Ancient History, Common Ground Theatre–There’s a new theater group in town–Glass House Theatre–and the news is excellent from their inaugural production of Ancient History. David Ives’ script is a wake-up call–and then some–to a generation perceived as preoccupied with surfaces, sex and generally keeping things light. Under Deborah Winstead’s discerning direction, Jay O’Berski and Dana Marks take us through an emotional gauntlet as two bright, sophisticated–and quickly aging–children in their 30s ask each other–and us–not only what an adult relationship actually is, but how do we mean anything to each other anymore? This harrowing, emotionally frank work is the best show thus far of the new year. Go. (Through Feb. 12.)

HHHH Frozen, Playmakers Rep (Through Feb. 12.)

HHH 1/2 Diamond Studs, Mojo Productions,Fearrington Barn–Thirty years after the Red Clay Ramblers conquered off-Broadway, a commanding band of 13 in this revival soon convinces us that the music–a crazy quilt of Reconstruction-era string-band songs, hymns and company originals–is the real star of this show.

Yes, Studs reads in places like the early work it is. Jim Wann’s comedic sketches seem flimsier now, and slam segues from roots to far more formulaic rock and roll jar the ear. But the jewels in this uneven score demonstrate the genius in the songs Wann co-wrote with Bland Simpson, and an authenticity that belies the cheap laughs elsewhere. Vocalists Franklin Golden, Michael Holland, Taz Halloween and Amanda Watkins remind us that at its best, Studs still cooks with a solid vengeance. Recommended. (HELD OVER, closes Feb. 11.)

HH1/2 Callback, Temple Theatre–It’s clear: Playwright Bill Svanoe and actors Joan Darling and Augie Amarino know their showbiz. Their experiences lend considerable credibility to a deeply ambivalent love letter to the theater, the story of an actor and a casting director who gradually turn into colleagues–and theatrical sore-arm buddies–between 1960 and 2005. In that time, the two mainly debate the true cost of a lifetime’s service in the arts. But their mutual admiration society all but excludes the audience in this insider-baseball script, while too many plot developments–including the high points of their careers (and the proof of their genius)–stay stubbornly off-stage.

Though Darling and Amarino easily convince us as aging (and wounded) veterans of the boards, Darling is woefully miscast as the opening ingénue version of her character. The inevitable “Why I love the theater” speeches in the first act seem boilerplate, and assorted crises in their relationship delve into melodrama before a closing scene too brief and too pat to convince or satisfy.

A further gaffe in this production: the tasteless punctuation of scenes in Act 1 by a series of photographs of famous tragedies from the 1960s and beyond, including the missing civil rights workers from Mississippi Burning,dead bodies on the ground at Kent State, and a naked Vietnamese girl screaming as she runs from a village on fire. Each of these (and more) is a vision of a human atrocity; here, all have been co-opted into a show whose content has absolutely nothing to do with them. (Through Feb. 12.)

HH The Last Two Minutes of the Complete Works of Henrik Ibsen, Manbites Dog Theater–The most damning (and, unfortunately, appropriate) review a show like this could get? Needs editing: Far too long. Given the legendary invention–and brevity–of Chicago’s Neo-Futurists where this work originated, this production is a puzzle, since Greg Allen’s script of stand-up sketches runs out of novel ideas well before Ibsen runs out of plays, leaving this top-flight cast and director to mine thin comedic ore between takes that are completely unintelligible (League of Youth) or pointless (Love’s Comedy). Best moments: a loopy Burial Mound and the gothic roast of Lady Inger of Ostraat, before atmospheric, comparatively straight takes on John Gabriel Borkman,A Doll’s House and Peer Gynt. (Through Feb. 19.) x

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