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DIVERSIONS Entertaining the guests: Thanksgiving activities
by Mary Shen Barnidge

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Suburban and rural households are seldom dismayed at the prospect of family gatherings. For city dwellers in small apartments, however, multiple-generation reunions often lead to claustrophobic stress. Downtown events are typically swarming with hotel visitors and oversized automobiles, so why not minimize the long waits and the scrimmages by entertaining guests—parents, in-laws, siblings, nieces and nephews—away from the tourist districts?

Non-holiday plays:

—Blue Man Group: In the nearly three decades since the enigmatic ceruleans with the squirting vests and splashy drums descended on our city, new generations continue to delight in their unique brand of mischievous spectacle. Four performances daily on Nov. 23-24 and two on Nov. 25 at the Briar Street Theater, 3133 N. Halsted St. Info:

—Women of Soul: Black Ensemble's musical revue showcases nine powerhouse vocalists paying homage to a glittering pantheon of icons from Mavis Staples to Aretha Franklin. Evening performances Nov. 23-24 and afternoon Nov. 25 at the Black Ensemble Theater, 4450 N. Clark St. Info: 773-769-4451

—Chicago Magic Lounge: The secret-code entry of this speakeasy-style club ( don't be fooled by the washing machines ) leads to three swanky rooms hosting a diverse array of close-up magicians. Two shows nightly on Nov. 23-24. All-ages no-alcohol show on Sunday Nov. 25. Info: 312-366-4500

—Bonus Round Game Cafe: Not a theater, but a coffee lounge on the border of Boystown/Wrigleyville with a bazillion kindsa board games for rent and on-site tutors to instruct newbies in how to play them. ( Recommended by students at Loyola and DePaul. ) Open 11 am-midnight at 3230 N. Clark St. Info: 773-857-7037

Getting into the holiday spirit:

—Amahl and the Night Visitors: Chicago Chamber Opera ( assisted by the Ensemble Espanol Dance Company ) presents Gian-Carlo Menotti's fable of the three kings bound for Bethlehem and the humble family they meet on their journey. Performances Nov. 24-25 at the Athenaeum, 2936 N. Southport Ave. Info: 773-935-6875

—It's A Wonderful Life: Live In Chicago: This live-action adaptation of the Frank Capra film classic is framed in an old-time radio broadcast by American Blues Theater. Performances Nov. 23-25 at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. Info: 773-327-5252

—Christmas Bingo: It's A Ho-Ho-Holiday: The folks who brought you the long-running Late Nite Catechism replicate an interactive game event with a bar, prizes and lots of Yuletide trivia. Performances Nov. 23-25 at the Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted St. Info: 312-988-9000.

—The Nutcracker: Not the toe-shoes and tutus version, but House Theatre's heartwarming tale of brave toys, evil rats and a family finding solace in a dark time. Performances 23-25 at Chopin Theater, 1543 W. Division St. Info: TheHouseTheatre,com 773-769-3832

Just for grown-ups:

—The Book of Merman: Flying Elephant Productions spoofs the gloriously vulgar Parker-Stone-Lopez musical while serving up a roster of Ethel Merman's greatest hits, delivered by Nicole Frydman as the immortal Broadway diva, herself. Performances Nov. 24-25 at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. Info: 773-327-5252

—SnowGirls-The Musical: The ribald camp-dragsters of Hell In A Handbag Productions embark on a parody of the 1995 Hollywood sleazeflick with the saga of a pole dancer at the North Pole. Performances Nov. 24-25 at Mary's Attic, 5400 N. Clark St. Info: 800-838-3006

Hanging out on the big day itself:

—Lincoln Park Zoo boasts that it stays open every day of the year. Be thankful with the animals from 10 am to 5 pm at 2001 N. Clark St ( Lake Shore Drive at Fullerton Parkway ). Info: 312-742-2000

—Winterland Rink at Wrigley Field. Marvel at the grandeur of the friendly confines ( without the crowds ) or rent ice skates for a spin on an artificial pond in the adjoining plaza at 3637 N. Clark St. Info: 773-388-8260

—Lincoln Park Conservatory is an indoor museum displaying exotic vegetation of every description at 2391 N. Stockton Drive. Info:

—Oz Park at 2021 N. Burling St. features open-air sculptures of beloved characters from the L. Frank Baum/Wicked series. Info: Park ).

For those who want to stroll in a green space close by, Chicago's Park District website ( ) offers a comprehensive guide to its locations citywide. People can also rent Divvy bikes and work up appetites for pumpkin pie with a ride around neighborhoods.

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