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There's no question Bill Buford is an exquisite writer and trenchant observer. Among the Thugs, his harrowing 1991 account of his own rapid descent into the raucous, violent subculture of British football hooliganism, stands as one of the finest recent works of sports sociology. But Buford is a rotten journalist: not only are his man-on-the-scene accounts marred by his substance abuse, willingly admitted, but the book ultimately wallows in the same sort of sensationalism Buford and his subjects find so appalling in the British press. What's particularly intriguing about this stage adaptation, by Sports Night scriptwriter Tom Szentgyorgyi, is that it respects without glorifying Buford's vision of violence as an intoxicant. Ditto for director Kate Buckley's expert staging. Even when all hell breaks loose in the first act and the actors are knocking over set pieces and swinging from the balcony, she dwells less on the mayhem than on Buford's attempts to come to terms with his eager participation. Christian Kohn--who originated the role of Buford in Next Theatre's world premiere last year--contributes another eye-popping performance, as do the rest of the cast (who received a Jeff Award for their ensemble work during the original run). If anything, the show's change of scene has made it all the more compelling: because the space thrusts the audience even further into the action, the brutality is inescapable--and it's impossible not to engage in the sort of voyeurism the play addresses. Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, 312-443-3800. Through July 8: Tuesdays-Thursdays, 7:30 PM; Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 2 and 8 PM; Sundays, 2 and 7:30 PM; Saturday, June 16, 2 PM only. There are no shows Friday, June 15; Saturday, June 23; Tuesday, July 3; or Wednesday, July 4. $23-$37; discounted day-of-show tickets available. --Nick Green

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