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First Shot at Greatness

By Justin Sondak in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 10, 2005 5:00PM

August is Chicago theater’s pre-season, just a month away from a new round of mainstage magic and hype. This weekend three companies help prepare us, presenting 22 new shows on 3 stages. But unlike another pre-season, these performances may actually serve as a barometer for future success.

Steppenwolf Theatre’s First Look Repertory of New Work is a showcase as antidote to endless workshopping, offering three shows in their developmental stages. These scripts represent the cream of an abundant crop, and the “A” list talent bringing it to the stage includes two Jeff Award winners, three veteran directors, and plenty of actors we hope to see again.

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Three shows in repertory at their Garage Theatre run through the end of August. In A Blameless Life, a routine afternoon at the mall takes a sudden and tragic turn, shattering a family’s thin veneer of calm and opening old wounds. The beautifully tragic Sparrow Project imagines maladjusted twins, drug addled trust fund kids who can barely stand to leave their Manhattan loft… until the fresh-faced Dolly injects a dose of magical realism into their lives. Inspired by Mamet’s best work, The Men of Tortuga opens with business associates scheming barely plausible, and quite humorous, plots to kill an adversary. But business quickly becomes personal, egos clash, ‘brass balls’ are twisted, and predictability flies out the window.

Having trouble getting tickets to those fancy high profile musicals? If you’re a musical theater fan looking for an alternative to all that Wicked hype, head on over to Theater Building Chicago for Stages 2005, where you can choose from nine new musicals or bring provisions and settle in for the entire marathon weekend.

The festivities kick off Friday night with a gala celebration and the world premiere of Bringers (pictured, right), a piece setting Sandberg’s poetry to American folk and jazz. All nine shows run in rotation Saturday and Sunday starting at 9am and going well into the evening. Three unusual adaptations caught our eye. The Devil and Dexter Webster has an aspiring movie star selling his soul to a film producer. A Playboy of the Western World musical sets fratricide to verse. And Tevye brings Fiddler on the Roof’s schmaltz to America.

Frugal theatergoers with short attention spans have one more weekend to check out Tempting Fate, the Brown Couch Theatre Company’s festival of ten-minute plays. The ten shows mostly draw from local talent with a couple of playwrights coming in from the coasts. Superstitious folk should feel particularly at home.

The Steppenwolf's First Look Repertory of New Work runs Thursdays - Sundays through August 28 at the Merle Reskin Garage Theatre, 1624 N Halsted. Tickets are $15 per show, $30 for all three. More information at

Theatre Building Chicago's Stages 2005 runs Friday - Sunday at 1225 W Belmont. Tickets are $15 per show, $85 for all weekend shows, $75 for the Friday night gala performance. More information at

Brown Couch's Tempting Fate runs Thursday - Saturday at 7:30 at the Chicago Actors Studio, 1567 N Milwaukee. Tickets are $12-15. More information at