Arts & Culture » Performing Arts Feature

We're Gonna Die, the Comedy Dance Collective, and 11 more new stage shows

A rock concert/play by Young Jean Lee and an iO revue inspired by dance-class trauma are among this week's best bets.

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[Recommended] Brown Bear, Brown Bear and Other Treasured Stories For decades, starting in the late 1960s, Eric Carle used a distinctive collage technique to illustrate his books for young children, including the three staged here by the Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia: The Very Hungry Caterpillar; Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?; and Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me. Director/production designer Jim Morrow has done an impeccable job of expressing Carle's aesthetic with puppets. All is bright, beautiful, winsome, and deft. But if you go, be warned: This really is a kids' show. Adults can expect to get sweetly but certainly bored. Carle's books teach pre-K subjects like counting and colors, after all, and the only crisis is the stomachache the caterpillar gets from eating too much. It would be different if, say, the bear had a bad debt, a fast car, and a handgun. But he doesn't. —Tony Adler

Cannonball, at Public House Theatre - RYAN BURKETT
  • Ryan Burkett
  • Cannonball, at Public House Theatre

Cannonball With no set, a couple props, bare-bones lighting, and costumes likely pulled from the five performers' closets, it seems the Public House Theatre spent no more than 12 cents on playwright/director Ryan Burkett's odd, unassuming 75-minute play. But what a return on investment. Burkett begins with what appear to be quirky comic sketches—tween Neighborhood Watch girls hunting for missing paperboys, former lovers tracking down unaccountable late-night apartment noises, scientists hunting for radio transmissions from "alternate selves"—and gradually weaves them into a coy tale of small-town alienation told through ingeniously manipulated Hollywood sci-fi tropes. It's heady, confounding, delightful stuff, weakened only by a half dozen too many endings. The cast, all playing multiple roles, handle the stylistically complex material with confidence and panache. —Justin Hayford

Chicago Slam Works' Carrier - J.W. BASILO
  • J.W. Basilo
  • Chicago Slam Works' Carrier

Carrier Chicago Slam Works presents this ponderous meditation on the roots of identity. Dominated by performance poetry but incorporating interpretive dance, comedic sketches, and overserious soliloquies, the dozen or so scenes are thankfully leavened by three ad breaks. Done infomercial style, selling "Gadget Dad," "Analog Dad," and "Sea-Faring Dad," these are silly but done with joy, and a welcome relief. If, as the title implies, identity is a disease, this play is not the cure. Dru Smith directed. —Dmitry Samarov

The Comedy Dance Collective - JAMES FARLEY
  • James Farley
  • The Comedy Dance Collective

[Recommended] The Comedy Dance Collective Fittingly, the Comedy Dance Collective's new, titleless show at the iO takes place at the Chris Farley Cabaret. It's a lot of dancing, yes. It's a lot of laughs, sure. Put the two together, and you've got a performance that isn't so much built on a plot as on some stellar physical comedy. And it's one of the funniest, most enjoyable hours you'll spend on a Friday night. A sort of brief anthology of the history of dance (encompassing everything from ballet to hip-hop to Irish jig), the sketch-style show, directed by Molly Todd Madison, is packed with great bits like two short-limbed dinosaurs reenacting the famed ending from Dirty Dancing; the subtler gags throughout include a man who's plagued by an affliction called "Dave Matthews hand." Farley himself would approve of such unabashed abandon. —Matt de la Peña

Dylan Brody's Driving Hollywood, at the Apollo - LAURA LUNDY
  • Laura Lundy
  • Dylan Brody's Driving Hollywood, at the Apollo

Dylan Brody's Driving Hollywood Given the effete stylings of Dylan Brody's one-man show—leather-bound books and manual typewriter atop wooden writing desk, 1940s-style microphone, tweed suit with watch chain—and his easygoing efforts to depict his life story as series of a wry, insupportable encounters with moral cowards and intellectual inferiors, it's no surprise the writer-performer bills himself as a humorist rather than, say, a comic. And at his best, as when he succinctly dissects the hypocrisy of American democracy by reliving his second-grade class election, he earns a bit of Will Rogers cred. But it's never clear why his lifelong struggle to have his mildly subversive ideas taken seriously should matter to the rest of us, especially since he delivers nearly every anecdote in this 90-minute evening with more bemusement than urgency. —Justin Hayford

Arlene Malinowski in A Little Bit Not Normal, at Victory Gardens - LIZ LAUREN
  • Liz Lauren
  • Arlene Malinowski in A Little Bit Not Normal, at Victory Gardens

A Little Bit Not Normal Arlene Malinowski has collapsed! For this installment in Victory Gardens' "Up Close & Personal" solo performance series, Arlene Malinowski details her ordeal with immobilizing depression. Naturally a clown, Malinowski has here assembled a dismal litany full of binges, breakdowns, and benzodiazepines. Back then, Arlene would sometimes do nothing all day but stare at her gloomy affect in mirrors. Her husband loved her, he stuck it out through everything, so why, late at night, would Arlene still toy with the idea of killing him, even drowning—Arlene, how could you?—his avatar in the Sims? The nadir comes on the fateful day when Arlene assumes a fetal position on the floor at a Jewel-Osco. Oh, Arlene Malinowski, we love you, get up! —Max Maller

TimeLine Theatre's Paradise Blue - LARA GOETSCH
  • Lara Goetsch
  • TimeLine Theatre's Paradise Blue

Paradise Blue Part of a trilogy structured around transformational moments in the life of Detroit's African-American community, Dominique Morisseau's drama is set in 1949, when Paradise Valley—the business center of the city's black ghetto—was about to be razed for urban renewal. A trumpet-playing nightclub owner known as Blue is determined to cash in and get out, despite the havoc that will wreak on those closest to him. Both the character and the situation have loads of potential; even the familiar types with which Morisseau surrounds Blue—the wised-up dame, the doormat girlfriend, the bantam lothario—can't dampen that potential. But other factors do: Morisseau's lapses into self-help jargon, an engaging but crucially insufficient performance from Ronald L. Conner as one of Blue's bandmates, and Ron OJ Parson's staging, which is stronger in its elements than as a whole. Al'Jaleel McGhee, on the other hand, smolders dangerously all the way through as Blue. —Tony Adler

Elizabeth Telford in Marriott Theatre's She Loves Me Not - JUSTIN BARBIN
  • Justin Barbin
  • Elizabeth Telford in Marriott Theatre's She Loves Me Not

She Loves Me Marriott Theatre’s revival of this 1963 musical about romance in a perfume shop in Budapest in the late 1930s strains mightily to make this sweet little show worth two and half hours of our time. But despite the best efforts of director-choreographer Aaron Thielen, it fails. Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s score is filled with forgettable tunes, none of which approach the power of the ones they wrote for their next show, Fiddler on the Roof (1964). And Joe Masteroff’s book, adapted from Milós László’s 1937 play Parfumerie, feels padded, taking way too long to tell a relatively simple story. Alex Goodrich and Elizabeth Telford are likable enough as the romantic leads, but in the end we don’t really care who loves whom, or why. —Jack Helbig

20 Percent Theatre's Tight End - CLARE MCKELLASTON
  • Clare McKellaston
  • 20 Percent Theatre's Tight End

Tight End Football is life in small-town Ohio. So who could blame tomboy Ash Miller (Bryce Saxon), the protagonist of Rachel Bykowski's new play, for craving a share in the glory? The daughter of Westmont High's most illustrious former quarterback, she's determined that she'll eat the same boiled chicken and pints of cottage cheese as the boys do if it will earn her the final spot on the roster. Doesn't matter that she's too light and can't hit; "biology" is no obstacle. But the intensity in her eyes feels suicidal, or at least deeply reckless, and Ash's dad having burned out terribly after his letterman days, there's a lot going on below the surface here. 20 Percent Theatre retreads the outworn conventions of sports drama with an added, terrible measure of pain and heart. —Max Maller

Spooky Dookie's The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire: An IMAX Experience - COURTESY IO
  • Courtesy iO
  • Spooky Dookie's The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire: An IMAX Experience

[Recommended] The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire: An IMAX Experience The sly premise of this new show from two-woman sketch duo Spooky Dookie (Claire McFadden and Maureen Monahan) provides an ample sandbox for absurdist comedy: wing by wing, a blaze slowly engulfs Chicago's Field Museum as clueless audiences watch a documentary about a real-life fire. Between projected video shorts poking fun at the bombast of IMAX and the Field's Sue-centric marketing, Monahan and McFadden dash between playing museum staff, visitors, and subjects in the documentary. Some sluggish transitions and circular jokes make the whole of this slight effort (it clocks in at less than an hour) less than the sum of its parts, but when Spooky Dookie are on, they're on. Days later, I'm still laughing thinking about a sketch in which a representative for Bruce Rauner fights with an anthropologist over a skeleton the governor insists on eating. —Dan Jakes

Isa Arciengas in We're Gonna Die - AUSTIN D. OIE
  • Austin D. Oie
  • Isa Arciengas in We're Gonna Die

[Recommended] We're Gonna Die Just in case news alerts haven't been reminding you on the daily, you and everyone you care about will expire one day, and odds are better than not the circumstances of those deaths will be . . . not great. Feel like dancing yet? Young Jean Lee's 2011 rapturous concert-play, not unlike the iconic finale of Bob Fosse's All That Jazz, makes toe tappers out of the bleak, answerless existential questions that keep folks awake at night. Backed by a stellar four-piece rock band, singer and storyteller Isa Arciengas makes Lee's vignettes about lost family and love her own in a tender, head-thrashing performance more demanding than most I've seen this year. Josh Sobel's whip-smart Haven production is so slick that upon entry one couple asked aloud, "Are we cool enough to be in here?" —Dan Jakes

Dan Sauer in Theatre Above the Law's What Rhymes With America - MOLLY MALONEY
  • Molly Maloney
  • Dan Sauer in Theatre Above the Law's What Rhymes With America

[Recommended] What Rhymes With America This bittersweet character study by Melissa James Gibson (best known as a writer for TV's House of Cards and The Americans) was an off-Broadway success in 2012. In Theatre Above the Law's intimate, bare-bones production, Dan Sauer plays Hank, a divorced father, who's trying to maintain contact with his teenage daughter, Marlene (Olivia Nicholson), despite the opposition of his bitter ex-wife. Stymied and frustrated, Hank—a financially strapped economist who's thousands of dollars behind in his child support—unsuccessfully explores relationships with two women: introverted Lydia (Alicia Ciuffini), an unemployed writer coping with grief following her father's death, and extroverted Sheryl (Brittany Vogel), an untalented actress who can't even hold on to her gig as an opera supernumerary. Under Tony Lawry's direction, the cast—especially Sauer, a seasoned off-Loop theater veteran—nicely capture the characters' sense of inadequacy and anxiety in this alternately poignant, painful, and wryly funny play. —Albert Williams

Brian Quijada in Where Did We Sit on the Bus?, at Victory Gardens - MAISONET PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Maisonet Photography
  • Brian Quijada in Where Did We Sit on the Bus?, at Victory Gardens

[Recommended] Where Did We Sit on the Bus? Reviewing this solo show in 2016, Matt de la Peña wrote as follows: Area native Brian Quijada is a first-generation American who's Latino, multilingual, an artist, and a college grad, all of which sticks with you through this coming-of-age saga, which centers on his upbringing as the son of immigrant parents growing up in upscale, mostly white Highland Park. Mining memories from early childhood to present-day Chicago, Quijada uses this autobiographical one-man show to grapple with life, liberty, and the paradox of the American dream. In the vein of John Leguizamo's Ghetto Klown, the 90-minute performance, directed by Chay Yew, is as funny as it is poignant: expertly crafted, deftly poetic, and unabashedly authentic. You'll laugh, cry, cheer—your only regret will be that you didn't get to do it longer. —Matt de la Peña

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