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It’s the usual cold and somber January weather in Chicago, and I am on a client project with ridiculously heinous hours and expectations, but those two things won’t stop me from going to the many wonderful new plays and performances that are opening in the city within the next two weeks. I already went to a preview performance of About Face Theater’s Little Dog Laughed, the Broadway hit about a closeted gay actor whose career is threatened by his romance with a male prostitute, which won a Tony for Julie White who played the actor’s over-the-top lesbian agent. I saw the play in New York, and I think Chicago actor Mary Beth Fisher, in a classier, slightly-toned down, less fag-haggish performance in the About Face version, is a match for Julie White’s brilliance. I also saw Titus Andronicus at the Court, and it’s a stunner. This is how I feel Shakespeare should be reinvented for the contemporary audience – boldly original, but not flashy, full of interesting, at times, startling, artistic choices but yet still clearly presenting and illuminating Shakespeare’s themes. And that cast – it’s full of Chicago’s sexiest and most talented young male actors, plus the fabulous Hollis Resnik as Goth queen Tamora, which I think is a pretty unique casting choice. Hollis is more known for musical theater here in the city, and I think she brings that grace, charm and joie de vivre to a role that has potential for more campiness and overbaked acting than the lovechild of Divine and Christopher Walken. The casting works! I’ll post my detailed impressions of both soon, once they have had their press openings.

My friend and avid reader Jason asked me which other shows do I recommend. In addition to the two I have just mentioned, I either have tickets or are planning to get tickets for the following:

- Societas Raffafello Sanzio’s Hey Girl! at the MCA – Societas is one of the leading experimental theaters in Europe. The one other time they were here (was that 2003?), they presented this absurd, stomach churning version of Guilio Cesare where there were more obese actors than 10 seasons of The Biggest Loser, and where one of Brutus’s speech was performed with the actor inserting a stethoscope/camera down his esophagus, which then projected film of the inside of his throat on a huge screen for the audience to see! Yuck! But you also couldn’t avert your eyes and you just marvelled at what insane mind thought this up. I am sure there is going to be lot of crazy stuff going on in this new play which performs January 18 and 19. I am going to the Saturday performance.

- The Goodman’s Shining City – Robert Falls is re-mounting his Broadway hit from last year with a completely Chicago-based cast including the fantastic John Judd in the Oliver Platt role. Conor McPherson wrote this play about a psychiatrist who comes to terms with his own demons through his relationship with a widower patient who claims that he is being haunted by the ghost of his dead wife. Interesting stuff. It runs from January 12 to February 17.

- A Red Orchid Theatre’s Fat Boy – in the tradition of the dark, edgy, one-of-a-kind, in-your-face theater that A Red Orchid is known for, this Edinburgh Fringe Festival hit is an updated version of Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi. More specifically, it has it’s obese lead character eating the whole world, literally! Cannot wait to see this! It starts January 18 and runs till March 4.

- eight blackbird concert on January 26 at the Harris Theatre – eight blackbird is this hot, buzzed about contemporary classical music group who re-invents our notions of classical music by adopting an interactive performance style (they memorize all the pieces so they are free to move around the stage), and injecting multi-media, DJ remix, and other performing arts elements into their concerts. They are slow to grab attention in Chicago which is their homebase (very perplexing), but they have been well-reviewed already in the New York Times. I am really excited about this concert which according to the Harris website is a collaboration with DJ Denis DeSantis and will include live remixes from eight blackbird’s latest album, strange imaginary animals, as well as a special arrangement of Radiohead’s dollars and cents.

- I have already written about Fragments, the Peter Brook production of Samuel Beckett’s short plays, at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, in a previous blog post. This is theatre geek nirvana of the highest order. I might need to fast for a week prior to going to this! It’s on a limited engagement from January 30-February 9. I already have my ticket for the February 3 matinee.

The next couple of weeks are going to be extremely busy!

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