An Early Norris at Redtwist, A Pair of Havels at Trap Door | WBEZ
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Playwrights at Center Stage: Trap Door Premieres Vaclav Havel, Red Twist Captures Bruce Norris

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The Unveiling and US Premiere of Dozens of Cousins, Trap Door Theatre, 1655 W. Cortland; 773-384-0494; Thursdays-Saturdays 8 p.m. through January 26; tickets $20 (2 for one Thursdays, $25 Saturdays).

Few theaters in the country, and none in Chicago, do the kind of work in which Trap Door Theatre specializes: the highly intellectual, deeply political and quasi-absurdist plays of contemporary Europe.  So an evening at Trap Door is never less than an adventure, and often absolutely thrilling.  That’s the case with the company’s current offering, a pair of plays by poet-dramatist Vaclav Havel. (In his spare time Havel engineered the Velvet Revolution against Soviet domination of Czechoslovakia and then became the first president of the Czech Republic.) Havel’s bizarre comedies anatomize with surgical precision the ludicrous self-absorption of people determined to reform others, and Trap Door Artistic Director Beata Pilch captures every nuance.  You know how some people have perfect pitch?  Pilch and her actors have perfect rhythm for Havel’s dialogue, and express it not only in speech but in dance and acrobatics as precise as the workings of a Swiss watch.  It’s impossible to describe: just go see it! (KK)

Purple Heart, Redtwist Theatre, 1044 West Bryn Mawr; 773-728-7529; Thursdays-Saturdays 7 p.m., Sundays 3 p.m. through January 27; tickets $30 ($25 Thursdays, seniors/students $5 off)

Another first-rate work in a space the size of your living room.  Redtwist Theatre in Edgewater isn’t afraid to take on big projects, and when the project matches the company’s very contemporary sensibility the results are outstanding.  (Its production of The Man From Nebraska made brilliantly clear a play I’d found puzzling and tedious at Steppenwolf.)  Here again it takes on a one-time Steppenwolf commission, teasing out every layer of meaning in this early work by the Pulitzer-Prizewinning author of Clybourne Park.  The four actors (including the remarkable teenager Nicholas Roget-King) strip back the surface of routine exchanges among a war widow, her mother-in-law, her son and a mysterious visitor so we can see the blood and muscle underneath.  Director Jimmy McDermott gets the best from everybody, and Clay Sanderson takes the concept “creepy” to previously unknown heights.

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