Cheap things to do in Chicago

What to do in Chicago when you're broke.

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Got limited funds but unlimited energy? Join the club. From comedy nights to museum exhibitions, here's everything going on in Chicago that won't require a payday loan.


Messing With A Friend

  • Price band: 1/4

Each week, legendary improviser Susan Messing and a different friend segue from scene to scene, creating characters and situations along the way that are weird, wild and wonderful.

  1. Annoyance Theatre 851 W Belmont Ave
  2. Thu May 29 - Thu Aug 20
More info

Snorf!

  • Price band: 1/4

The Noah Ginex Puppet Company presents this monthly all-ages variety show featuring comedy sketches, improv and special guests.

  1. The Playground Theater 3209 N Halsted St, at Belmont Ave
  2. Sat Oct 18 - Sat Jan 10
More info

Pseudo-Chum

  • Rated as: 3/5
  • Price band: 1/4

Neo-Futurists. Written and directed by Sean and Carolyn Benjamin. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 20mins; no intermission. Theater review by Kevin Thomas The Neo-Futurists smoothly execute a complicated premise with their usual energy in Pseudo-Chum, even if the play itself ends up lost in a problem of its own creation.Pseudo-Chum is actually three stories told side-by-side about an alcoholic playwright’s pandering new play, Chum. One is a Sartre-esque, unending interview between the man himself (Sean Benjamin, also the actual playwright) and a hyperactive, omniscient journalist (Carolyn Benjamin, also the actual playwright). Another is the terrible play Chum, about a fishing family lost at sea while hunting shark bounties for the Australian government. The final story is about the disgruntled, competitive actors stuck rehearsing Chum despite their hatred of the play and its author.Much of Pseudo-Chum is an amusing abstract play about how what you ask for isn’t what you end up getting. The playwright is desperate to have his work appear deep and topical, but instead of grand philosophy, the interviewer finds his alcoholism and crippling insecurities revealed on the page. The actors want to be famous and successful, but their only path to glory is through a horrifically stupid play. Rapid-fire bickering dialogue keeps it fun while the show dives into its central metaphor: Are you the shark, or the chum?  It’s both the playwright’s grand idea and the topic of Pseudo-Chu

  1. Neo-Futurarium 5153 N Ashland Ave, between Winona St and Foster Ave
  2. Mon Oct 20 - Sat Nov 29
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Roald Dahl's The BFG

  • Price band: 1/4

David Wood's adaptation brings Roald Dahl's Big Friendly Giant and his young friend Sophie to life onstage.

  1. Apollo Theater 2540 N Lincoln Ave, at Lill St
  2. Sat Oct 25 - Sun Jan 4
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Great Expectations

  • Rated as: 5/5
  • Price band: 1/4
  • Critics choice

Strawdog Theatre Company. By Charles Dickens. Adapted by Gale Childs Daly. Directed by Jason Gerace. With Mike Tepeli, Amanda Drinkall, Caleb Fullen, Mary Winn Heider, Cody Proctor, Paige Smith. Running time: 2hrs 30mins; one intermission. Theater review by Kris Vire Dickens loved deliberate repetition, so he'd surely be pleased to know Strawdog's quite deliberate Great Expectations has returned in tremendous form. Strawdog's stirring new adaptation of a Dickens you don't see everywhere this time of year, first seen this time last year before earning mentions on numerous best-of-2013 lists and a Jeff Award for director Jason Gerace, traverses Pip's semiheroic journey to gentleman and back as spryly as ever. The six-actor adaptation by Wisconsin playwright Gale Childs Daly quotes extensively and directly from Dickens in its shared-narration style, allowing it to retain remarkable fidelity to the author's style while simultaneously animating it. Daly allows you to hear directly such Dickens tics as the aforementioned repetition (she milks Uncle Pumblechook's exhortation to "be grateful, boy, to them which brought you up by hand" for all it's worth), and the ultimate inevitability of his plotting unfolds neatly and naturally in Gerace's quick-trot staging. Four of the six cast members are new since last year (though some appeared in the show's brief Theater on the Lake remount over the summer), but the two key players in making my expectations great both return. Amanda Drin

  1. Strawdog Theatre Company 3829 N Broadway, between Grace St and Sheridan Rd
  2. Fri Oct 31 - Sat Dec 13
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Julia de Burgos: Child of Water

  • Price band: 1/4

UrbanTheater Chicago stages the Midwest premiere of Carmen Rivera's bioplay about the famed Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos. Juan Castañeda directs.

  1. National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture 3015 W Division St, at Humboldt Dr
  2. Fri Nov 7 - Sun Dec 14
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The American Revolution

  • Price band: 1/4

Seven barefoot actors, sharing a 21-square-foot platform and using each other's bodies as props, recount the battle for American independence in this family-friendly performance piece. Adventure Stage Chicago hosts Theatre Unspeakable's follow-up to Superman 2050 and Murder on the Midwest Express.

  1. Vittum Theater 1012 N Noble St, between Milwaukee Ave and Augusta Blvd
  2. Sat Nov 8 - Fri Nov 28
More info

Mud, River, Stone

  • Rated as: 3/5
  • Price band: 1/4

Eclipse Theatre Company at Athenaeum Theatre. By Lynn Nottage. Directed by Andrea J. Dymond. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs; one intermission. Theater review by Benno Nelson Capping off Eclipse Theatre Company’s season of the plays of Lynn Nottage, this relatively light-hearted 1997 drama is initially framed as a good-natured vacation story. The Bradleys, a stylish and successful African-American couple, recount for friends at home an epic trip to Africa in search of their roots and a little adventure. A wrong turn and a rainstorm strand Sarah (AnJi White), a type A investment banker, and David (Robert Hardaway), a laid-back but influential music critic, in a relic of a colonial hotel in the jungle of an unnamed African country. The only other guest in the hotel is a mysterious white businessman (Zach Bloomfield), proud of his colonial lineage (his uncle “built” this hotel) and quick to declare himself an African by birth. They are joined by a Belgian dilettante convinced of his own pious understanding of “tribal” life, and a sweet but tough Nigerian aid worker from a local mission. As they wait out the rain, these people—each with a personal claim to African authenticity despite a distinct air of privileged otherness—struggle to navigate even their short time together. Probably the most interesting verbal game in the play is the way individuals try addressing each other as “brother” or “sister”, how this offered fellowship is accepted or rejected, and which grounds

  1. Athenaeum Theatre 2936 N Southport Ave, at Oakdale Ave
  2. Sun Nov 9 - Sun Dec 14
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Crumble (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake)

  • Price band: 1/4

A young girl finds comfort in the first Christmas after her father's disappearance by sharing her grief with a fantasized Justin Timberlake, while her anxious mother conjures up Harrison Ford. And their anthropomorphic apartment has opinions of his own. Jackalope Theatre artistic director AJ Ware stages Sheila Callaghan's off-kilter 2005 play.

  1. Broadway Armory Park 5917 N Broadway, at Thorndale Ave
  2. Thu Nov 13 - Sat Dec 20
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Tamer of Horses

  • Rated as: 3/5
  • Price band: 1/4

Teatro Vista at Victory Gardens Biograph Theater. By William Mastrosimone. Directed by Ron OJ Parson. With Juan Francisco Villa, Sari Sanchez, Joshua Torrez. Running time: 1hr 50mins; one intermission. Theater review by Kevin Thomas When Ty (Juan Francisco Villa) and Georgiane (Sari Sanchez) discover a wounded hoodlum in their barn, the pair are faced with a dilemma. Georgiane knows the projects and what will happen if they send Hector (Joshua Torrez) back to his gang. Ty’s brother died in prison, and he knows what the system will do if they turn him in to the cops. Against their better judgement, the two teachers let the illiterate, violent youth stay at their farm in an effort to reform him.Teatro Vista's production of William Mastrosimone's 1985 play, which he revised this year, shows that the playwright has an eye for the vast gulfs between classes and the different rules of survival we follow, though the story itself changes little and risks even less.The efforts of the family to educate or curb Hector aren’t all pretty or idealistic. Tamer of Horses is propelled by the simmering rage burning inside its characters—that they can’t change the world, and that the world makes it so hard to change one young man. Conversations are a desperate struggle to force Hector to behave “properly”, regardless of whether he understands why. Torrez infuses his threatening and loud Hector with an undercurrent of confusion and vulnerability. It’s believable that he has zero frame of refer

  1. Victory Gardens Biograph Theater 2433 N Lincoln Ave, between Fullerton Ave and Montana St
  2. Thu Nov 13 - Sun Dec 14
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Hotel Aphrodite

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Price band: 1/4
  • Critics choice

Factory Theater at Prop Thtr. By Angelina Martinez. Directed by Matt Engle. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 40mins; one intermission. Theater review by Kevin Thomas There is nothing original about Hotel Aphrodite, there is nothing unexpected about Hotel Aphrodite, and I had a great time and it earned its four stars.Sometimes we need a fun throwback. With a big bag of silicone dicks. And the Factory Theater delivers. Angelina Martinez's new play has the sensibilities of The Birdcage inserted, with great passion, into an old-fashioned farce complete with many opening and closing doors, with shades of classic comedies like You Can’t Take it With You and maybe the smallest pinch of Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel.Even if no single style, character or plot point is unique, it’s an assemblage of parts that work beautifully together. The Chateau Amantius is an erotic therapeutic retreat run by famed sex therapist Linda Knudson (Allison Cain), catering to every possible need an adventurous couple may have. In the midst of its grand re-opening, the sudden deaths of two distant relatives put the majority share of the hotel in the hands of Linda's conservative cousin who’s ignorant of the hotel’s nature. Linda is assisted by her hardworking (and to Linda’s continuing dismay, virginal) daughter Cindy (Bridgette Hammond), the impeccable head of staff Mr. Bloodstone (Kevin Alves), and assorted maids, cooks, and new hires who wrangle the wayward guests while constantly teetering

  1. Prop Thtr 3502–4 N Elston Ave, at Troy St
  2. Fri Nov 14 - Sat Dec 20
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Our Holiday Stories

  • Price band: 1/4

16th Street artistic director Ann Filmer stages a triptych of holiday stories by Elizabeth Berg, Robert Koon and Tanya Saracho.

  1. 16th Street Theater at Berwyn Cultural Center 6420 16th St
  2. Sun Nov 16 - Sat Dec 13
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A Christmas Carol

  • Price band: 1/4

Drury Lane's hourlong, kid-friendly rendition of Dickens's tale of holiday redemption has played seasonally for more than 25 years. This year, Scott Calcagno directs a cast led by Brad Armacost as Scrooge.

  1. Drury Lane Oakbrook Terrace 100 Drury Ln
  2. Thu Nov 20 - Tue Dec 23
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Hansel & Gretel: A Wickedly Delicious Musical Treat

  • Price band: 1/4

Emerald City Theatre presents a new twist on an old favorite. Book writer Ernie Nolan and kindie rocker Justin Roberts put Hansel and Gretel's witch hunt to a rock & roll soundtrack.

  1. Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place 175 E Chestnut St, between Michigan Ave and Seneca St
  2. Sat Nov 22 - Sun Jan 4
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Hot Georgia Sunday

  • Price band: 1/4

Haven Theatre stages the world premiere of a new play by Catherine Trieschmann (Crooked) about a churchgoing family in small-town Georgia struggling to recover from the loss of a wife and mother. Marti Lyons directs.

  1. The Den Theatre 1329–1333 N Milwaukee Ave, at Paulina St
  2. Sat Nov 22 - Sun Dec 21
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Jet Black Chevrolet

  • Rated as: 2/5
  • Price band: 1/4

The side project. By Scott T. Barsotti. Directed by Devon de Mayo. With Robert Koon, Diana Slickman, Kathryn Acosta. Running time: 1hr 15mins; no intermission. Theater review by Kevin Thomas A couch, two chairs, a window, and a coffeemaker enveloped by a shrine of used mugs. That’s the entire set for Jet Black Chevrolet, Scott T. Barsotti’s new play premiering as part of a two-play rep at the side project.The pajama-clad Sam and Catherine Curie (Robert Koon and Diana Slickman) have seemingly lost track of time. In a permanent state of either up-too-late or awake-too-early, the pair seesaw between Catherine’s fits of paranoia over the outside world and Sam’s aggressive indifference to anything beyond the couch. There are only two things in their tiny universe that matter: making more coffee, and the black car that’s suddenly parked in front of their house.Alternatingly comic, morose, indifferent, or unhinged, it takes time to realize that the Curies have a twentysomething son who is long missing and now presumed dead. Perhaps it's the trigger for their current thrall, though there are implications that they were off long before that. Barsotti’s script is often obscure to a fault. Information is withheld to generate mystery, rather than for a discernible reason. The Curies’ emotions—while faithfully acted—are so erratic that some grounding in their story would be welcome. But no details or reliable statements are forthcoming.While it strives for absurdism, the genre’s convent

  1. the side project 1439 W Jarvis Ave, between Greenview Ave and Sheridan Rd
  2. Sun Nov 23 - Sun Dec 21
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We Three

  • Price band: 1/4

A small town hunts for a missing girl in Mary Hamilton's new drama with a sinister undercurrent. Josh Sobel directs.

  1. the side project 1439 W Jarvis Ave, between Greenview Ave and Sheridan Rd
  2. Sun Nov 23 - Sun Dec 21
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Buddy Cop 2

  • Price band: 1/4

Set in small-town Indiana in the 1980s, this 2010 piece by Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen's of NYC's The Debate Society is a quirky tale of cops, cancer and Christmas cheer with a slightly sinister bent. In other words, don't fret over missing Buddy Cop 1. Cassy Sanders directs Pavement Group's Midwest premiere, with a cast featuring Cyd Blakewell, Joe Zarrow, Gabe Franken and Leah Raidt.

  1. Theater Wit 1229 W Belmont Ave, between Racine and Lakewood Aves
  2. Tue Nov 25 - Sun Dec 21
More info

Shining City

  • Price band: 1/4

The former Seanachaí Theatre Company stages its first production under its new moniker, Irish Theatre of Chicago. Coburn Goss is the therapist and Brad Armacost the client who believes he's seen his dead wife in Conor McPherson's haunting ghost story. Shane Kenyon, Carolyn Kruse and Jillian Rafa also star; Jeff Christian directs.

  1. The Den Theatre 1329–1333 N Milwaukee Ave, at Paulina St
  2. Wed Nov 26 - Sun Jan 4
More info

Martin Buttrich + tINI

  • Price band: 1/4
  • Critics choice

How about a side of kraut with your turkey? After stuffing yourself with stuffing, skip football, shopping and movies for some soulful German techno. Martin Buttrich has been keeping it deep, minimal and trippy for two decades. He works the mixer and virtual drum kit from Berlin to Pacha in Ibiza to Spy Bar. Fellow German DJ tINI pairs thumping techno beats with clever, dreamlike melodies for a curious sound, kinky as her curls. If you're not too worn out from Black Wednesday, this is one killer Thursday.

  1. Spy Bar 646 N Franklin St, between Ontario and Erie Sts
  2. Thu Nov 27
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A Christmas Carol: An Evening of Dickensian Delights

  • Price band: 1/4

Adapter-director Rachel Martindale's three-actor telling of Scrooge's tale returns for a second year at Dream Theatre Company.

  1. Dream Laboratory 5026 N Lincoln Ave, at Winnemac Ave
  2. Fri Nov 28 - Sun Dec 21
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Ice Skating at Midway Plaisance Park

  • Price band: 1/4

In the midst of the University of Chicago in Hyde Park, the Midway Plaisance Park ice rink provides a scenic venue for skaters in Hyde Park. Facilities include a warming house, where you can heat up after an hour or two on the ice. (See the park's website for ice rink hours.) Skate rentals are $6.

  1. Midway Plaisance Skating Rink 1130 Midway Plaisance N, at 59th St
  2. Fri Nov 28 - Sat Feb 28
More info

Ice Skating at Riis Park

  • Price band: 1/4

Looking for somewhere to skate on the West Side of Chicago? Hop on a Fullerton bus and cart your blades over to Riis Park, where the Chicago Blackhawks Ice Rink awaits, complete with a warming trailer for frigid days. (See the park's website for ice rink hours.) Skate rental $6.

  1. Riis Park 6100 W Fullerton Ave, at Meade Ave
  2. Fri Nov 28 - Sat Feb 28
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Ice Skating at McKinley Park

  • Price band: 1/4

Located on Chicago's southwest side, McKinley Park's ice rink offers a slippery surface for skaters of all skill levels. When you're done skating, walk over to Bridgeport and get a hot pie from Pleasant House Bakery. (See the park's website for ice rink hours.) Skate rentals are $6.

  1. McKinley Park 2210 W Pershing Rd, between Western Blvd and Damen Ave
  2. Fri Nov 28 - Sat Feb 28
More info

Ice Skating at Mt. Greenwood Park

  • Price band: 1/4

Located near Berverly and Oak Lawn, the Mt. Greenwood Park ice rink offers a place for South Side skaters to gather. (See the park's website for ice rink hours.) Skate rentals are $6.

  1. Mt. Greenwood Park 3721 W 111th St, at Central Park Ave
  2. Fri Nov 28 - Sat Feb 28
More info
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