Back to the Future is the wellspring of Amanda Murphy's new fun-addled musical, presented by pH Productions. Teen Marty McFly redirects the swerve of history after he's dispatched in his time-traveling car to 1955, the year his parents are supposed to meet. Among the song-and-dance routines is a witty piece choreographed for embodied flux capacitors—aka the chorus line. The cast sometimes employ a campy style of singing that broadly parodies musical theater conventions, as when mad inventor Doc announces he's been fatally shot with a booming aria. Other deviations from straight singing—Marty's mom's forced screech and his dad's buffoonish bass in particular—are a source of comic inventiveness, yet the performers stop short of plumbing the full potential for silliness. That said, notwithstanding a few novel touches that didn't rev my engines, like Marty's last-minute j'accuse concerning Doc's ethical evasions, the show should satisfy fans. —Jena Cutie $10-$20
It's 1665, London is suffering an outbreak of the bubonic plague, and wealthy old William Snelgrave is confined to his home under enforced quarantine because his servants have succumbed to the disease. He shares the premises with his love-starved wife and two refugees from the horror outside: a sailor and a mysterious 12-year-old girl. In her poetic drama from 1995, playwright Naomi Wallace offers an intriguing portrait of a social order under more pressure than it can take. I'd like to see it performed sometime. The thing Jeffrey Clark Stokes has directed under the aegis of Ghost Light Productions doesn't qualify. It's a clueless, clumsy, incoherent mess that fails to function at the most rudimentary level. —Tony Adler $10
If any theatrical outfit in this town could pull off a musical comedy about the origin story of Jim Jones, the leader of the People's Temple who, in 1978, convinced 900 of his followers to kill themselves by drinking Kool-Aid laced with cyanide, it's the Annoyance. And the cast, led by Paul Jurewicz as Jones, Laurel Krabacher as his wife Marcy, and Greg Hollimon as Reverend Major Jealous Divine (aka God), the charismatic preacher Jones sought out for guidance in cult leadership back in the early 1960s, turn in uniformly excellent performances. But even they can't overcome Charlie McCrackin's script, which involves too many lame jokes about female orgasms and also fails to make its point about the nature of evil and how it manifested itself in Jones. Maybe there's a great musical comedy about Jim Jones out there, but this isn't it. —Aimee Levitt $20, $15 for students
Theatre Momentum's improvised piece, just under an hour long, is centered on the question "What happens to your life when you take a different path?" To start, the cast solicits audience suggestions of forks in the road; on the night I attended it was "staying in a foreign place," which was transmuted into a performance that revolved around patients, family members, and counselors at a mental hospital. Some scenes started off shaky, as can happen when creating an improvised world, but well-crafted character development and emotionally believable interplay led to both surprisingly visceral and comical moments. A blossoming unlikely friendship between a snarky suicidal patient (Bridget Visser) and a kooky, pudding-loving longtime resident scared to reenter society (Erin Monahan) was an especially touching highlight. —Marissa Oberlander $10
Jukebox musical set in a Laundromat. $32.50-$38.50
On opening night at Annoyance Theatre's sophisticated new space, founder Mick Napier touted the organization's "young and subversive" reputation. But Invisible World (the title is a metaphor for sketch comedy) seems to hail from the days before the Internet; a recurring school-shooting joke is the sole plot point in two hours of unrelated skits that proceed as if no one's never heard of Reddit, much less 4chan. Some of these skits were terrific in a deliciously terrible kind of way—I'm looking at you, subtlest dead baby joke ever. It was clear the cast spent a lot of time working on this show, but it seems simmering so long on the stovetop had detrimental effects: the performers' attitude was oddly defensive, diffident and stiff. —Jena Cutie $20
Work by Xenz, the London-based graffiti artist. Reception Sat 7/5, 6-10 PM.
Photographs by Virgil DiBiase, shot with Leica cameras. Reception Fri 6/20, 6-8 PM.
Work by local photographers Andy Karol and Oli Rodriguez. Reception Sat 6/7, 6-10 PM.
Work by Irish-American artist Michael Carroll. Reception Fri 7/18, 6-9 PM.
Photographs of Illinois jail and prison cells by Lloyd DeGrane. Reception Fri 6/20, 6-10 PM.
We first meet 24-year-old Tessa on her wedding day, at her parents' vacation home on the Atlantic seaboard. It's fall. Her diaphanous off-white bridal gown is hanging from the frame of a porch window, suffused with morning light, and she's absorbed in the perfection of it all. Her mother keeps reminding her that she doesn't have to go through with the ceremony if she doesn't want to. But, oh, Tessa wants to. For whatever reason, she wants to very much. Of course she's due to get slapped down. And sure enough, boyish fiance Arnaud arrives to tell her he loves her, but . . . Having just put on the bridal gown, Tessa undoes it again, lets it drop to the ground, and walks away. Continue reading >> $35-$75
Kenneth Lonergan's This Is Our Youth starts with 21-year-old Dennis Ziegler hanging out in his studio apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side, watching TV. (Since the year is 1982, it's a big, freestanding cube of a set—the kind with vacuum tubes inside.) The stage directions say he's got an "old black-and-white movie" on, but they're not specific about which one. If you're sitting in the right (i.e., south) section of Steppenwolf Theatre's upstairs space, though, you can glimpse Boris Karloff on the screen. There's a fez on his head, and that can mean only one thing: that director Anna D. Shapiro decided Dennis should be watching the original 1932 version of The Mummy. It's an artful choice. The Mummy is about an ancient Egyptian priest, Imhotep, who comes back from the tomb after thousands of years, hoping to be reunited with his beloved, a princess called Ankh-es-en-amon. With a few modifications, that's what Lonergan's ugly/sweet 1996 two-act is about too. Continue reading >> $20-$82
The fledgling Enthusiasts Theatre Company makes its debut with this low-budget, small-scale rendition of Sarah Ruhl's very uneven 2007 comedy. Last seen in Chicago six years ago at Steppenwolf, it follows the emotional journey of Jean, who answers the annoying cell phone of the man sitting next to her when he won't. After realizing that the fellow is dead, Jean takes the phone and tracks down his survivors—mother, brother, mistress, and wife—since, apparently, Jean has no life (or cell phone) of her own. Essentially a series of sketches illustrating the paradoxes of modern life—the difficulties people have making connections even when we're all connected—the play is sometimes absurd, sometimes fantastical, sometimes sentimental, but almost never convincing, certainly not in this earnest but erratically paced production directed by Toma Tavares Langston. —Albert Williams $20
Six years ago, TimeLine Theatre had a hit with Fiorello!, the neglected 1959 musical about New York City's Depression-era mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. Now director Nick Bowling and music director Doug Peck, who shepherded that show to success, have unearthed another rarity from 1959: Juno, by playwright Joseph Stein and composer-lyricist Marc Blitzstein, a faithful, straightforward musical adaptation of Irish playwright Sean O'Casey's 1924 tragicomedy Juno and the Paycock. Juno—which played a scant two weeks in its original Broadway run—is more dutiful than inspired. Stein's script hews close to O'Casey's story yet lacks the original play's gritty lyricism. Still, I think TimeLine's patrons will find much to admire in Juno. It's lovingly staged, very well acted, and beautifully sung. Hearing good, strong voices au naturel, unfiltered by amplification, is a treat that the rest of the audience seemed to enjoy as much as I did. Continue reading >> $35-$48