Redmoon's latest extravaganza, Spectacle '09, runs through Sunday at Belmont Harbor.
HER BARK IS WORSE THAN HER BITE  Animal Crackers’ Molly Brennan stars in the bawdy Madame Barker Holiday Variety Show, from 500 Clown.


Don’t-miss picks for Wed 12.02.09 through Tue 12.08.09:


theatre The Madame Barker Holiday Variety Show
If you loved Molly Brennan as Harpo Marx in this fall’s crowd-pleasing Animal Crackers at the Goodman, wait’ll you hear her in a speaking part. Brennan handles hostessing duties in the role of Madame Barker, the singing ringleader of a bawdy holiday variety show from the unclassifiably experimental troupe 500 Clown. Expect music, comedy, dancing, and magic from a roster of guests, including—tada!—onstage guacamole-making by Rick Bayless.
GO: Dec 4, 11 at 11. $10; reservations recommended. Prop Thtr, 3502 N Elston.

ALSO THIS WEEK: More ways to get festive include the AIDS fundraiser World of Chocolate on Dec 3, featuring the drool-worthy handiwork of some 30 local chocolatiers, and the cycling community’s annual excuse to let its hair (further) down, the Bike Town Bash, on Dec 5.


galleries Freaks & Flash
Tattoos are mainstream now, but that’s a recent shift. A couple of generations back, ink was largely relegated to sailors and sideshow carnies—an era F&F revisits through a selection of drawings for tattoos (ie, flash) and circus banners depicting those who displayed their decorated bodies (freaks). Much of the work on view here, composed largely of the holdings of several Midwestern collectors, has never been seen outside the realm of tattoo shops. Check out the show on Thursday, then stick around for three short films on tattooing, with two of the filmmakers in attendance.
GO: Screening: Dec 3 at 6; $5-$10. Exhibition continues through Jan 9. Intuit, 756 N Milwaukee.


theatre American Buffalo, Icarus
Playwright David Mamet + director Amy Morton + a cast including Tracy Letts = If you see only one play in December, make it the one that put Mamet on the map. If you see two plays, make the second the story of a man who fell to earth, brought down by a deadly combination of wax wings and hubris. Icarus director/adapter David Catlin knows his way around fantastical voyages: He created the wonderland that is Lookingglass Alice.
GO: Buffalo: Previews through Dec 12; $20-$53. Regular run $20-$77. Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N Halsted. Icarus: Previews Dec 5-12. Regular run through Jan 24. All tic kets $18-$62. Lookingglass Theatre at Water Tower Water Works, 821 N Michigan.


classical Eighth Blackbird
If anyone can make something atonal and alien even slightly accessible, it’s these guys. While moving about the stage in choreographed theatrics, the virtuosic sextet performs—from memory, no less—a new take on Schönberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, with dramatic narration in German by the soprano Lucy Shelton.
GO: Dec 8 at 7:30. $10-$30. Harris Theater, 205 E Randolph.

ALSO THIS WEEK: If you missed the groundbreaking Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho’s appearance with the local new-music group ICE a couple of weeks back, here’s a do-over, of sorts: Saariaho won’t be in attendance, but you can hear the U.S. premiere of her Calices, as played by another local group, Dal Niente, on Dec 3.


concerts The Swell Season
They scored a serious hit starring and singing in the 2007 indie flick Once. Now Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová return on the heels of a new album, Strict Joy, which again finds them harmonizing on bittersweet ballads and agitated acoustic rock—but this time the songs are more varied, more forceful, and cut even deeper.
GO: Dec 3 at 8. $30.50-$38. Auditorium Theatre, 50 E Congress.

ALSO THIS WEEK: Chicago magazine 2009 single Matthew Santos plays Lincoln Hall on Dec 4.


concerts Until Emmett Till: Ernest Dawkin’s Chicago 12
Talk about public service: The local jazzman Dawkins unleashes his powerful song suite just blocks from Till’s childhood home—for free.
GO: Dec 4 at 7. Hamilton Park, 513 W 72nd.

dance Dance-along Nutcracker
The DIY movement isn’t relegated to holiday craft fairs: You be the sugarplum at this annual family-friendly favorite, equal parts costume party and dance-off.
GO: Dec 6 at noon and 3. Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E Washington. 312-744-6630

film Chicago Filmmakers’ Open Screening
Calling all wannabe auteurs: Any flick 20 minutes or shorter and relatively PG is fair game at this public screening. Organizers pledge to show at least one short from every participant who signs up by 7.
GO: Dec 5 at 7. Chicago Filmmakers, 5243 N Clark.

ALSO THIS WEEK: Chicago Film Archives presents a free holiday shorts program at the Chicago Cultural Center, Dec 3 at 7; details: 312-243-1808.

galleries James Cuno
Hear it straight from the mouth of someone who knows: The president of the Art Institute—which, you might have heard, opened its fabulous new Modern Wing earlier this year—talks about what it means to be modern now.
GO: Dec 7 at 4:30. Sullivan Galleries, 33 S State, 7th floor. 312-629-6635


In a bit of housekeeping, two shows included in our December print edition have been canceled: A Christmas Carol, Dec 22-27 at the Civic Opera House (refund info here), and Mavis Staples’s Dec 5 concert at the House of Blues (refunds at points of purchase). In other news, tickets for the February return of Tracy Letts’s Pulitzer- and Tony-winning August: Osage County at the Cadillac Palace Theatre go on sale Dec 4.

Photography: DF Wimsatt, Jr