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The Three Oaks Theater Festival brings off-Loop shows to Harbor County

Reprises of The Normal Heart and Exit Strategy are among the highlights at the second annual Michigan showcase.

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Now in its second year, the Three Oaks Theater Festival brings works from Chicago's performing arts community to locales in Michigan's Harbor Country, with events from July 5 through the first weekend in August (all times are Eastern).

The fest opens with Blair Thomas & Company's A Piano With Three Tales, an hour-long piano recital and puppet show aimed at kids four to 12 (Sat 7/5, 11 AM and 2 PM, $15). The company also hosts a free puppet-making workshop for families the day before the show (Fri 7/4, 2 PM).

Chicago magician (and House Theatre member) Dennis Watkins blends comedy, illusions, and mind reading in The Magic Parlour (Sat 7/5, 5 and 8 PM, $25). Reader critic Keith Griffith calls the show "exactly what it should be: funny, lively, intimate, and utterly baffling."

The following weekend TimeLine Theatre presents a one-night-only staged reading of Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart featuring the cast of TimeLine's 2013 revival (Sat 7/12, 7 PM, $50); tickets, which include wine, beer, and a postshow reception, benefit the festival.

Northlight Theatre's Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie follows the hardscrabble life of the famed folksinger (Fri 7/18, 8 PM; Sat 7/19, 4 and 8 PM, $30-$35). Performed by a cast of four playing 15 instruments, the musical is "entertaining enough" but tends to "soft-pedal Guthrie's political views," according to Reader contributor Jack Helbig.

Ike Holter's Exit Strategy tells the story of a Chicago public high school destined for closure and the group of teachers who are trying to save it (Sat 7/26, 8 PM; Sun 7/27, 1 PM, $30-$35). Reader senior theater critic Tony Adler takes the Chicago playwright to task for poor plotting but has praise for Jackalope Theatre's "crack seven-member ensemble."

Closing out the festival, Seanachai Theatre Company offers two showings of Eugene O'Neill's two-character play Hughie (Fri 8/1, 8 PM; Sat 8/2, 8 PM, $25), featuring Jeff Duhigg in what Reader critic Justin Hayford calls a "mesmerizing performance."

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