Thursday November 23rd 2017


Recommended  Storefront theater in Chicago is alive and kicking and while some of our storefronts are in reality old factories, not actual stores, they bring us some of the best work, new and old, for  an affordable ticket price in town. Take for example, Signal Theatre Ensemble, in their new building on the northside.This troupe’s Mission Statement is to inspire their audiences witha great variety of compelling theater, at the same time offering new challenges to their actors and technical people. They have been doing this since 2003, and now with their marvelous building located at Bernice and Ravenswood, they have even more opportunities. For example in their current production, “Aces” written by Ensemble member Jon Steinhagen; the actors have to leave the building to get offstage on one side and get back onstage on the other side. At tonight’s opening, it poured all night- talk about loving what you do and being challenged. The audience never knew! This is one of the reasons I love our local theater community; they are devoted to their art and to giving their audience the best they can get in entertainment.

“Aces” is a sharp new play about losers and how one person can change their whole outlook and their futures. The time is 1975 ( I am still not sure why Steinhagen chose this era) and the place is Las Vegas. We are at one of the lesser known casinos as we meet our main characters, Lloyd ( the always reliable Vincent Lonergan) the pit boss for the Blackjack area, Jack ( Jon Steinhagen, who as always creates great characters, as it turns out with pen as well as with his acting ability), Pete, Jack’s brother( Philip Winston handles this role with just the right touch), Garrett ( a marvelous character interpretation by Aaron Snook) and Duke ( deftly handled by Joseph Stearns). The cocktail waitress for their area is played by the lovely Elizabeth Bagby. These characters are involved in a mini-scam they call ACES along with one more dealer, but their fourth dealer, has just passed away, thus they cannot pull off their “game” anymore.

Enetr the new dealer, Samantha ( charmingly played by Simone Roos) who has come from Reno. The others discuss possibly bringing her into their scam as the need four dealers to make it work without discovery. They decide that each will feel her out to see if she can be trusted and agree that each will spend some time withher before telling her what they do. As each one meets withher, we see them change in one way or another. It seems that she has a special power over each that makes them look at their situations and their somewhat wasted lives. As I said, these are losers with a capital L. We watch as the play progresses to see if she will be allowed to join with them or if in fact she has other motives. Could she be a spy for upper management to see if they do have a scam? Could she have her own scam that she is going to perpetrate on them? There are some unique little stories, almost mysterious about the flaws of each of these characters, both past and present ,that become clearer in the second act of this tight little story and I will not give up the ending. I can only tell you that each of these characters does alter their life and for the better.

Director Ronan Marra utilizes the stage area of Signal to make this story come to life using a multi-task set (Melanie Lancy) and weaves the scenes into two or three taking place at the same time. The audience is seated on three sides of the stage area and at no time are any of them cheated of good sight lines. The lighting by Mark J. Hurni is perfect and while I loved the sound  choices by Anthony Ingram, I did find them to be just a little loud in some cases, taking away from the stellar work of this fine cast. While there are no real Blackjack Tables or betters ( they are left to the imagination) the actors handle the feeling of reality with precise movements and often you almost feel as if you are looking over the shoulder of the player at the table in front of you.          

“Aces” will continue at Signal Ensemble Theatre located at 1802 W. Bernice through June 18th with performances as follows:

Thursdays,Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m.

Tickets are $20 ( what a great value for live theater!) and can be purchased by calling 773-347-1350 or online at

Seniors and students pay only $15 and for Memorial Day weekend ( hopefully the rain will stop by then) $5 off every ticket.

Street parking is available ( no meters or permit) and public transportation-Brown Line, #80,#152 ,#50 and #11 are very close by.

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