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Our last trip to the theater was to see a splashy musical, which of course we loved. But a recent visit to the tucked-away American Theater Company in North Center reminded us why Chicago?s small theater scene is so great.

ATC?s current production is Speech & Debate, a comedy with a purely modern plot: Three high school students--each with a secret they wish no one knew--set out to expose the online life of one of their teachers. (Through June 23; tickets $38 to $43.)

Though the characters are played by actors clearly in their 20s and early 30s, the hilarious, heartbreaking teenage angst is real. Struggles with sexuality, pregnancy, parents and teachers abound, and actress Sadieh Rifai steals the show as a whatever-spewing, Idina Menzel-worshipping girl whose bedroom video blogging scenes bring the audience to tears (the laughing kind). 

The story unfolds on a spare set with a huge chalkboard as the backdrop; the scribbled words intermittently projected onto the board are the only bit of staging that tried our patience.

With our car parked on an unmetered neighborhood street and the thought of a steaming pie from nearby Big Bricks after the show, we were happy to be out of the Loop for a night.

??American Theater Company, 1909 W. Byron St.; 773-409-4125 or

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