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Critics theater picks; early Halloween, Chicago Dance Crash(es), and 'Brand' yourself

Kelly Kleiman

If the essence of Halloween is violence and terror (rather than candy, as I firmly believe), the Chicago theater community is getting into the ghoulish swing a bit early this year.   

Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company just opened Riff Raff by the actor Laurence Fishburne, about a drug deal gone bad. If the description fails to spook you, check out the blood-spattered poster. But don't wait til Fright Night: the play only runs through October 30, Thursdays-Sundays at Angel Island on WEST Sheridan Road. $18-$22, with student and senior discounts available.

If what you want is Halloween pure and simple, and with a local twist, try Screams in the Park at Rosemont, a haunted house which claims to have reconstructed the lair of serial killer H.H. Holmes (The Devil in the White City) in a suburban parking lot. It opens tomorrow (Friday) and runs through October 31 (natch), Tuesdays-Sundays. $20, or $30 if you want to skip the line and go straight to having your heart stopped. Not recommended for children under 13. 

Finally, if you need some solace after all these things going bump in the night, you might consider American Theatre Company's The Amish Project. What could be more peaceful? But don't be fooled: this is the Chicago premiere of a play about a schoolyard massacre and its sequelae and--to quote the press release--about "the limits of forgiveness." I guess. Through October 23 at ATC; tickets $10-$40.

Laura Molzahn

Bubble Chest Bump with Jessica Deahr, Mary Tarpley

Who could resist a show called “Immediate Gratification”? Chicago Dance Crash is billing it as “the self-proclaimed TV dinner of dance productions,” dedicated entirely to those with short attention spans. Guest choreographer Harrison McEldowney contributes an ode to, uh, self-love. And Paul Christiano both directs and choreographed several of the works, including ADHDivas, Tyranny of the Geek, and 101 Cures for Boredom, which manages to incorporate Nerf guns and bubble wrap. Check out Zac Whittenberg’s excellent TimeOut preview of the show, which runs Friday and Saturday at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts.

Luna Negra Dance Theater celebrates mujeres in a program of three works choreographed or inspired by women. Guest choreographer Asun Noales, head of Spain’s Otra Danza, contributes the new Juana, based on the story of Juana la Loca (“Joanna the Mad”), a 16th-century Spanish queen whose “madness” may have been a matter of political convenience to her enemies. A new piece by Luna Negra artistic director Gustavo Ramirez Sansano, Not Everything, was inspired by the work of photographer Graciela Iturbide, and former company member Michelle Manzanales reprises her dance based on four Frida Kahlo self-portraits, Paloma Querida (“Beloved Dove”). Saturday only at the Harris.

Jonathan Abarbanel

On October 8, 1871, the City of Chicago went up in flames in a holocaust that burned for three days and went down in the history books. (Never mind that an even worse fire, with a greater loss of life, was burning at the same time up in Wisconsin.) You can spend the precise 140th anniversary of that event watching The Great Fire at Lookingglass Theatre in the Water Tower Pumping Station, one of the few buildings to survive the fire. The Great Fire, written and directed by John Musial, opens this weekend and runs through Nov. 20. Lookingglass is devoting its entire 24th season to history, mostly Chicago history and disastrous Chicago history at that!

Before he began to write socially-radical realistic dramas in the 1870's, such as A Doll House, Henrik Ibsen was writing heroic tragedies in verse and epic plays of Norwegian history. One example, his seldom-seen Brand, is receiving a rare production by Red Tape Theatre Company at St. Peter's Church (621 W. Belmont). Appropriate to the venue, Brand concerns a moralistic minister who's certain belief in a God of Vengeance rather than a God of Love costs him everything. Brand continues through Oct. 29. Another sprawling early Ibsen drama, the folkloric and picaresque Peer Gynt, will be staged Nov. 15-Dec. 18 by Polarity Ensemble Theatre at the City's Storefront Theater.

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