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Chicago Delle Arte Flips The Dice On The Literati

By Betsy Mikel in Arts & Entertainment on Apr 6, 2011 9:00PM

The Literati runs until April 17 at The Anthenaeum.
When we heard Chicago Delle Arte was performing another installment of The Literati, we hurried on over to the first performance we could make. The thing is, although we do love reading and books and those sorts of intelligent things, we also have social lives and jobs and stuff, so it’s hard to read everything we should. And when it comes to all those frou-frou classics, if we didn’t read it in a college humanities class, then we probably never will. That’s why The Literarti is a great idea. Three actors of the acting group Chicago Delle Arte have taken 25 works of literature and adapted them into 10 to 25 minute plays. With the roll of a die, audience members select the five different works the trio will perform throughout the show. Audience members have a one in 3,125 chance of seeing the same show twice. And although the actors have 7.5 hours of material locked and loaded, each audience only sees about 90 minutes of it.

A wise and good person would have already read all the books on the list. It includes such high school English teacher favorites as A Tale of Two Cities, The Jungle, and Jane Eyre as well as hefty bicep-building volumes such as Les Miserables and War and Peace. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that we had read about half the books performed during our show. The other half, we were thrilled to brush up on.

Sometimes we were able to follow along with the actors, but sometimes we were a little confused. Condensing a 1,000+ page book into a 15-minute play is no small feat. While we appreciated the the actors skipped over the boring bits, we didn’t always quite follow the general story line. But, that seems to be the point of the show. “It was the best of ideas, it was the worst of ideas,” the show’s tagline reads. While we tried to keep tabs on the actors as they ran willy nilly between stage exits changing costumes, characters and searching for their opening and closing lines, they offered us a glimpse of what it must be like to adapt any book into a musical, play or movie: just how, exactly, are you supposed to do it?

As Nick Freed, Derek Jarvis and “Koncept” bicker over whether the plays should be realistic, comical, or should simply cave to the whims of the actor with the rich parents funding the performance, they bring the audience into a side of the biz we don’t often see and thus never think about. But, the commentary is all in good fun. The relationships between the actors are comical; right off the bat, we learn two of them have blown the performance’s funds on gold confetti and Goldschl├Ąger.

The Literati runs through April 17 at Anthenaeum Theatre Studio 2, 2936 N. Southport Ave. (8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays). Tickets are $20 and are available online at ticketmaster, by calling 800-982-2787 or before the show.