Steppenwolf Theatre’s initial entry in its new LookOut series – the short-run variety entertainments scheduled for its new little cabaret-style 1700 Theatre – was so dreadful that I now approach any further visits with the greatest of skepticism. (The offending work was “Voice Lessons,” which ranks high on my list of the most dreadful plays ever, and featured Laurie Metcalf in a pathetic waste of energy.)
But never say never. So here’s a starter kit – the first five of the many Fall 2016 offerings. In the spirit of “a toast to better things to come,” it’s also worth noting that you can order snacks and drinks from the cafe-bar located right outside the 80-seat 1700 Theatre space that is located immediately adjacent to Steppenwolf’s main lobby. (For the complete lineup visit http://www.steppenwolf.org/lookout).
+ “You’re Being Ridiculous” (Sept. 8-10 at 8 p.m.; $20): Created and hosted by Jeremy Owens, the evening features real people telling true stories about their lives. Storytellers are linked by a theme, and by the desire to make you laugh—and, once in a while, cry. Their motto: Good stories are better than good times. “Everyone has a story to tell. What’s yours?” yourebeingridiculous.com
+ “Me, My Mom and Sharmila” (Sept. 23-24 at 8 p.m.) Written and performed by Fawzia Mirza, this piece is a comic coming-of-age story told by a first generation American woman of color. At some point, we all realize we are not exactly the person our parents expected us to become. How do we find our own voice and embrace our personal identity in the face of societal and familial pressures? Mirza shares a journey of self-discovery and strength that carries her all the way from childhood as a Pakistani Muslim in small-town Canada to living “ou” as an actress in the heart of Chicago. fawziamirza.com
+ “Beauty School” (Sept. 30 at 8 p.m.; $8): Retro-pop quartet Beauty School invites you to celebrate the release of their new EP, “Ghost Beach,” a day-dreamy elegy to summer. Beauty School formed in Chicago in late 2015 when two groups of musicians joined forces to pursue their shared appreciation of sweet hooks, simple arrangements, pithy love songs and future plates. beautyschoolband.bandcamp.com
+ TJ and Dave (Oct. 1 at 8 p.m.; $10): TJ and Dave walk out on stage without characters, dialogue or plot. The pair, described as “Second City-seasoned masters of long form improv,” then make something out of nothing.
+ “Tumbao” (Oct. 3 and 10 at 8 p.m.; $15): By Jo Catell, Lorena Diaz and Wendy Mateo, and featuring Dominizuelan, this show will turn Steppenwolf’s 1700 Theatre into Tumbao, a family bar and the best place for a salsa night, baptism, séance or wedding reception. Unbeknownst to the owners, the community has decided to make the Tumbao family the basis for a radio-novela that is broadcast from the bar itself. By transmitting to the rest of the world what happens within Tumbao’s walls they hope to share the infectious energy of the family to keep the community thriving through its desperate fight against gentrification. dominizuelan.com.