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Chicago Spotlight: July 2008

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Jon Michael Hill and Michael McKean in Superior Donuts
(© Michael Brosilow)
As we move into July, Chicago is savoring its sweet triumphs at this year's Tony Awards, which the Windy City seemed to dominate. The Steppenwolf Theatre Company production of August: Osage County won five Tonys, with playwright Tracy Letts adding the "Best Play" Tony Award to his Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Letts' next play at Steppenwolf, Superior Donuts (June 29-August 17) is set in a pastry shop in Chicago's rundown-but-changing Uptown neighborhood.

Also at this year's Tonys, the Chicago Shakespeare Theater received the Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theater, as recommended by members of the American Theatre Critics Association. Chicago Shakes was founded in 1986 on $5,000 and now has an annual budget over $13 million and 24,000 subscribers. Its newest project is a swift rap version of Much Ado About Nothing, retitled Funk It Up About Nothin' (June 30-August 3). It's created by the writing and performing brothers GQ and JQ, who achieved success several years ago with The Bombitty of Errors.

Outdoors, in west suburban Oakbrook at the Mayslake Forest Preserve, First Folio Shakespeare Festival offers a traditional Much Ado About Nothing (July 9-August 17). Mayslake -- once a private estate -- has beautiful formal gardens and picnics are encouraged. For the fourth and final year, MidTangent Productions presents its gay and lesbian take on Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream: A Queer Tale (National Pastime Theatre, July 3-August 3). The ambitious Bohemian Theatre Ensemble -- called the Bohos -- presents The Merchant of Venice in a tiny 35-seat playhouse (Heartland Studio, July 25-August 24). A few days later, The Mill offers contemporary playwright Paula Vogel's satirical tale of what Othello's wife REALLY was like, Desdemona: A Play About a Handkerchief (Stage Left Theatre, July 26-August 23).

Annoyance Productions was founded by an alumnus of the comedy institution, The Second City, and its shows are usually developed through improvisation, and often have a slapped-together, pop-culture aesthetic in which enthusiasm easily tops refinement. In July, Annoyance is reviving two previous hits and opening a brand-new show. First up is Love is Dead (July 6-27), a musical comedy about necrophilia that was a hit earlier this season, and which will play the New York Fringe Festival in August. Also coming up is a revival of Co-ed Prison Sluts (July 4-August 29), a work of local legend that put Annoyance on the map with a multi-year run nearly 20 years ago, and is as salacious as its title suggests. Finally, Annoyance offers the world premiere of an off-beat three-sided romance, Tommy's Place (July 24-September 26).

The American Music Theater Project (AMTP) at Northwestern University offers two new shows in July. Officially, they are workshop productions although fully staged with the considerable talent and resources of Northwestern's schools of performance arts and music. The Bowery Boys (July 9-27), conceived and staged by David H. Bell, draws its story from Horatio Alger and its songs (carefully revised to suit the tale) from George M. Cohan. The musical will receive its world premiere during the 2008-2009 season at the Drury Lane Theatre in suburban Oakbrook Terrace. Later in the month, the AMTP presents Dangerous Beauty (July 24-August 17), a new musical with lyrics by Amanda McBroom and starring local favorite Hollis Resnick.

Fans of Jonathan Larson (author of Rent) can catch his more intimate musical, tick, tick . . . Boom, staged by The Journeymen in their new digs at the Berger Park Cultural Center, a Chicago Park District facility (July 3-August 16). Fans of Neil Simon will find his Plaza Suite newly staged by Eclipse Theatre Company (Victory Gardens Greenhouse, July 17-August 31). Fans of Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter will find his early comedy-of-menace, The Birthday Party, presented late in the month by Signal Ensemble (Chopin Theatre, July 28-August 30).

Finally, July offers a great deal of family fare, such as the giant Japanese Bunraku puppets in Downtown Chicago's Millennium Park, where Fast Fish Puppet Theatre offers frequent matinees of A Rabbit's Tale (July 2-August 24). Also, Chicago Children's Theatre presents a Latino child's tale (in English), Esperanza Rising, at the Goodman Theatre (July 13-August 10). Also, Chicago Shakespeare Theater opens Willy Wonka, a live version of the musical film (Navy Pier, July 8-August 17).

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