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Chicago Spotlight: May 2010

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Joseph Stearns, Aaron Snook, and Nick Vidal in Aftermath
(© Johnny Knight)
Chicago, birthplace of the jukebox musical, Million Dollar Quartet, takes a more serious look at early rock history with the world premiere of Aftermath, by Ronan Marra, a study of Rolling Stones founder Brian Jones from 1966 to his untimely 1969 death in his own swimming pool.

Jones isn't the only historic person onstage this month. Trap Door Theatre offers the world premiere of Ken Prestininzi's Chaste (May 13-June 19), portraying the 1870's platonic menage-a-trois between Friederich Nietzsche and two friends (male and female) which evolved into a struggle for uber-mensch bragging rights. Also, Tracey Scott Wilson's The Good Negro (Goodman Theatre, May 1-June 6) is loosely based on Martin Luther King, Jr. Set during the 1960s American Civil Rights Movement, tensions build in the increasingly hostile South as a trio of emerging black leaders attempts to conquer their individual demons amid death threats from the Ku Klux Klan and wire taps by the FBI.

Ruckus Theatre profiles the rise and fall of former New Jersey governor James McGreevey in the world premiere of The Gay American, by Kristian O'Hare, presented at the Side Project (May 16-26). McGreevey's coming-out story may be contrasted with E. Patrick Johnson's solo show, Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South, presented by About Face Theatre at the Viaduct (May 7-29).

May classics kick off with August Strindberg's 1907 rarity, The Ghost Sonata, presented by Oracle Productions (May 8-June 19), which promises an "irreverent reimagining" featuring video, puppets and "deviant physicality." Classics also include Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by double Obie Award winner David Cromer. Produced by Writers' Theatre (May 13-July 11), the cast features Matt Hawkins as Stanley, Stacy Stoltz as Stella and Natasha Lowe as Blanche.

Two more classics: Sizwe Banzi is Dead (May 13-June 13), the "dramedy" by South African writer/actors Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona that helped end Apartheid, is directed by Ron OJ Parson at Court Theatre, while Tobacco Road is the once-scandalous 1930's adaptation by Jack Kirkland of the earthy Erskine Caldwell novel, one of the longest-running shows in Broadway history. Rarely revived, it's offered by American Blues Theater at Victory Gardens' Richard Christiansen Theater (May 27-June 20). The potent cast features Dennis Cockrum as repulsive Jeeter Lester, Carmen Roman as Ada, and Broadway veteran Kate Buddeke as Sister Bessie.

LaCosta Theatre and On the Spot Theatre Company present Charley's Sonata, a "dramatic comedy" by Mike Brayndick, at LaCosta (April 30-May 23), while the Neo-Futurists offer Crisis (A Musical Game Show), which allows eight ticket-holders each performance to compete for real cash prizes (at the Neo-Futurarium, May 1-June 5, followed by championship rounds, June 11-12). There's also a new revue at The Second City e.t.c. with the best title of the month, The Absolute Best Friggin' Time of Your Life (beginning May 2).

Still more new works include People We Know at the Side Project (May 4-June 6), a play by Robert Tenges about post-college friends making their way in the Big City; also, The Regulars, a one-hour rock musical about the staff and customers of a restaurant, presented by Hobo Junction at the Apollo Studio (May 7-June 3). Then, Robert Kauzlaric adapts Neil Gaiman's TV series/novel Neverwhere for Lifeline Theatre (May 10-June 20), the second Chicago adaptation of the work in two years. A final world premiere of high interest is War with the Newts, adapted by Obie Award winner Jason Loewith and Justin D. M. Palmer for Next Theatre Company, presented at the Mullady Theatre of Loyola University (May 21-June 20). Based on a Franz Kafka novel, the piece has been in development for two years and combines puppetry with live actors.

Steep Theatre, completing its most successful season ever, offers the U.S. premiere of 2,000 Feet Away (May 20-June 26), an award-winning drama by Australian author Anthony Weigh, set in small-town Iowa and dealing with the very real fall-out of registries of, and restrictions upon, convicted sexual predators, who must not live, work, shop, study or worship within 2,000 feet of--well--anything!

Finally, school must be out 'cause Broadway In Chicago is installing Fuerza Bruta: Look Up, at the Auditorium Theatre for the whole summer (from May 21). This pure spectacle show, featuring a floating overhead swimming pool, is from the creators of the Off-Broadway circus hit De La Guarda. FYI: audiences stand for the entire 65 minute performance.

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