Three Sisters, Tuesday through Sunday at 7:30 plus matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 3; through August 26 at Steppenwolf; tickets $20-$78.
If you feel like you’ve never grasped Chekhov, this is not the production to provide you with sudden illumination (like, say, a version of the play I once saw at Stratford). But if you’ve always wondered why people say his plays are funny, this adaptation by Tracy Letts directed by Anna D. Shapiro will make that clear. Yasen Peyankov as the cuckolded schoolmaster and Scott Jaeck as the drunken doctor are particularly strong in the comic bits. All the play is missing is the powerful sexual energy that underlies all those aimless conversations; for, as Chekhov translator (and erstwhile Steppenwolf Artistic Associate) Curt Columbus explained, “[It’s not] some chaste and tepid attraction . . . . The people in Chekhov’s plays want to f**k each other.” –KK
Reefer Madness, opens Friday July 20 at 8; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 plus a matinee on Sunday at 3; through August 26 at Circle Theatre, 1010 W. Madison in Oak Park; tickets $26-30.
Though I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing this yet, any musical adaptation of the old drug-scare movie has to be worth an evening. Circle has done many successful musicals, but I admit it’s less the music than the likelihood of ludicrous dialogue that attracts me to the show. Remember, though: Marijuana is still against the law in old-fashioned Oak Park. But I wouldn’t smoke in Chicago, either: You can get a ticket for that. –KK
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It won't help if you get out of the kitchen this summer; you'll still have to deal with the heat. It's the perfect time to see a show that's fun or familiar or both, and I have some suggestions that are camp or classic (or both, depending on the attitude of the producers). –JA
Richard III, Oak Park Festival, Austin Gardens, Oak Park; through Aug. 25; $25.
The Merchant of Venice, First Folio Theatre, Mayslake Forest Preserve (1717 31st Street) Oak Brook; through Aug. 19; $30-$37.
Richard III and The Merchant of Venice are among Shakespeare's most familiar plays, the latter a dark comedy with a happy ending (unless you're Shylock) and the former a real boo-the-villain costume drama. My dad used to call Richard III "Dick da' shit" because he was "Richard da' Turd." In any case, treat them as popular entertainment, which is precisely what they were in Shakespeare's day, and you'll have a good time. The Merchant of Venice is outdoors at the Mayslake Forest Preserve in Oak Brook and Richard III is outdoors in Oak Park. Remember: those West Suburban nights are COOLER than in-the-city nights. –JA
Little Shop of Horrors, Theatre at the Center, 1040 Ridge Road, Munster, Ind.; $20-$40; through Aug. 19.
Reefer Madness, Circle Theatre, 1010 Madison Street, Oak Park; $26-$30 (plus service fee); through Aug. 26.
For pure campiness, you can't do much better than Little Shop of Horrors and Reefer Madness, both successful Off-Broadway musicals based on cult classic non-musical films. Little Shop, with its man-eating antagonist, Audrey, is a cautionary tale about wild flowers while Reefer Madness pokes fun at America's decades-long criminalization of marijuana (use of which, the government tried to convince us, leads directly to promiscuity and insanity; well one outta' two ain't bad). Both shows are presented in air conditioned comfort, Reefer Madness by Circle Theatre in Oak Park (yeah, again Oak Park) and Little Shop at Theatre at the Center, just around the tip of the lake in Munster, IN (a good stop going to/from a Saugatuck weekend, say). –JA