"Summer theater" usually suggests Shakespeare-under-the-stars, song-and-dance spectacles in a barn, or retro-cabaret on the patio. The city offers some of these citronella-circuit treats, but you can also find plenty of serious warm-weather thrills, too—and you don't need to wear bug repellent or sunscreen to the theater.
Light and sweet:
Once in a Lifetime,
Strawdog Theatre Company, 3829 N. Broadway. Kaufman and Hart's comedy lampooning the early days of Hollywood provides the perfect vehicle for Strawdog's goodbye to the loft above Broadway. Through June 11; www.Strawdog.org.
The Importance of Being Earnest,
Dead Writers Theatre Collective at the Athenaeum, 2936 N. Southport Ave. You knew the Dead Writers had to get around to this Victorian (gay nineties?) classic sometime, didn't you? July 1-31; www.DeadWriters.net.
American Theater Company, 1909 W. Byron St. It was a favorite of ATC's late director, but Electric Light Orchestra nostalgionados and Olivia Newton-John crushies can tuck away their hankies and float along on the falsetto harmonies. June 8-July 17; www.ATCWeb.org.
An Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse Songbook,
Theo Ubique Cabaret Theater at the No Exit Cafe, 6970 N. Glenwood Ave. Whether you remember this prolific songwriting duo for "I've been Lumbered" or "The Candy Man," don't you agree that it's about time they got their own show? June 13-July 31; www.Theo-u.com .
Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane in Oakbrook Terrace. The question asked in Ira Levin's shivery farce is not whether writers are willing to steal and murder for a hit play, but how many times? June 9-Aug. 14; www.DruryLaneTheatre.com.
The Book of Mormon,
Broadway in Chicago at the PrivateBank Shubert Theatre, 18 W. Monroe St. Trey Parker and Matt Stone find a way to offend everybody in their runaway hit show, but in a summer where bad manners are lauded as patriotic duty, isn't that exactly why you want to see it? June 28-Aug. 14; www.BroadwayInChicago.com.
Lolita de Lares,
Urban Theater Company at the Batay Urbano, 2620 W. Division St. Last produced in Chicago by Latino Chicago in 1995, Migdalia Cruz's dramatic pageant recounts the story of Puerto Rican guerrillas who led a shoot-out in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1954. June 24-July 24; www.UrbanTheater.com.
Death and Harry Houdini,
House Theater of Chicago at the Chopin, 1543 W. Division St. We just can't get enough of Dennis Watkins defying death in the role of history's greatest magician. It runs through July 24; www.TheHouseTheatre.com.
The Good Person of Setzuan,
Cor Theatre at A Red Orchid, 1531 N. Wells St. Tony Kushner's translation may incline toward prissiness, but Cor's reputation rests on sweaty passions and athletic bodies, so Brecht's diatribe on capitalism could exercise more than just our brains. Aug. 11-Sept 11; www.CorTheatre.org.
The Plough and the Stars,
Wayward Productions at Johnny O'Hagan's, 3374 N. Clark St. On the anniversary of the 1916 Irish Uprising, Sean O'Casey's diatribe on the folly of war fueled by misguided patriotism hits home all the harder. Through June 11; www.WaywardProductions.org.
Decidedly large mouthfuls:
City Lit Theater at Edgewater Presbyterian, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. Allowing the man executed for one of the twentieth century's most cruel murders the chance to tell his side launched John Logan's playwrighting career in 1986. June 7-July 10; www.CityLit.org.
The Grapes of Wrath,
Gift Theater, 4802 N. Milwaukee Ave. An impoverished Great Plains family migrates to Northern California during hard times in a ramshackle car on a storefront stage barely bigger. June 16-Aug. 14; www.TheGiftTheatre.org.
The House of Bernarda Alba,
Oracle Theater, 3809 N. Broadway. Federico Garcia Lorca recounts a torrid tale of unhappy women and Oracle's intimate storefront puts their suffering right in our laps. June 4-July 23; www.PublicAccessTheatre.org.
Man of La Mancha,
Marriott Theater, 10 Marriott Drive in Lincolnshire. Virile muleteers, sexy wenches, and a heroic knight with a lofty purpose are everything you could ask for in a musical. June 22-Aug. 14; www.MarriottTheatre.com.