Nina Metz, Chicago Tribune reporter">

Taking liberties with Chekhov and Shakespeare

"Common Hatred" 

Can we talk about titles for a moment? Specifically the title of Ruckus Theatre's newest show? Because I keep coming back to it, turning it over in my head, trying to make sense of both the play and its overarching themes. Devised by the cast over a six-month period and shaped into a script by Calamity West, "Common Hatred" takes the real estate anxieties and family discord of Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard" as inspiration and shifts the action forward to the present day.

This isn't a straight adaptation of the original, though. While it's true there are parallels and echoes, I don't think we're meant to play compare-and-contrast. "Common Hatred" should be taken on its own terms, which brings us back to the title, which suggests a unifying force within this small fractious clan. And yet it's difficult to sense any sort of common hatred binding them together — beyond self-hatred, that is. Which can be an interesting dynamic in a social setting that has everyone pinballing around a massive house, never quite saying what's on their minds.

Director Karie Miller smartly pushes each scene forward with a sense of purpose, and all signs point toward a climax. That's enough to keep us locked in. For a while, anyway. But the showdown never materializes and the play reveals itself to be a collection of scenarios and emotional poses.

With narrative stakes and richer character development, there might be a real story here. At its core, "Common Hatred" is primarily concerned with emotional estrangements and thwarted ambitions, rendered most astutely by Michael Moran (as a successful author who keeps himself at a remove from his adoptive siblings) and a book editor played by Aaron Dean. He is the outlier of the group, and Dean portrays him (charmingly and somewhat creepily) as a man with an unscratchable itch. Each time he left the stage, I found myself wanting to follow and see where his story led.

Through July 22 at The Side Project, 1439 W. Jarvis Ave. Tickets are $15 at

"Mexican Wrestling Macbeth"

There is no mystery behind the title of The Mammals' current late-night offering, which combines the tropes of lucha libre with a tale of showbiz back-stabbing, by way of Shakespeare. A two-bit movie crew readies to film a Mexican wrestling version of "Macbeth," a project that itself becomes a demented version of "Macbeth" when the assistant director takes over the whole shebang, as orchestrated by his girlfriend.

Surprisingly, the show isn't as unhinged as one would hope. The pacing is about a half-a-beat too slow, and director Warwick Johnson doesn't appear to have the interest or practiced hand of company artistic director Bob Fisher when it comes to creating a fully tricked-out environment. Minus an onslaught of clever one-liners, the production could use a larger scale of theatricality.

First staged locally nearly a decade ago, Fisher's script requires that every last bit of dialogue be lip-synched (the voices are provided by three actors off-stage), giving the finished product the look of a badly dubbed film. It is among the show's wittier flourishes, as is the drag-necessitating casting of Liz Chase (tiny and petite) as the dweeby assistant film director, and Gabe Garza (so very not petite) as his scheming Lady M, clad in iridescent spandex and a beehive wig in the sight gag that keeps on giving.

Through July 28 at Zoo Studio, 4001 N. Ravenswood Ave. Tickets are $15 at

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