturday at 8: Alexander, Especially Tap, Rhythm I.S.S., the Swift Brothers, Weinberg, the Time Steppers, Sam Weber, Lynn Dally, and Six Feet of Rhythm pay tribute to Gene Kelly, the Nicholas Brothers, Fred Astaire, and Dyer. Sunday at 2: Alexander, Especially Tap, Rhythm I.S.S., the Swift Brothers, Steppin' Out, Weinberg, and Six Feet of Rhythm pay tribute to Dyer, Tommy Sutton, Maceo Anderson, and Stan Kahn. Tuesday at 12:15: free performance in the Harold Washington Library auditorium; call 747-4800 for information. Thursday, July 18, at 7:30: world premieres, commissioned by the Human Rhythm Project, performed by Especially Tap, Rhythm I.S.S., Steppin' Out, and the Swift Brothers, and performances by Walker, Robert Reed, and the Jazz Tap Ensemble. Performances continue next Friday and Saturday, July 19 and 20, at 8 and conclude next Sunday, July 21, at 2 in the auditorium of the Harold Washington Library, 400 S. State; $17.50-$27.50 (discounts for groups of ten or more; July 11 benefit $50 for performance only, $75 for preperformance buffet and performance). Call 902-1500 for tickets, 761-4889 for information and group sales.

Chicago on Tap II

See Critic's Choice. Friday and Saturday at 8 and Sunday at 3 at the Navy Pier Skyline Stage, 600 E. Grand; $24. Call 902-1500 for tickets and information.

Ensemble Espanol Spanish

Dance Theater

This Chicago company, headed by Dame Libby Komaiko, celebrates its 20th anniversary with its annual Spanish dance festival, featuring classes and workshops through July 18, and two performances that include guest dancers and musicians from Spain and the Americas. Wednesday and Thursday at 8 at the Navy Pier Skyline Stage, 600 E. Grand; $20-$30. Call 559-1212 for tickets and information on the concert, 583-4050, ext. 3015, for information on classes.

Forever Tango: The Eternal Dance

Six couples from Argentina perform this popular social dance, which originated in the 1880s in the bordellos of Buenos Aires. The dancing is excellent--each couple captures a different aspect of this 100-year-old form--and the show is accompanied by an 11-piece orchestra that includes four players of the bandoneon, the accordionlike instrument associated with the tango. Tuesdays through Fridays at 8, Saturdays at 5 and 9, and Sundays at 3 and 7 through August 4 at the Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted; $25-$45. Call 988-9000 or 902-1500 for tickets and information, 951-0080 for group sales.

Goodfellaz

The Chicago tap trio Steppin' Out (Bril Barrett, Don Russell, and Martin Dumas III), which is taking part in the Chicago Human Rhythm Project, presents an evening of 20s-style gangster action, jazz music, and tap dancing Wednesday at 7:30 and 9:30 at the Cotton Club, 1710 S. Michigan; $12 in advance, $20 at the door (part of the proceeds benefit "Give Back to the Future," a program for kids). Call 604-1893 for tickets and information.

Summer Showcase

Columbia College workshop students perform pieces choreographed by New York's David Rousseve and XSight!'s Brian Jeffery; work by three young choreographers in a mentoring program will also be shown. Thursday and next Friday, July 18 and 19, at 8 at the Dance Center of Columbia College, 4730 N. Sheridan; free. Call 989-3310 for information.

Swift Brothers

Aka the Swifty Twins, they perform their cabaret act then host a tap jam Mondays at 9 through July 22 at Cafe Voltaire, 3231 N. Clark; $5. Call 829-5420 for tickets and information.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photos: "Blakk Love (Storeez of a Darker Hue)" by Richard Foreman; "Canus Lunis Balloonis" by Daniel Guidara; "The Talisman Ring" by Suzanne Plunkett; "Me and Jezebel".

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