Having seen three Ike Holter plays so far, I'd say the hometown playwright has it in him to be a major deal in American theater. Of course, one of those plays was Hit the Wall, Holter's marvelous evocation of the 1969 Stonewall riot, so there's an element of the no-brainer in my assessment. But even his lesser efforts exhibit a sense of spoken language that's at once exuberant and surgically precise. This tale of a fictional Chicago high school on the verge of closing down is a perfect example. Especially as staged by Gus Menary for Jackalope Theatre, Exit Strategy expresses deep mourning and towering anger alongside lots and lots of casually witty banter. So what makes it a lesser effort? Terrible plotting, basically. Certain arguments come out of nowhere, contrived simply to give the impression that the ante's been upped. And the big last-minute revelation turns out to be a prosaic piece of information that the characters might've and should've known from the start—except that knowing it would've short-circuited the script. It's hard to stay annoyed, though, given that Holter's tactics yield opportunities for some solid work by a crack seven-member ensemble. —Tony Adler $15-$30http://jackalopetheatre.org
This summer-long multidisciplinary festival features weekly appearances by artists and troupes including Hubbard Street 2 (6/6), Solaire (7/18), and M.A.D.D. Rhythms (8/22), with times and locations to be announced two weeks before the performance.http://thelivingloopchicago.com
Kiss Kiss Cabaret's 20s-themed show. $20, $15 in advance
Group show featuring photographs from the museum's collection. Fri 7/11, 5-8 PM.
Many of Samuel Beckett's short plays aren't really plays at all. They're human behavior mechanisms—kinetic sculptures made of people and words, constructed to generate distilled visions of who we are and what we do. Director Jennifer Markowitz has assembled a solid half-dozen such mechanisms for this Mary-Arrchie Theatre production, ranging from a clever little joke like Catastrophe (a theater director berates his assistant while she manipulates an actor as if he were so many pipe cleaners) to a dark demonstration of political karma like What Where (a paranoid despot arrests her own thugs one by one until there's only one arrest left to be made) and the literally sculptural Play (three heads sit atop a pedestal and narrate their love triangle in counterpoint). The cast is generally strong, but Stephen Walker is exceptional, playing various characters in a naturalistic (yet often wiseass) style that, strangely enough, makes Beckett's abstractions work. —Tony Adler $25
None of the four plays that make up this bill feels finished. Each one feels rough, ill-formed, or incomplete in its own way. That is to be expected. These are one acts written by students at Ohio University's MFA program, and each writer has wisely allowed himself (all the writers are male; the directors are female) the creative freedom to take risks and "fail forward." This may be good for the writers in the long term. But the result is an evening of half-baked work, enlivened by moments of deep-dish Chicago-style acting. SarahJayne Ashenhurst and Elizabeth Birnkrant are particularly intense as an unlikely contract killer and her narcissistic client in Ryan Patrick Dolan's Burger King. —Jack Helbig $10
An examination of the characters behind the screen names on Reddit. $15, $10 with a Reddit profile
A comedic burlesque show. $20, $15 for students
As I headed into the Waltzing Mechanics’ 16th collection of transit tales, a cast member asked if I had a good el story. I hastily described the time someone's bright-orange vomit ricocheted off a window and onto my shoulder. He asked a couple broad questions that elicited few additional details, then sent me into the theater. I suspect the folks who conduct the interviews to get material for El Stories proceed in a similar manner. Like previous incarnations I've seen, this late-night show consists mostly of fleeting incidents with hardly enough development to qualify as anecdotes, let alone stories, presented with unwavering earnest literalness. Each of the 15 pieces involves music, which can aggravate, captivate, or unify, as is made clear repeatedly throughout the hour. —Justin Hayford $20http://waltzingmechanics.org
Group show featuring multidisciplinary work curated by Jenni Button. Reception Sat 8/2, 6-10 PM.
Multidisciplinary work by artists in residence at the University of Chicago's Public Life/Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture. Reception Wed 7/9, 6-8 PM.
Juried show featuring work by encaustic artists. Reception Fri 8/1, 6-9 PM.
Matt Lyle's silent play is called The Boxer, but its true hero is Velma, a plucky gal down on her luck, who gets work during the Great Depression by disguising herself (not always credibly) as a man. Thanks to a twist of fate and a well-timed punch, she finds herself training a boxer for a big fight. Then she falls in love with him. For their third collaboration with Pursuit Productions, director Kacie Smith and choreographer Ahmad Simmons have put together a show that feels like a lost Chaplin feature and is just as delightful. The actors—led by Amber Snyder and Eric Duhon as Velma and the Boxer—are at once goofy and graceful, Mike Evans's piano performance of his own score and Matt Wills's sound effects are witty and well-timed, and Craig Kidwell's light design cleverly recreates the look of a black-and-white film. —Aimee Levitt $20
After two years and multiple daily performances of their vaudeville act "The Ugly Blonde," the two title characters, Peter the Perfectionist and Albert the Alcoholic (they take turns playing the ugly blonde), are ready to kill each other. But the show must go on, so the backstage dramatics alternate with increasingly chaotic renditions of their act, which requires that they fight over the same dame. But because this is a production of the Silent Theatre Company, all the dialogue is rendered in supertitles, silent-movie style. Costars and codirectors Dan Howard and Marvin Quijada (who wrote the script) are both adept at physical comedy, and they keep the action, and the jokes, moving, accompanied by Ian Paul Custer's witty piano performance of his own score. —Aimee Levitt $20, $15 for students and seniors
Found Objects Theatre Group’s pairing of two one-acts, Mark Chrisler’s The Art of Painting and Chris Bower’s Notes to Molly, is a confusing one, though both plays address irreparable relationships and impossible expectations. The Art of Painting, presented as an art history lecture on Vermeer and his infamous forger, is more exciting and intellectually stimulating than anything I remember from college. Playing the instructor, Chrisler builds a sense of unreliability and mystery, and the twists that follow are a refreshing reminder of the vivid worlds a one-man show can create onstage. Notes to Molly, a portrait of an alcoholic couple contemplating the failures of their relationship, is thoughtful, well staged, and thoroughly depressing, but lacks the genuine and deeply personal aspects of Painting. —Marissa Oberlander $15