Recent openings: 'Phedre' and 'A Couple of Blaguards'

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JoAnne Akalaitis, the richly unpredictable theater wizard who created Court Theatre's "Iphigenia Cycle" and "In the Penal Colony," is about to transform Jean Racine's 17th Century masterwork "Phedre" into her own potent make-believe. Opening the theater's 48th season on Saturday, Sept.14, this remake of a Greek myth depicts the anti-heroine's lust for her handsome stepson Hipploytus and the fury triggered by this woman scorned when the boy rejects her predatory affections. Jenny Bacon, star of Court's eclectic "Mary Stuart," tackles the title role.

OTHER OPENINGS

"LOVE'S LABOR'S LOST": Opening Friday, Shakespeare's courtly love comedy depicts the King of Navarre and three other French notables who swear off sex for study but, predictably enough, end up caught in the throes of love, the greatest lesson of all. Barbara Gaines directs and Alaric Jans provides the original score.

"EMPTY": Chicago playwright Brett Neveu's drama, which opens Sept. 17, depicts two Baby Boomers who meet for drinks on Sept. 8, 2001, and whose relationship is strained to breaking by Sept. 15. Of course, during that week a terrible event disrupts this topical drama as well as the reluctant lovers. Jessi D. Hill's staging opens the theater's 21st season, which is entitled "Uncharted Territory: The New American Landscape."

"THE PALMER RAIDS: A THEATRICAL CONSTRUCTION": Opening Friday, Sept. 13, and directed by Dexter Bullard, this ensemble-created and movement-driven event depicts the anti-radical raids of 1919. Instigated by the notorious Red-baiter, Atty. Gen. A. Mitchell Palmer, the supposedly anti-terrorist crackdown resulted in the arrest of 5,000 Bolsheviks and anarchists who were deprived of their civil rights while held in indefinite detention.

"THE FANTASTICKS": Beginning Friday, Sept. 13, you won't have to "try to remember." Chicago favorite James Harms directs the beloved and fantastically successful 1960 musical by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt: Young next-door lovers find their ardor for the real world and its adventures tested by a carnival mountebank.

"FLARE": Opening Sept. 18 for a one-week run, this entertainment features an uproarious juggling, tumbling and torch-tossing comedy trio named Gyro, Pyro and Walter. These Flaming Idiots push the limits of probability and accessibility with their combination of vaudeville and spontaneous human combustion, as well as balloon-eating, wisecracking and razor-sharp acrobatics.

"DON JUAN IN CHICAGO": David Ives' comedic and local take on the legendary lover opens Friday in a staging by Laurie Kladis.

"IN PIGEON HOUSE": Opening the theater's Amarach Festival of New Plays on Sept. 15 at 7 p.m., this dramatization of Honour Kane's play depicts the lives of four performers as seen through a series of "fit-ups," a dramatic form unique to Ireland. It's followed by readings on Sept. 16 (Adam Simon's "A Dream in an Airport"), Sept. 17 (Tania Richard's "Selecting Memory"), and Sept. 18 ("Oak" by Eric Appleton).

"THE DEVIL'S DISCIPLE": Opening Sept. 19, this revival of George Bernard Shaw's complex comedy set during the American Revolution depicts a minister who tries to save a young man's life. Thwarting them are the British who attempt to take a Puritan outpost from the idealistic Americans who occupy it in 1777. Fred Anzevino and Beverle Bloch direct a cast of 11.

"AGAMEMNON," European Repertory Company at Clarke House Museum, 1827 S. Indiana Ave.; $10; 773-248-0577: Beginning Thursday, Dale Goulding returns in the title role of this revival of the theater's much-praised 1995 retelling (by the controversial English director Steven Berkoff) of the ancient Greek tragedy. Here a soldier king, too intent on pursuing the Trojan War to attend to domestic matters, is murdered by his treacherous wife (the vibrant Carolyn Hoerdemann) and her opportunistic lover (Kirk Anderson). The appropriately stirring setting is Chicago's oldest house and a national historical landmark. Closes Sept. 21.

"RIVERDANCE: THE SHOW": Opening Tuesday, Sept. 17, the international jig-happy 1995 phenomenon that celebrates Irish verve, Celtic dance, and their influence on a grateful world returns with a pulsating score by Bill Whelan.

"PERPETUA": Opening Thursday, Sept. 19, this ensemble-generated world premiere adaptation of "The Passion of Perpetua and Felicitas" depicts a wealthy young Carthaginian Christian, Vibia Perpetua, as she awaits her death in the arena in 203 A.D.

"MURDERER ON THE HILL DISTRICT": Terry Cullers directs Rob Penny's murder mystery as told from an Afro-centric perspective. Set in a Pittsburgh church, the drama introduces members of the Maroon culture and the crime of passion that disturbs their tranquillity.

"A COUPLE OF BLAGUARDS": Opening Sept. 19, this comedic creation by the now famous brothers Frank and Malachy McCourt is a tongue-in-cheek depiction of their misspent youth in Ireland and their escape to America. (On Sept. 20, Malachy McCourt will appear at a pre-show book signing of his work "Singing My Him Song.")

"AN ELEMENT NEVER FORGETS": Opening Sept. 14 and blending the brainy with the absurd, the company's seventh original sketch comedy revue continues its fast-paced exploration of the intelligence of man, the origins of life, and myth and other beliefs through scenes, monologues, music, song and dance.

"COYOTE PRETTY": Following this year's inaugural 16-week run, Dori Goldman and Margaret Hicks' hit comedy revue opens Friday to confront the world of dating and other absurdities in a staging by Jay Paul Skelton.

"A SHAYNA MAIDEL":Opening Friday, Sept. 13, Barbara Lebow's uplifting drama depicts two sisters who, separated since childhood, are reunited in 1947 Manhattan in the aftermath of the Holocaust. Confronting the past in order to embrace the future, they must learn how to become a family.

Bommer is a Chicago freelance writer.

Originally published Sept. 12, 2002.

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