Shaw and Brecht Even Shaw- and Brecht-Haters Will Enjoy, Plus An Alice Childress Revival

Shaw and Brecht Even Shaw- and Brecht-Haters Will Enjoy, Plus An Alice Childress Revival

Florence and Wine in the Wilderness, eta Creative Arts, 7558 S. South Chicago Ave. in Grand Crossing, 773-752-3955; through March 3.

Alice Childress, author of the novel A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ but a Sandwich and the first woman to win an Obie Award, was also the first African American woman to have a play professionally produced. That play, Florence (1949) is the curtain-raiser of this evening of her work, and while it receives a fine production anchored by the delicate performance of Kona N. Burks, it’s the second piece—written twenty years later—that’s the real find. Wine in the Wilderness, set in the chaos of the late 60s, shows a black man coming painfully to terms with the idea that he doesn’t get to define black womanhood. Under Mignon McPherson Stewart’s capable direction, Mark Howard and Alicia Ivy White conduct a romance that’s as sweet as it is unconventional.

Pygmalion, Stage Left and BoHo Theatre at Theatre Wit, 1229 West Belmont Ave. in Lakeview, 773-975-8150; Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 and Sundays at 3 through February 10; tickets $20-$25

George Bernard Shaw’s most familiar play turns out to be not so familiar after all as Vance Smith directs it at the speed of light, with no time for the audience to get restive. Shaw’s complex ideas about identity, class and gender are spouted rapid-fire as if they were part of normal conversation rather than material for the lecture hall. This leaves us free to invest ourselves in the proto-love affair between Professor Henry Higgins (Steve O’Connell, adorable enough to avoid invidious comparisons with Leslie Howard and/or Rex Harrison) and the Cockney flower-girl Eliza Doolittle (the extraordinary Mouzam Makkar). The result is a bit like standing under a volcano of ideas sharing an umbrella with terrifically interesting commentators (especially Mark Pracht’s Alfred Doolittle, avatar of the ‘undeserving poor’). Theresa Ham’s costume designs could put Downton Abbey to shame.

The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Promethean Theatre Ensemble at City Lit Theater, 1020 West Bryn Mawr in Edgewater, 800-836-3006; Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 and Sundays at 3 through February 9; tickets $20 at

Jon Stewart once created a spectrum of comedy that ran from “Pants-Wetting” down to “Brechtian;” and Brecht is indeed generally less funny than trying. This production, though, is funny and moving in equal measure, as expertly performed by a company of 15 actors. Not only do they handle Brecht’s dry wit with fluency, they play instruments and sing Matt Kahler’s gorgeous original music with flair. (Kahler’s arrangements enlivened Gilbert & Sullivan for the Hypocrites, but even if you saw Penzance or Mikado you’ll be amazed by his composition skills.) The text of Caucasian is classic Brecht: we’re at war, the world is run by cretins, and no good deed goes unpunished. Yet director Ed Rutherford enables us to care about Grusha (Sara Gorsky, with a voice to match her strong acting chops) and the child she adopts—even though the child is actually and obviously a doll. Brecht, who worked to alienate the audience, might be horrified–-but for the rest of us, a Brecht play about real people with real feelings is a joy to behold.