Watching three men chained to a wall all evening may not sound particularly compelling. But Oak Park Festival Theatre's new production of the 1992 play Someone Who'll Watch Over Me by Irish dramatist Frank McGuinness is tightly staged and strongly performed.
It may not be everyone's cup of tea but I laughed my head off at the new production of the 1992 comedy Dearly Departed at Circle Theatre. There's not really a true storyline but rather an assortment of hilarious character sketches built around a lot of goofy down-home folks who are gathering for a family funeral.
I'd seen this show twice before. About 20 years ago, Marvin's Room played in the same theater building, produced by another company. In my memory, that production seemed like a soap opera, stuffed with diseases, physical and emotional, but was not particularly funny.
Circle Theatre's new production, Reefer Madness, is hilarious and engaging, with top-notch performances, lots of high-energy singing, well-executed dance numbers, innovative staging, and crisp direction by Matthew Gunneis. The large, lively cast goes all-out for maximum fun.
Oak Park Festival Theatre's absorbing new outdoor production of Shakespeare's Richard III is lucid, lively and rapid-paced. There's humor and horror, thrilling swordplay, and vivid performances. Kevin Theis gives a mesmerizing, nuanced performance in the challenging title role — the hunchback who would be king.
Inherit the Wind is a fictionalized drama based on what was perhaps the best-known jury trial of the 20th century — the 1925 Scopes "Monkey Trial." A Tennessee high school teacher, John T. Scopes (1900-1970), was convicted of teaching Charles Darwin's theory of evolution to his biology classes.
Circle Theatre currently has two productions on the boards. In their main space, the Australian play When the Rain Stops Falling is sold out for what remains of its run. That show has become the "hottest ticket in town."
It's bleak but effective, grim but exhilarating. When the Rain Stops Falling, by Australian playwright Andrew Bovell, is certainly never formulaic, and the Circle Theatre production is the Chicago premiere. The complex but intricately layered play, sharply directed by John Gawlik, is a terrific ensemble showcase; there are no obvious "leads."
Chicago playwright Tanya Saracho's play Enfrascada (A Hoodoo Comedy of Jarring Proportions) has been playing to packed houses at 16th Street Theater in Berwyn for several weeks. It's really a strong, enjoyable production, tightly directed by Keira Fromm and featuring a dynamic ensemble of five actresses.
I continue urging people to "get on over to Open Door" to check out what's happening at this newest of local theater spaces, located on Ridgeland just south of Harrison in Oak Park. That was even before Open Door Repertory Company's current production, which is so joyful and dynamic you'd better act quickly.