"Sons of Anarchy" fans should hie themselves hence to the basement venue of the Underground Wonder Bar, where Wayward Productions is offering up a nitty-gritty biker version of "Richard III" under Carlo Lorenzo Garcia's direction. It has extended its run, and one hopes it gets another extension or remount soon.
Biker takes on Shakespeare are not that newfangled an idea. Prop Thtr presented "Biker Macbeth" way back in 1986, and one could easily argue — indeed, many have — that "Sons of Anarchy" is really a grunge "Hamlet." But, somehow, the last gasp of the Wars of the Roses embodied in "Richard III" lends itself particularly well to the machinations of a bunch of hard-drinking amoral live-to-ride types, at least as personified in Garcia's hell-for-leather ensemble. By the time Richard is conniving and killing his way into power, any pretense that this fight for succession has anything to do with innate honor or nobility has become roadkill.
John Byrnes' Richard doesn't sport a hump, but he has a chip on his shoulder that would be visible from outer space. At least it would be to anyone not as impaired by booze and false bravado as the gang he assembles around him. David Mitchell's clever costumes feature sleeveless denim jackets emblazoned with the white rose of the House of York and the names of the various nobles ensnared in the "bottled spider's" web (which has the added bonus of making it easier to keep track of who's who). Bill Daniel's doomed young prince (Garcia's streamlined version excises his younger brother) is as self-centered and clueless as Justin Bieber at Anne Frank's house.
The boys are appropriately fearsome with their scraggly beards, ample tats and switchblade temperaments. But the truly triumphant moments in Garcia's staging belong to the biker chicks, from Natalie DiCristofano's febrile Queen Elizabeth to Brittany Ellis' feral Queen Margaret, who after delivering her series of curses settles in at the bar to down shots and deliver grim variations on "I told you so!"
Perhaps funniest of all was Becky Blomgren, an understudy appearing as the barmaid the night I attended (a role created by Jennifer Walden), who wiped off the sprays of blood left in the wake of Alex Farrington's down-and-dirty fight choreography with increasing ill will. And, yeah, the recent discovery of the real Richard's bones underneath a parking lot gets a shout-out. How could they resist?
Through May 3 at Underground Wonder Bar, 710 N. Clark St.; $25 at 312-266-7761 or waywardproductions.org
"Augusta and Noble"
Adventure Stage Chicago gets very close to something very good in Carlos Murillo's "Augusta and Noble," and it deserves loads of credit for bringing the real-world stories of undocumented parents and their children to the company's West Town stage near the intersection of the title, given the community's large immigrant presence. But Murillo's script and director Tom Arvetis' staging feel, at present, both overly ginger and a bit obvious in the treatment of such a vital topic.
Gabi Castillo (Gabriela Mayorga) is the daughter of Mexican immigrants about to begin her first day at North Side College Prep. Despite her obvious smarts, Gabi takes a long time to put the pieces together about her family's cagey accounts of how they got to Chicago. Murillo brings in the device of a "coyote" (Miguel Nunez), who is intent on claiming Gabi's stuffed bunny as payback for his brutish attempts to get her parents over the border before her birth, as well as La Mujer Azul (Lisandra Tena), who functions as a sort of guardian angel.
Yet the mix between the nightmarish flashbacks and the dutiful expository dialogue between Gabi and her friends and family doesn't quite gel convincingly. This feels like a play that is pleading the case for why it wants to tell this story, when it could be much bolder in showing how our country's policies keep immigrant families in a state of limbo and fear.
Despite these dramaturgical weaknesses, "Augusta and Noble" marks a good step forward for Adventure Stage Chicago, and the performances in Arvetis' production are generally strong, especially Mayorga's forthright Gabi, Kieran Kredell as her Polish/Puerto Rican classmate, Ricardo Wojciekowski, and Tommy Rivera-Vega as her impetuous kid brother, Jesus. It's certain to get some good discussions going, and that may be more than enough reason to recommend it.
Through May 16, Vittum Theater, 1012 N. Noble St.; $25 adult, $15 children at 773-342-4141 or adventurestage.org