Centerstage.net - One theater and a bevy of shows

Anne Wilschuke, Centerstage.net

The play's the thing!" says Hamlet, and at Chopin Theatre, it couldn't be truer. Hidden behind its Wicker Park storefront location, Chopin houses a main stage and a smaller studio, a cafe, ample dressing areas, a luxurious waiting lounge and a grand foyer. Though the entire building is masterfully decorated with Oriental rugs, antique furniture and photograph- and artwork-clad walls, there's no need to don your most respectably dull theater dress to attend a production here: The owners welcome everything from the most casual to the flashiest high-end couture.

Since opening its doors 15 years ago, Chopin Theatre has averaged 500 performances a year; though mainly plays, the theater stages film and jazz events as well. With this kind of schedule, one might feel the inkling to compare Chopin to the conventional downtown theater. A word to the wise: Don't compare. Chopin prides itself on producing non-traditional, non-commercial plays purely for the sake of art. Here, making a buck comes second to producing quality theater. At a Chopin performance, there is no definite line between audience and actors; in some cases, the audience becomes the actors and vice versa. Swordfights break out, trapezes swing, nudity takes over and props hurl through the air, all in an effort to generate great and refreshing art.

Chopin Theatre is owned and operated by Zygmunt Dyrkacz and Lela Headd, who invite theatergoers to BYO coffee or tea for the show or purchase a beverage from the cafe (pleasantly, no hawkish usher will reprimand you for your beverage). Main stage tickets generally run around $25; smaller studio productions cost a bit less. Anne Wilschuke, Centerstage