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Chicago Spotlight: October 2004

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Poster for the Playing French Festival
(Graphic Design © Catherine Quillen)
You've tried French food and French kissing? How about some French theater? A French consular official in Chicago observed that the 20th century French plays being produced here were mid-century works by dead authors such as Anouilh, Beckett, Genet, Giraudoux, and Sartre. So he acquired English translations of more than 70 contemporary French plays, mostly by still-living writers little-known or unknown to American audiences, and made the plays available to local theater troupes.

The result is Playing French: Chicago's First Festival of Contemporary Plays from France, a two-month event (through Nov. 28) offering full productions of seven works, staged readings of nine more, films by or about French theater artists, guest lectures, and a scholarly symposium. Among the participating companies are the European Repertory, Wing & Groove, Piccolo, Trap Door, Hypocrites, Next and Steppenwolf Theatre, the Utopian Theatre Asylum (TUTA), the Theatre School at DePaul University and Northwestern University, among others. The festival is unique to Chicago, although consular officials might try the idea in New York, too. Complete details are online at

Two-time Tony Award winner Brian Dennehy stars in Eugene O'Neill's Hughie at the Goodman Theatre, directed by Goodman artistic chief Robert Falls, October 21 through November 21. It should be a good combination: Dennehy's two Tony Awards both are for Falls-helmed productions originating at the Goodman, Miller's Death of a Salesman and O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night. In Hughie, Dennehy plays a small-time gambler and major drinker who returns to his seedy hotel following a four-day bender, and bends the ear of the hotel desk clerk. The long one-act essentially is a monologue, although the silent desk clerk (played by Joe Grifasi) has an important role to play as a reactive presence.

Meanwhile, Arthur Miller madness has seized Chicago. The newest world premiere by the 89-year-old playwriting icon, Finishing the Picture, officially opens on October 5, and continues at the Goodman through October 31. Almost in lockstep, the small Off-Loop Actors Workshop is running Miller's Broken Glass through October 24, and then devoting the rest of its five-play season to Miller. American Theatre Company also has selected a Miller play, A View from the Bridge, to open its 20th anniversary season, from October 11 through October 24.

An icon of a different sort, journalist and political philosopher George Orwell, is in vogue this season, too. Sir Peter Hall's adaptation of Orwell's Animal Farm is the current show at Bailiwick Repertory through November 11, while Lookingglass Theatre opens its third season at the Water Tower Pumping Station with a new adaptation of Orwell's 1984, October 16 through November 28.

Chicago's musical theater is dominated this month by Gershwin and gospel. Writer, pianist, and actor Hershey Felder has brought his celebrated one-man show, George Gerswhin Alone, to the Royal George Theatre through October 24. Meanwhile, folks are rocking and reaching for the stars with Somebody Say Amen (Great Women of Gospel) at the Black Ensemble Theatre for an open run, and the Chicago premiere of Sing Hallelujah! at the Chicago Center for the Performing Arts, through November 28.

And what would October be without a few ghosts, goblins, and assorted thrills? The following shows at small Off-Loop and Off-Off-Loop venues promise to send a chill -- or at least a giggle -- up your spine: Tales from Mom's Crypt -- Tiff and the Haunted House of Pancakes, Corn Productions, October 8-31; 500 Clown Frankenstein, a three-person physical comedy inspired by the classic gothic novel, Loop Theatre, October 15-November 13; and Wyrd Sisters, the backstory of Macbeth's three witches adapted from Terry Pratchett's story, St. Sebastian Players at St. Bonaventure, October 22-November 14.

Those who prefer musical fiends might enjoy Sweeney Todd, Porchlight Music Theatre Chicago at Theatre Building, through November 7; and No Way to Treat a Lady, Douglas J. Cohen's musical version of the William Goldman novel and film about a murderous, unemployed actor (is there any other kind?), Light Opera Works at McCaw YMCA, October 3-November 14. And just so the little kiddies can enjoy Halloween, too, Lifeline Theatre musicalizes Bunnicula, the James and Deborah Howe tale about a vampire bunny, through November 28. That should give you something to sink your teeth into.

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