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Chicago's burgeoning stage: a profile

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The burgeoning nature of Chicago theater is evident during any month of choice. Take the current period. The Wisdom Bridge Theater, until recently a nonprofessional troupe, not only turned pro but then regaled its audiences with two related plays in repertory, Tom Stoppard's "Travesties" and Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest." The Stoppard exerice is a travesty on "Earnest" as well as such historic figures as Joyce and Lenin.

But similarities end soon enough, to be replaced by totally different intentions. The Stoppard work is a game of intellect, a play on literary and social history peopled by practitioners of clever gamesmanship. Wilde's comedy amounts to delicious with and brittle pranks, a story of tea-circuit manner and ill manner. The thrill came from seeing a young company stylistically handle both plays in tandem and not lose the battle to a dramatic mind-set that often undermines the inexperienced.

Alan Gross's "Man in 605," a nifty opportunity for a flamboyant actor like Byrne Piven to chew scenery and lines as a besotted and yet at times still alert Dylan Thomas sort, has returned to be readied for an Off Broadway run.

"Do Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?" has surprised everyone, including its investors, who have begun to reap profits. A gamble of a little musical about Roman Catholic school education, it continues to run and run at the south suburban Forum theater.

Ralph Papehs "Say Goodnight, Gracie" received a beautiful production from the Travel Light Theater, so sensitive that anyone thinking about turning 30 and anyone who already has, even 20 years ago, can sense the hurt of lives changing and in danger of not going anywhere. The production has been so successful that a new theater had to be found to satisfy the audience flow. In similar fashion the St. Nicholas Theater's efforts with "The Primary English Class," Israel Horovitz's topsy-turvy, yet touching play about noncommunication, attracted patrons way beyond its scheduled period and had to be moved to another home.

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