These Three New Plays Put New Twists on Extremely Old Tales

In Chicago’s laboratory of theatre, here’s how three of our top scientists are dusting off 300-year-old works so they can shine in 2013.

Illustration by Martin Venezky

Illustration: Martin Venezky

The Mad Men–esque Comedy

The Liar, adapted from Le Menteur by David Ives

The original: Even back in the day (1644), Pierre Corneille’s Le Menteur was an outrageous farce about how to escape an arranged marriage.
Why it still works: “This is about a guy who lies his way to success. If that’s not a modern-day story, I don’t know what is,” says Ives, a South Chicago native who wrote the Tony-nominated play Venus in Fur. “It’s Mad Men.
What’s changed: “I added some jokes, changed characters, tacked on a better ending,” Ives says. And now it’s in iambic pentameter. “Verse is fun. Everything should be written in verse. Lingerie ads. Recipes. The phone book.”
May 21 to August 11 at Writers’ Theatre in Glencoe, writerstheatre.org; $35 to $75

 

The Rock Opera

Ploughed Under: An American Songbook, composed by Kevin O’Donnell

The original: Folk songs (think “John Henry”), especially from African American and Native American traditions, inspired the songbook.
Why it still works: O’Donnell, a master percussionist who has worked with Steppenwolf and the Hypocrites, crafted a new concert from songs that were forgotten—or “ploughed under”—but resonate today. “An inspiring story can be inspiring at any time,” says O’Donnell.
What’s changed: He refashioned the songs for a ten-piece band that will play onstage. “There will be some acoustic guitars and electric keyboards,” he says.
Through June 9 at House Theatre of Chicago at the Chopin Theatre, thehousetheatre.com; $10 to $25

 

The Race-Bending Satire

The Misanthrope, directed by Charles Newell

The original: Molière’s 17th-century masterpiece lampoons French aristocracy—and has itself been lampooned ever since.
Why it still works:The Misanthrope is about the power of language,” says Newell, the Jeff Award–winning artistic director of Court Theatre. “The power resides with the person who has the power of his words.”
What’s changed: He cast the lily-white satire almost exclusively with African American actors. “We were looking to uncover the themes of Molière’s take on class and status—and ethnicity in casting is a way to better get at what he was after,” Newell explains.
May 9 to June 9 at Court Theatre in Hyde Park, courttheatre.org; $15 to $65

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