In Chicago, a fertile theater town with more than 200 show venues, fall signals another season to discover a new playwright, enjoy old classics and see a world or Midwest premiere. The challenge is finding a good show when the credit card can’t be stretched and you’re not in the student or senior discount ticket range. However, the good news when trying to stay within an entertainment budget is you can discover a lesser-known venue or play at bargain prices such as the following five, good-value productions.
16th Street Theater at Berwyn Cultural Center
6420 16th St.
Berwyn, IL 60402
Date: Sept. 19 through 28, 2013
Several Chicago theater companies choose a different theme each season. For the 16th Street Theater’s sixth season, the theme is “The American Dream” starting with “Broken Fences” by Steven Simoncic. Directed by Ann Filmer and Ilesa Duncan, the play is set in Chicago’s Garfield Park area where four protagonists are fighting for their dreams as the neighborhood changes. Simoncic injects pathos with humor and culture into socio-economic struggles. The Berwyn Cultural Center is about 15 minutes from downtown Chicago and has free parking.
The Ruckus Theater at The Side Project
1439 W. Jarvis Ave.
Chicago, IL 60626
Date: Oct. 11 through Nov. 10, 2013
Price: Previews $12, Regular $17
The Ruckus Theater opened with “Heist Play” by Mitch Vermeersch when the company moved to Chicago from Kalamazoo about five years ago. For its fifth season in town, Ruckus is remounting “Heist Play,” updated by Vermeersch and directed by Artistic Director Allison Shoemaker. The operative word is “play.” A comedy noir, the action revolves around three losers who try out film plot twists that best pull off a con or heist. Ruckus mounts its productions at sites used by multiple companies including side project theater for “Heist Play” and The Athenaeum where it staged “Facing Angela” this summer.
Second City Improv All-Stars
UP Comedy Club
230 W. North Ave., 3rd floor
Chicago, IL 60614
Date: Open-ended run
Upstairs in Piper’s Alley next to Second City, the zany, clever Improv All-Stars interact with their bemused audiences for an hour of Second City-style improvisation. All-Stars goes on Monday and Wednesday but you can’t miss with any of UP’s feature shows because they are Second City Theatricals’ creations or well-known stand-up comedians. You also can’t miss with UP’s bargain prices. With the exception of “What the Tour Guide Didn’t Tell You,” an open-ended run at $28 a ticket, the different offerings range from $15 to $20.
Related: Best Chicago Neighborhood Theatres
1229 W. Belmont Ave.
Chicago, IL 60657
Date: Aug. 15 through Sept. 22, 2013
Combine the musings of an aging former Hollywood personality with a middle-aged English bookkeeper, a seven-year-old child who has seen “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” and “Lockdown” on TV and the thoughts of a 65-year-old woman who considers her family’s encounters with racism and love and you have “Mythical Proportions,” a one-woman show written and acted by Nora Dunn. The show is at Theater Wit’s remodeled space in the former Bailiwick Arts Center on Belmont in the Lakeview neighborhood.
The Mystery of Irma Vep
Evanston Arts Depot in Metra Station
600 Main St.
Evanston, IL 60202
Date: Aug. 30 through Oct. 12, 2013
Playwright Charles Ludlam mixes the Gothic vampire craze with over-the-top satire in “The Mystery of Irma Vep” melodrama. The story’s Mandacrest Estate of Lord Edgar Hillcrest fits the train station’s atmosphere and the comedic take on life favored by Piccolo Theatre. This is one you won’t want to miss.
Jodie Jacobs is a veteran journalist who loves writing about Chicago, art, theater, museums and travel. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.