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Gift Theatre’s ‘Ten’ a sensational showcase

Johnny Meyer (left) Jim Farruggio star 10-minute play 'From Funny.'

Johnny Meyer (left) and Jim Farruggio star in the 10-minute play, "From Funny."

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When: Through Jan. 20

Where: The Gift Theatre, 4802 N. Milwaukee

Tickets: Free (reservations recommended)

Info: (773) 283-7071;

Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

Updated: January 14, 2013 4:06PM

Sometimes you get what you DON’T have to pay for, and it’s priceless. A perfect case in point: “Ten,” the second (and sure to be annual) anthology program of short pieces that serves as the opening salvo for Gift Theatre’s 2013 season. A terrific, two-week-only showcase for many of the writers, actors and directors who work with this audacious (soon to be expanding) storefront in the Jefferson Park neighborhood, it also highlights Gift’s ancillary activities, most notably giftED,an immersive two-year apprentice program for high school students that, on the evidence here, yields sensational results.

This year’s edition kicks off with the urbane and charming “Healthy Start,” a mini-musical by Laura Marks and Israeli composer Gilad Cohen about a young, depressed guy (Mike Tepeli) whose wife has left him. When he begins hanging out at a local cafe he starts to make unexpected new connections with a waitress (Samantha Bailey), a business woman (the clarion-voiced Meredith Freyre), and a mysterious blonde (Carly Olson), with Paul D’Addario arriving for a neat surprise ending.

Then it’s on to two even greater charmers. “The Reformationists” is a funny, literate, wonderfully quirky piece devised by the members of giftEd, directed by Jay Worthington and featuring sensational performances by Corbett Barrata (as an impossibly endearing and distinctive nerd), Francesca Plantz as the smart girl he adores, and Pat Weber in several radically different but uniformly stellar turns as a school janitor, a widowed drama teacher and an obnoxious prom king. “From Funny,” just the latest indication of the fierce originality of playwright Philip Edward Dawkins, is about a father (Jim Farruggio), and his son (the natural, wonderfully accomplished Johnny Meyer), who are mourning the recent death of the wife and mother who completed their family. The boy, who wants to be a stand-up comedian, asks his dad for help and ultimately discovers all the rules of comedy, delivering his finest “routine” in a remarkable Bar Mitzvah performance.

Death and mourning also are the subjects of Noah Haidle’s lovely, lyrical “Measures,” about a rather distant daughter (Brittany Burch) recalling her mother (Alexandra Main), whose love of dancing she never fullyappreciated, while Aaron Carter’s fervent “Bible Study” (with Razz Jenkins and Dru Smith), is well-acted but a little heavy on the “God loves you” message.

Marco Ramirez’s remarkably strange, haunting “Two Hundred Feet and Counting” — with echoes of everything from terrorist attacks to the recent mass shootings at schools — finds the excellent Cyd Blakewell as the loving sister of a man who has caused the deaths of many, and who she now wants to prod into a painless death. The final play of the evening is Will Eno’s “Brief Study of an Endless Thing,” a comic, hiply existential, Beckettian riff featuring the beat-perfect Michael Patrick Thornton and Christopher Michael Meister.

Brief improv and film segments also are on the bill, as is an impassioned reading by actress-writer Maggie Anderson (and colleagues Burch, D’Addario and Thornton) from her just-completed book, “No Stars in Jefferson Park,” a chronicle of the Chicago theater scene by way of Gift Theatre. A publisher should grab this story. A film company should option the rights.

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