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Chicago Spotlight: June 2011

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The Last Act of Lilka Kadison
On Sunday, June 12, the artistic director and executive director of Chicago's Lookingglass Theatre Company will be in New York City to collect the 2011 Tony Award for excellence in a regional theater. The night before, back in Chicago, Lookingglass will open its latest world premiere, The Last Act of Lilka Kadison (previews June 1, runs June 11-July 24), the story of a 70-year-old woman who looks back to her childhood and her just-in-the-nick-of-time escape from the Nazis. Lookingglass co-founder David Kersnar directs, and is one of a half-dozen co-authors of the piece.

June also brings a mini-fest of plays by David Henry Hwang with the regional debut of Yellow Face at the Silk Road Theatre Project (June 14-July 17), directed by Steve Scott, and the world premiere (just two blocks away) of Hwang's comedy, Chinglish, closing the Goodman Theatre subscription season (June 18-July 24), directed by Leigh Silverman. A third Hwang play will be seen here in August. Silk Road and Goodman are collaborating on promoting the productions and various special events with Hwang himself.

June in Chicago also means the launch of the summer theater season. City Lit ends its subscription year with a sure-fire crowd-pleaser to carry them through the summer, a world premiere adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes adventure, The Sign of the Four (through July 3). Next, the outdoor Oak Park Festival Theatre presents The History of King Henry the Fourth, a combination of Parts I and II of Shakespeare's Henry IV, all in the lovely setting of Austin Gardens in the Frank Lloyd Wright Historic District (through July 9).

The Chicago Park District's Theater on the Lake follows days later, offering one-week reprises of hit shows from eight Off-Loop theaters (June 15-August 7), among them the Improvised Shakespeare Company (June 15-19) and Infamous Commonwealth's A Doll's House (June 22-26). Then, a few hours' drive from Chicago, the Illinois Shakespeare Festival offers a three-play repertory for its 31st season (June 23-August 7): Romeo and Juliet, The Winter's Tale, and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).

Musicals for the month include Brigadoon at Light Opera Works (June 3-12) with a 24-piece orchestra, a return visit by the touring company of Chicago at the Oriental Theatre (June 7-12) and a substantially revised version of Shout! at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire (June 15-August 14). Those seeking a musical that might be a bit more edgy can check out the world premiere of Jesus Camp--The Musical, offered by Corn Productions at their home base, The Cornservatory (June 17-July 16). The producers describe it as a "Christian musical version of Meatballs," but I doubt if their satirical version of Christianity will please true believers.

As usual in Chicago, there are a substantial number of world premiere plays such as the group-devised 15 Minutes presented by Ruckus Productions at The Side Project (June 4-26); also William Nedved's Chicago neighborhood drama, Northwest Highway, at Gift Theatre (through July 17); and then Joshua Rollins's A Girl with Sun in Her Eyes, staged by Pine Box Theatre at The Second Stage (June 30-August 7). Described as a new take on a police procedural, centering on a female detective, this new work is the first show from Pine Box in three years. When last active, Pine Box was a non-union company but now they are sporting an Equity cast.

More familiar plays on the boards include Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, staged by artistic director Michael Menendian at Raven Theatre (through July 23); also the late Lanford Wilson's The Fifth of July, presented by Infamous Commonwealth Theatre in the Raven Theatre's second space (June 11-July 24); and the Willy Russell favorite, Educating Rita (in his 2002 contemporary update), offered by Shattered Globe Theatre Company at Chicago Dramatists (June 21-August 14).

However, the biggest summer news has to do with enormous late-season hits at three Off-Loop theaters, all now extended deep into the summer. Shows have been selling out two weeks and even three weeks in advance for all three: Court Theatre's intimate reduction of The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess (cast of 15 and orchestra of six) now will run through July 3; Festen, adapted from the Swedish Dogme film, has been extended at Steep Theatre through July 10; and American Theater Company's run-away success with The Original Grease (with all its raunch and Chicago-specific references restored) has added two weekly shows and now will continue through August 21.

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