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Chicago Spotlight: August 2005

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Katherine Helmond in Morning's at Seven
(Photo © John Bridges)
Even Chicago theater, as lively as it is, falls into the doldrums for a few weeks each August. Not to worry: the September onslaught of season openings will more than make up for it.

Fact is, the hottest shows of August are the hits of July that have been extended. Corn Productions world premiere The Bad Seed--The Musical has moved to Bailiwick for an extended 10-week run, through September 9. And Bailiwick's own world premiere musical, A Kiss From Alexander, has been extended for six weeks through September 25 on the strength of good reviews and business. The former show -- with tongue firmly in cheek -- is based on the 1950's play and movie, while Alexander is an original that improbably brings Alexander the Great back to mortal life as an Off-Broadway singer/actor/dancer, where he encounters the reincarnation of Hephaestion, the great gay love of his life. A Kiss From Alexander is part of Bailiwick's annual Pride Series.

At Steppenwolf Theatre Company, the world premiere by Bruce K. Norris, The Pain and the Itch, has been strongly received by critics and audiences and will play through August 28. The very bleak comedy has been sharply directed by Anne V. Shapiro and boasts an excellent ensemble, including Jayne Houdyshell and Tracy Letts. And speaking of ensembles, TV great Katherine Helmond and an ensemble of local veteran players star in Paul Osborn's' 1939 genteel comedy, Mornings at Seven.

At the Metropolis Centre in northwest suburban Arlington Heights, Christopher Durang's Beyond Therapy runs through September 25, sharing the stage (in a type of rotating repertory) with The Vagina Monologues, and an extended stand by Steve March Torme and his big band tribute to his Dad, Mel Torme.

Moving into August proper, the month opens on the 4th when mighty mite Leslie Jordan -- who plays Beverley Leslie, he diminutive nemesis of Karen Walker on Will and Grace --brings his solo show Like a Dog on Linoleumhis one-man show to the Bailiwick through August 21. Another short run, yet perhaps the biggest production of the month, is Light Opera Works' staging of Franz Lehar's The Merry Widow, running August 20-28 only. This year is the centennial of the perennially popular operetta, which Light Opera Works artistic director Rudy Hogenmiller is staging in a new translation.

Among other shows opening this hot month are Giving Sorrow Words, staged by Smoke and Mirrors Theatre Company at the Loyola Studio, August 5-September 5; Sextet, an evening of one-act plays by the acclaimed Lanford Wilson, produced by Eclipse Theatre Company at Victory Gardens, August 8-September 11; and Samuel Beckett's 20th Century classic Waiting for Godot, a remount of an earlier-in-the-season success by Signal Ensemble at Chopin Theatre, August 11-September 4.

Also on tap are Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part I as staged by the women's ensemble, Stockyards Theatre Project, August 13-September 4 at Theatre Building Chicago; David Mamet's The Cryptogram, presented by The Journeyman at Stage Left, August 18-September 10; and Safe, directed by Dale Goulding for the International Theatre of Chicago, August 29-October 8 at the Athenaeum.

The month brings several special interest presentations, such as a visit from Poland by Teatr Cogitatur offering La Luna August 6-September 4 at Chopin Theatre, performed in Polish. In the western suburbs, Theater-Hikes is adapting The Little House on the Prairie for August 6-28 performances at the Morton Arboretum. Theater-Hikes i stages shows at out-of-doors locations where audiences discover each successive scene as they march along a path or hiking trail, thereby combining art with wholesome exercise. In this instance, they've found the perfect family vehicle.

Meanwhile,, Studio Z presents its version of classic Italian commedia dell'arte with The Ticket, August 13-28 at the Chicago Cultural Center Studio Theater. Finally, Thresholds, a social services agency, has established a theater wing to combine therapy with outreach, and will bring its second original show to a public audience, Ourselves Unabridged, August 19-28 at Theatre Building Chicago.

Several new Off-off-Loop theater troupes are presenting their first shows this hot summer, among them Sansculotte Theater offering the world premiere of American Rock Anthem, August 5-September 10 at Raven Theatre; also Precious Mettle staging Buicks, August 6-28 at the Side Studio.

Chicago continues to be fertile territory for theater of, by, and/or for children and family audiences. Several of the commercial "bigs," such as Drury Lane Oakbrook Terrace Theatre and the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, offer daytime productions under the Theatre for Young Audiences label, while leading nonprofit companies such as Steppenwolf Theatre Company and Chicago Shakespeare Theatre have more sophisticated family offerings. Even The Second City, the famous improvisational comedy theater, has offered Sunday morning (11AM) kids' shows for decades. "Sunday, Sunday, the little bastards' fun day," the actors like to chant as they promote the show to their adult audiences. The current show, through September 4, is Big Bad Wolf (vs. Lord Underface von Schtinker).

Among other choices for kids are Pinocchio, produced by the Chicago Kids Company through August 19 at St. Patrick Performing Arts Center (3812 W. Montrose, Chicago); and That's Weird, Grandma, a long-run show by Barrel of Monkeys based on stories told by kids. It's in an open run, Mondays at 8PM at the Neo-Futurarium.

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