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4 small theater companies open fall seasons with intriguing projects

Mortar Theatre Company’s producti“Corazde Manzana” will run running Aug. 26 -Sept. 25 Storefront Theater.

Mortar Theatre Company’s production of “Corazon de Manzana” will run running Aug. 26 -Sept. 25 at the Storefront Theater.

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:33AM

One play probes the complex issue of the U.S. and its borders, both to the north and south. Another riffs on the choices facing a young presidential campaign operative. A third muses musically on the nature of personal relationships in a globalized world. And a fourth considers contemporary parenting in a non-traditional family unit.

Four of this city’s smaller theater companies are getting an early start on the fall season. Here is a brief look at their entries in the race:

CORAZON DE MANZANA,” a Mortar Theatre Company production running Aug. 26 -Sept. 25 at the Storefront Theater, 66 E. Randolph. Call (312) 742-8497;

It was not until the fall of 2008, when a fellow MFA student at Ohio University dragged her to a lecture, that playwright Dana Lynn Formby became fully aware of the horrific “femicide” that has been going on for nearly two decades in the densely populated, heavily bilingual Juarez region of Mexico that lies on the Rio Grande, just south of El Paso, Texas. Some estimates put the number of women who have been murdered, or who have inexplicably disappeared there since 1993 at more than 3,000, and they have ranged in age from girls of 13- to 65-year-olds. Few of the cases have been investigated and solved, and Mexican officials have failed to make this a major priority.

“I grew up in Cheyenne, Wyoming, the daughter of a Vietnam vet, and I inherited a pretty negative, absurdist view of the world that understands bad things are happening everywhere,” said Formby, 34, who wrote the first draft of “Corazon de Manzana,” her play inspired by the femicide, in a four-day flash. “But this lecture really jolted me out of my unwillingness to focus on the world around me. And I came to understand that much of the trouble in Juarez began after the implementation of NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), when the lives of Mexican farmers became uprooted and many moved to the city, when factory owners tended to hire female workers because they were cheaper and easier to control, and when the drug wars at the border exploded.”

“The whole thing made me realize how my own life is dependent on having cheap products, and what that really means,” said Formby, whose play, a partially bilingual work that mixes realism, fantasy and stylized movement, explores the connections between suffering and privilege, as it homes in on the lives of three pairs of mothers and daughters living in Mexico, the U.S. and Canada.

Formby planned to travel to Juarez in the winter of 2008 to do primary research, but the drug war violence became so bad she couldn’t make the trip. Instead, she drew on research done by a friend who worked in a women’s shelter there.”

“I see ‘Corazon’ as a very small first step,” said Formby, whose play will be directed by Jason Boat. “I just want people to have knowledge that the problem exists, and understand it shouldn’t be ignored.”

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“FARRAGUT NORTH,” a Stage Left Theatre production presented Sept. 3-Oct. 9 at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont. Call (773) 883-8830;

Beau Williamson’s play, which debuted at New York’s Atlantic Theatre Company in 2008 (and was named one of the 10 best plays of that year by Time Magazine), takes its title from a Washington, D.C., metro station located in a heavily lobbyist-infested district of the capital. Loosely inspired by the playwright’s own experiences working on the 2004 Democratic presidential campaign of Howard Dean, it has already been adapted into a film directed by George Clooney and starring Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Marisa Tomei that is slated to open in October.

The story focuses on Stephen Bellamy, a “wunderkind press secretary whose meteoric rise falls prey to the backroom politics of more seasoned operatives.” And it asks the question: If you really lust for power, how much will you endure to achieve it? Vance Smith directs.

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“ENTER LOVE,” a Quest Theatre Ensemble production presented Sept. 9-Oct. 16 at the Blue Theatre, 609 W. Gregory. Tickets are free but reservations are highly recommended. Call (312) 458-0895;

To celebrate its 10th anniversary as “The People’s Theater” (where tickets are free, but donations are appreciated), Quest Theatre is staging the world premiere of “Enter Love,” a musical with a score by Lynn Leopold and Scott Lamps. Directed by Andrew Park, the 12-person show is set in an international airport “where love might be lost or found, pursued or abandoned.”

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“THE KID THING,” a Chicago Dramatists and About Face Theatre production presented Sept. 9-Oct. 16 at Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago. Cal (312) 633-0630;

In Sarah Gubbins’ new play, directed by Joanie Schultz, two lesbian couples who have been best friends for years get together for a dinner party. The unexpected news of an impending pregnancy manages to rock both relationships, especially as Jacob, an old college friend (and potential sperm donor) enters the picture. Meanwhile, the usual contemporary questions arise: “Should we have kids? How will our relationship change? Will we be good parents?”

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