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Chicago Spotlight: February 2009

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A scene from Mourning Becomes Electra
(© Toneelgroep)
This month, the Tony Award-winning Goodman Theatre continues its global exploration of the early works of Eugene O'Neill with The Hairy Ape (February 7-21), staged by The Hypocrites under their wunderkind artistic director Sean Graney. The month also features Amsterdam's Toneelgroep in Mourning Becomes Electra (February 25-28), presented in Dutch, and helmed by internationally acclaimed director, Ivo van Hove.

Other vintage playwrights and plays to be seen in February are Noel Coward's Design for Living at First Folio Theatre performing in the Peabody Mansion (through March 1); a one-man, 90-minute Hamlet offered by the visiting Prague Shakespeare Festival at Gorilla Tango Theater (February 6-15); Bernard Shaw's rarely-scene John Bull's Other Island, staged by ShawChicago at the Ruth Page Theater (February 7-March 2); also Twelfth Night, a first foray into Shakespeare for Piccolo Theatre (February 13-March 21); and a stage adaptation of Lillian Hellman's memoir, Scoundrel Time, at City Lit (through March 8).

The vintage goods are equally balanced by a gaggle of Windy City world premieres. Tom Patrick shows what happens when a marketing team invades the Middle East in Misamerica at Raven Theatre (through March 28); Gary Slezak imagines a door-slamming farce set in Paris in Slaphappy, offered by Beat the Jester Productions at Theatre Building Chicago (February 2-March 15); and Victory Gardens Theater presents Living Green, by Gloria Bond Clunie (through March 1).

Goldbrick, a two-person musical featuring songs by Jon Langford and a book by Loren Crawford that pays tribute to Langford's Welsh heritage, makes its world premiere courtesy of Collaboration and Walkabout Theatre at Building Stages (through March 1). Also, Polarity Ensemble presents a play it developed through its annual playwriting competition, The White Airplane by Darren Callahan, about a modern Japanese man who finds another man living inside him, at the Josephinum, February 13-March 22. Rounding out the premieres is Lifeline Theatre's Mariette in Ecstasy, an adaptation of the novel by Ron Hansen (February 13-April 5).

Over at Black Ensemble Theater, February brings another in the troupe's endless series of biographical dramas of African-American musical artists: I Gotcha! The Story of Joe Tex and the Soul Clan (through March 29). The drama of struggle, exploitation, and personal demons rarely changes from show to show, but the musical recreations are always spectacular and worth the price of admission. Among other February musicals: Griffin Theatre presents The Robber Bridegroom -- not seen here in ages -- at Theatre Building Chicago (February 7-March 29); Quest Ensemble offers FREE performances of Sondheim and Lapine's Into the Woods at their Blue Theatre (February 20-March 29); and the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire brings back star director/choreographer Marc Robin for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (February 18-May 10).

As always in Chicago, there are a few theatrical attractions too unique to fit the usual categories. Local actor Richard Henzel has performed his one-man show, Mark Twain in Person, for 40 years. Now that he's approaching the right age for the role, he is offering his portrayal in a rare local run at Prop Thtr (February 6-March 1). Then, American Theater Company has teamed with Congo Square Theatre to offer a rotating rep of Sam Shepherd's True West and Suzan-Lori Park's Topdog/Underdog. The former features two white actors and the latter two black actors. Midway in the run, ATC and Congo Square will switch the casts. The "as-written" pairing opened January 26; the race-reversal pairing opens February 9 and runs through March 8. Also, one of Chicago's most visually engaging troupes, The Strange Tree Group, celebrates its fifth anniversary by reviving its first production, The Dastardly Ficus, by resident author Emily Schwartz, who tends towards Gorey-esque fantasies (Chopin Theatre, February 19-April 4).

Finally, a few odds and ends: The Artistic Home brings the life and career of artists Amedeo Modigliani to life in Modigliani (February 3-March 22); About Face Theatre stages a re-imagined version of John C. Russell's drama of adolescence, Stupid Kids, at the Hoover-Leppen Theater (February 4-March 8), the local debut of new About Face artistic director Bonnie Metzgar; and Theatre at the Center offers Ken Ludwig's farce, Leading Ladies (February 19-March 22).

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