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Sketchbook Festival just the ticket

Kiley Moore (from  The Q Brothers’ 'The Sorrows Young Werther') AjWiltshire from 'Native American Princess' by Stanley Toledo.

Kiley Moore (from The Q Brothers’ "The Sorrows of Young Werther") and Aja Wiltshire from "Native American Princess" by Stanley Toledo.

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Collaboraction’s ‘Sketchbook 13,’ June 5-30, Flat Iron Arts Building, 1579 N. Milwaukee, $25-$60. Call (312) 226-9633;

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Updated: May 29, 2013 10:50PM

Chicago commuters are familiar with the eight color-coded routes of the trains that comprise the CTA system. And now, for its 13th annual Sketchbook festival of new plays, Collaboraction has charted its own playfully hued map of journeys, with the (invented) Black Line and Blue Line featuring two different double-bills of one-acts, the Green Line showcasing a single full-length “devised” work, and the Brown Line making brief stops at nine destinations.

The color-coding is a clever way to enable audiences to sort out which route they might want to take at the box office. But the idea came into being rather more organically.

“Last year, after staging a total of 156 short plays in previous seasons, we expanded our format to include longer-form works too, and we decided to continue offering that option,” said Anthony Moseley, Collaboraction’s energetic artistic director, whose acclaimed “Crime Scene: A Chicago Anthology” is being retrofitted for a Chicago parks touring project this summer.

“Our only guidelines this year were these: Submit a world premiere play or theater piece on any theme, but it must either be seven minutes or less in length, or between eight and 80 minutes. Of the 120 submissions we received, about 65 were shorter and 55 longer. With the shorts, we chose the top 20, sent them out to be read by our top 20 choice of directors, and asked each director to write a one-page ‘vision’ proposal for their three favorites. From those ‘visions’ we culled the nine shorts we’ve decided to produce.”

But a funny thing happened on the way to that final culling process.

“All our choices led us to the notion of ‘a destination,’ with theater itself a metaphor for taking an imaginative journey to a new place, or even another universe that can result in you being changed.”

But the nine short plays or “Destinies” of the Brown Line also had a surprising unity of theme.

“Maybe it’s just something in the cultural zeitgeist,” said Moseley. “But they all seemed to be dealing with life and death, with this life and the afterlife, with mortality and immortality.”

Take, for example, “The Sorrows of Young Werther,” an adaptation by those hip-hop-besotted Q Brothers of the 1774 novel by Goethe — a work that became a touchstone of the Romantic movement. Written in the form of letters, gives us a passionate young man who commits suicide in the face of an impossible love.

“We decided it would be funny to be true to the story and its 18th century German setting, but to use ‘SNL’-like German accents for our rapping,” said JQ. “We’ve sampled some Bach and other period music, and given it a hip-hop twist.”

The other short plays include: Stanley Toledo’s “Native American Princess,” about a guy who follows the signs of the universe but ignores warnings at every turn; Chelsea M. Marcantel’s “Everything Is Permitted,” about a group of students who have constructed their own Dreamachine; Adam Joshua Seidel’s “Darkness,” about a woman who has been trapped in the dark for 300 years; Jennifer Barclay’s “Minus You,” about two people who struggle to reach out for each other after a terrible accident; Alex Lubischer’s “Survey No. 5,” which looks at the minefield of breakups and bisexuality; Gregory Hardigan’s “Shuffle Off,” in which a man, near death after a terrible highway accident, refuses to die before his iPod reaches the perfect song; Jenny Lynn Christoffersen and Jaci Entwistle’s “Theater McGuiver,” in which a man finds himself holding the fate of the world in his hands; and “The Most Delicious Little House for Beginners (Clip Her Small to Fit the Boards),” a piece devised and performed by Kelly Rafferty and Heather Warren-Crow, about two desperate housewives who live inside a TV.

The single stop on the Green Line is “Price Point,” a full-length devised piece by the four members of Honey Pot Performance.

The Blue Line will take you to “Hospital,” conceived by Sarah Illiatovitch-Goldman, Diana Rose and Robin Toller, and “Weathervane,” a work by Carolyn Hoerdemann, Ann Sonneville and Tony Werner.

Finally, if you board the Black Line, you will find two other stations: “Snapshot,” by Brett C. Leonard (about the family of a contract killer facing its demons), and “Deadpan Melodrama,” by Bob Glaudini (about the tensions between two “children” in their forties and their parents).

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