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SPRING THEATER PREVIEW Origin stories highlight theater in Chicago
by Mary Shen Barnidge

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The equinox is only two weeks away, but it's still wet and snowy—not the kind that gives us an excuse to snuggle down by the fire with a hot drink, but the sloppy shivery kind that creeps down collars and up sleeves. Rather than surrender to meteorological malaise while waiting impatiently for the days to get longer and the crocuses to bloom, people may have to don thermals one more time and go to a show.

Plays to see quick before they close

( all running to March 15 )

—Charley's Aunt, Saint Sebastian Players: Brandon Thomas' smash-hit 1892 romantic comedy was the prototype for Oscar Wilde's Importance of Being Earnest, but this is your chance to see the rarely-staged original. Details:; 773-404-7922

—Bug, Steppenwolf Theatre: Nobody knew Tracy Letts would win a Pulitzer 12 years later, but the premiere of this sexy thriller in 1996 ( and subsequent Hollywood film ) proved that he was no one-hit wonder. Details:; 312-335-1650

—A Raisin in the Sun, Invictus Theatre Company: Lorraine Hansberry's seminal portrait of housing segregation amid the racial bigotry of 1959 fits snugly and intimately into Pride Arts Buena's shoebox-sized storefront studio. Details:

—Stick Fly, Writers Theatre: Lydia Diamond's affluent/accomplished African-American family summering on Martha's Vineyard flouted demographic stereotype in 2006 to expose the universality of unease arising from ambiguities in social status. Details:; 847-242-6000

Plays that recently opened

—The Boys in the Band, Windy City Playhouse, running to April 19: This environmental-staged production of Mart Crowley's ground-breaking pre-Stonewall drama seats playgoers right in the midst of the chic Manhattan loft where a coterie of men-who-love-men have convened for a party ( we even get to share the refreshments ). Details:; 773-897-8985

—Day of Absence, Congo Square Theatre Company, running to March 22: Douglas Turner Ward, founder of New York's Negro Ensemble Company in 1965, marked its place in history with this 1970 satire proposing a crisis among clueless southern whites when all the town's Black citizens suddenly vanish. Details:; 773-871-3000

—Mrs. Warren's Profession, Promethean Theatre Ensemble, running to March 29: A young woman owes her privileged emancipation to her mother's business savvy at managing a successful chain of brothels—so why, asks George Bernard Shaw, does the ungrateful child opt for a career as a drab conservative corporate paper-pusher? Details:

Mark your calendars

—Two-Character Play, Theatre L'Acadie, running March 13-29: What do a brother and sister do when their theatrical troupe abandons them in the sticks? Why, go into their act, of course—but did I mention that this late-career play is authored by Tennessee Williams, whose sister we have met before? Details:; 773-278-6875

—Intimate Apparel, Northlight Theatre, running March 20-April 19: The so-called "gilded age" had its tarnished underside, too, sensitively explored by Lynn Nottage in this bittersweet tale of urban working-class romance thwarted by inter-ethnic prejudice. Details:; 847-673-6300

—Molly Sweeney, Goodman Theatre, running April 6-26: The opportunity to regain her sight would seem to be a gift for the blind girl in Brian Friel's symposial play—but is it? More important, who gets to decide? ( Hint: the production is directed by Robert Falls ) Details:; 312-443-3800

—The Lady from the Sea, Court Theatre, running March 21-April 12: Nora Helmer abandoned her family and Hedda Gabler committed suicide, so it's easy to forget that one of Henrik Ibsen's famous unhappy housewives actually chose to stay within the marital purview—after some negotiating. Chaon Cross and Kelli Simpkins show us why. Details:; 773-753-4472

—Blackbird, Den Theater, running March 24-April 26: A pair of lovers meet after 15 years to recall their illicit passion ( begun when he was 40 and she was 12 ) in the cold light of a complex maturity that goes beyond simple villain/victim role assignments. Details:; 773-697-3830

Rethinking Shakespeare

—Henry V, House Theatre of Chicago, running March 29-May 10: Would you follow a young rookie general into battle? You would if your troop leader was played by award-winning Chicago favorite Brenda Barrie ( aka Mortal Kombat's motion-capture Wonder Woman ). Details: 773-278-1500

—The Taming of the Shrew, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, running April 15-May 2: CST hosts England's Royal Shakespeare Company at The Yard for a reverse-gender adaptation of the bard's most sexist comedy. Details:; 312-595-5600

—As You Like It, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, running April 30-June 21: All you need is love—along with a mid-1960s Beatles score and Peter Max palate—for a home-grown version of this back-to-nature romantic comedy. Details:; 312-595-5600

Spring giddiness

—Shear Madness, Mercury Theater, running to March 29: The USA adaptation of Paul Portner's 1963 comedy may read as a live-action cartoon whodunit for grownups, but it arrives boasting a 17-year run in Chicago's Loop ( even longer in other cities ), and you can't argue with a record like that. Details:; 773-325-1700

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