Critics theater picks for 7/15-7/17

July 13, 2011

Kelly Kleiman

First Folio Theatre's Romeo and Juliet is in the finest tradition of outdoor summer Shakespeare: the setting is bucolic, the sword-play intense and the mosquitoes ravenous. Under the direction of Nick Sandys, Shakespeare's star-crossed lovers only narrowly escape eclipse by a trio of supporting players. Christian Gray, better known for playing the witless Bertie Wooster in the company's P.G. Wodehouse adaptations, makes an especially haunting Mercutio, while Phil Timberlake and Annabel Armour succeed in showing Friar Lawrence and the Nurse to be as much "Fortune's fools" as Romeo himself. And it's doubtless thanks to Timberlake's vocal coaching that the entire ensemble is clearly audible, no small feat when performing on the greensward. At the Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oak Brook; Wednesdays through Sundays at 8:15; tickets from $29, and for an extra fee you can pre-order a box dinner and have it waiting for you. Lawn chairs provided!

If you prefer your tragedy with a more contemporary flair, and your outdoor theater with a roof, try Eclipse Theatre Company's After the Fall, revived at Theatre on the Lake just for the weekend. The original production evoked a rare rave from Hedy Weiss, who praised it for its conquest of an extremely difficult text. Miller certainly opened a vein for this story of his doomed marriage to Marilyn Monroe, and a good version of it is an unusual and thrilling thing. Through Sunday only; curtain at 7:30 at Fullerton and Lake Shore Drive; tickets are $17.50.

Some plays embody a different kind of tragedy: the tragedy of having been written at all. Drek Fest 5, a co-production of Stage Left and ComedySportz, annually presents plays that are deliberately, and deliciously, awful, under the motto "It takes guts to write crap!" This year's Final Four (featuring work by the champions of DrekFests 3 and 4) will receive staged readings this coming Tuesday, and then will be torn to shreds by a lively panel (including our own Jonathan Abarbanel) before a Grand Loser is crowned by vote of the audience. Come get a year's worth of theatrical disappointment out of your system in a single night. Tuesday, July 19, 7:30 p.m. at ComedySportz Theatre, 929 West Belmont; tickets are $15.

Laura Molzahn

Love is seen through the lens of Indian mythology in Ishara Puppet Theatre’s Transposition, being shown one night only, Friday, at the Harris Theater as part of the Eye on India festival. Expect puppetry, of course, but also dancing and martial arts by real-live human beings as this New Delhi-based troupe explores human duality and the illusions of love. 

Save the date: Tuesday, July 19, is the first day to get your free “tickets” to the Chicago Dancing Festival events in August—and this is the first year you can make your bids online, at least for shows at the MCA and the Auditorium (at the Harris, you can claim your seats by phone or at the box office). This is also the first year that tickets are being made available on a staggered basis, with different events/venues being offered on different days. See the CDF website for details.

And an update: well, no update really. There’s still no word on the Joffrey/AGMA union snafu—and no word on whether the Joffrey will appear during CDF or not.

Jonathan Abarbanel

Sometime over this weekend, I almost certainly will encounter The Puppetbike, the clever combination of roving tricycle and hand puppet theater transformed into an original Outsider Art sculpture. I've seen The Puppetbike in many places, including State Street in The Loop, but most often I see it at the northeast corner of Clark Street and Berwyn in Andersonville, my home neighborhood. There, the unseen puppeteer, cocooned within his four-walled box, presents cute animal hand puppets dancing to pop tunes to the amusement of adults, the delight of children and the consternation of dogs. The solo puppeteer manages to operate up to three puppets at the same time. The show is free, although the puppets happily accept donations.

"God for Harry, England and St. George!" will echo throughout the Oak Park Historic District this weekend as the 37th season of the Oak Park Festival Theatre launches Henry V outdoors in Austin Gardens, where fireflies twinkle and rabbits scamper among the stately oak trees, so appropriate to Shakespeare's great English history play. Oak Park veteran actor and director Kevin Theis is at the helm, with Dennis Grimes as King Henry V, nicknamed both Hal and Harry. Henry V runs through Aug. 20