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enemy-of-the-people.JPGonce-on-this-island.jpgOne of the great things about our Chicago storefront theater scene is that it is more likely for you to see a gutsy, no-holds-barred re-imagining of a play or a musical, whether classic or contemporary, than to see a straightforward, literal production (so when you come across a memorable one, such as the last year’s exquisite Uncle Vanya from TUTA, you are wonderfully surprised).  For an audience member like me, it is always such a thrill to see what kinds of audacious tinkering, overhauling, or re-versioning our various theater companies are up to.  Of course, for every successful risk taken, there are many, many other visions that fall flat or go awry, which I think has to come with the territory.  I was able to catch two of the re-envisioned productions currently playing in Chicago over the past week and a half or so.  Red Tape Theatre, of whom I have heard great things about with regards to their production of Lope De Vega’s Dog in a Manger last year (which I unfortunately missed), is staging a “freely adapted” Enemy of the People, from the Henrik Ibsen play, re-set in 2009, in a Southern Illinois-like small town, with the main character of Dr. Thomas Stockmann turned into a woman, Dr. Tammy Stockman, and other characters’ genders and relationships re-assigned.  Porchlight Music Theatre is closing its season with the lovely Flaherty-Ahrens musical Once on this Island, which possesses one of my favorite musical theater scores ever, but without an island or fake palm tree in sight, having re-staged it as a tale told by immigrants living in a Brooklyn Heights-type neighborhood.  Although I admired Red Tape’s, director James Palmer’s, and adapter Robert L. Oakes’ sizable cojones in pulling apart Ibsen, I don’t think I totally bought into the new world they’ve created, and I wasn’t really supported by an overall performance level from the cast that put the H in histrionic.  I also felt the conceit that Porchlight used for Once on this Island came off as artificial at times, but I was entranced by an energetic, committedly lung-busting, always riveting, although not always tone-perfect, cast. Both are notable, although some concepts work better than others.

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