Actors Workshop Theatre could have followed tradition and staged the familiar, two-act version of "A View From the Bridge," Arthur Miller's lean, urban tragedy about desire, loyalty, betrayal, revenge and the conflict between old ways and new.
Instead the plucky Chicago company plucked from obscurity Miller's original one-act. The show sputtered upon its 1955 Broadway premiere, prompting a reworking. But Michael Colucci and E. Malcolm Martinez's tense, stripped-down revival, which unfolds over a quick 80 minutes in AWT's tiny Edgewater home, reveals this under-appreciated work for the gem it is.
"View" plays out in a Brooklyn tenement among second-generation Italians and their immigrant cousins. Neighborhood lawyer Alfieri (Sam Perry, whose accent sounds more Transylvanian than Sicilian) narrates the story of longshoreman Eddie Carbone (an articulate, forceful Michael Colucci); his wife Beatrice (Jan Ellen Graves, whose seamless performances brings depth to an underwritten part); and her niece Catherine (Eva Gil), for whom Eddie's feelings go beyond paternal. The arrival of Beatrice's illegal immigrant cousins -- Marco (Johnny Garcia) and Rodolpho (an engaging Andrew Jessop) -- and the subsequent romance between Catherine and Rodolpho upset the family balance, leading to a shocking betrayal and a violent conclusion.
Colucci (whose performance recalls "NYPD Blues" character Andy Sipowicz) is especially effective. Eliciting both our pity and contempt, he manages to sustain our allegiance even as he forces us to condemn his behavior. He and Graves are terrific. Unfortunately, not all the cast members measure up. About half of them seem hesitant. That uncertainty amounts to the one flaw in this jewel.
"A View From the Bridge," 2 stars, through Nov. 11 at Actors Workshop Theatre,1044W. Bryn Mawr, Chicago.$15-$30. (773) 728-7529 or www.actorsworkshop.org.
"Horror Academy" doesn't seem like a typical Babes With Blades production. The company specializes in plays that celebrate the warrior woman archetype while offering plenty of chances for the actresses to show off their prowess in stage combat. In this anthology of horror stories, most of the struggles are verbal or hand-to-hand. However, its themes remain steeped in female camaraderie, and what the play lacks in swordplay it makes up in tension.
As written by Darren Callahan of Chicago Dramatists, "Academy" is performed in the North Lakeside Cultural Center, a turn-of-the-century mansion located near Loyola University. The play's individual segments, three one-acts broken up by monologues, each take place in a different part of the mansion, and the audience follows a black-robed guide to each. Both the intimate performances and the old building itself contribute to its seasonal thrills, as one feels like they're traversing the stairs of a haunted house as much as watching a play.
Callahan's main stories are neatly-contained portraits of mayhem. In the first, "Three Lines," we meet three sisters employed at a blood bank that is experiencing strange thefts from its stock. Next, health-care workers in the remote South contend with surly, drum-beating locals who hunger for human flesh in "Everything's Different Here." Finally, "Where Is the Breakdown?" presents a young woman with a violent history who wakes up after a deadly accident, at a time when a mysterious malady has killed off all the planet's men.
Although they're not extremely gory (there is some blood but nothing too gruesome), these tales are best suited to adults. From the individual vignettes to the "Red Message" monologues, "Horror Academy" glimpses hurt, haunted women thrust into situations that evoke real-life horror despite the stories' fantastic elements. Babes With Blades capably convey the crucial message of modern horror fiction: Humans are their own worst enemies. After all, vampires, cannibals and zombies don't pose as much a threat as when these women turn on each other.
"Horror Academy," three stars, through Nov. 4 at the North Lakeside Cultural Center, 6219 N. Sheridan Road, Chicago.$18, $15. (773) 880-0016 or www.babeswithblades.org.