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Fall Theater Preview

September 20, 2017 at 11:02 AM

Original Article:

Fall Theater Preview

Theater Critic

The big news this fall is the first-ever Chicago International Latino Theater Festival Sept. 29-Oct. 29 at various locations around town. Produced by the Chicago Latino Theater Alliance, the fest showcases companies from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Colombia (some of which are making their U.S. debuts), as well as both coasts and, of course, Chicago. ( We’re also looking forward to other international visitors, many world premieres, new plays and musicals, revivals of old favorites, and special events.

Here’s what’s happening at some of the theaters we review regularly plus a few other promising possibilities, starting with Court Theatre. Call ahead for times, tickets, locations, and schedule changes.


*Court Theatre (773-753-4472) kicks off its 63rd season through Oct. 8 with “Five Guys Named Moe,” Clarke Peters’ celebration of songwriter and saxophonist Louis Jordan. Ron OJ Parson and Felicia P. Fields direct, and the musical direction is by Abdul Hamid Royal. Stephen Allen plays newly single Nomax, and the five Moes who emerge from his radio to console him are portrayed by Darrian Ford, James Earl Jones II, Eric Andrews Lewis, Kelvin Roston, Jr., and Lorenzo Rush, Jr.

Next up, Nov. 2-Dec. 3, is “The Belle of Amherst, William Luce’s complex portrait of Emily Dickinson drawn from her poems, letters, and diary entries. Sean Graney directs the sublime Kate Fry as Dickinson.

*Goodman Theatre (312-443-3800) launches the season in the Albert Theatre through Oct. 15 with the Young Vic production of “A View from the Bridge,” which won 2016 Tony Awards for best revival of a play and best director. The New York Times’ Ben Brantley called it a “magnificent reconception” and said that Belgian director Ivo van Hove “has striped stark naked (Arthur) Miller’s 1956 drama of a self-imploding Brooklyn longshoreman” and “at the end of its uninterrupted two hours, you are wrung out, scooped out….and feel ridiculously blessed to have been a witness to the terrible events you just saw.” Ian Bedford stars as Eddie Carbone, and Catherine Combs is Catherine.

In the smaller Owen Theatre, Oct. 20-Nov. 19, you can catch Rohina Malik’s “Yasmina’s Necklace,” which was developed during the 2010 New Stages Festival and had its world premiere last year at the 16th Street Theater under Ann Filmer’s direction. Filmer once again directs the hopeful story of the blossoming relationship between Abdul Samee, who has obscured his Muslim identity in favor of assimilation, and Yasmina, a refugee whose experiences have hardened her to the possibilities of love.

Also in the Goodman’s lineup: this year’s New Stages Festival Sept. 20-Oct. 8 and the 40th annual production of “A Christmas Carol” Nov. 18-Dec. 31 with Larry Yando returning for the 10th time as Ebenezer Scrooge.

*Broadway in Chicago (800-775-2000) has a long-running hit on its hands with “Hamilton” at the PrivateBank Theatre, but the brief pre-Broadway run of “Escape from Margaritaville” at the Oriental Theatre Nov. 9-Dec. 2 promises to pack in Parrotheads and the rest of us with its original songs and classics by the inimitable Jimmy Buffet. It’s followed Dec. 6- Jan. 21 by the return of “Wicked.” The Cadillac Palace Theatre has a very full lineup that includes “Motown the Musical” Oct. 3-8, “Les Misérables” Oct. 11-29, “School of Rock” Nov. 1-19, “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” Nov. 21-Dec.3, and the reprise of “Beautiful—The Carole King Musical” Dec. 5-Jan. 28.

*Chicago Shakespeare Theater (312-595-5600) begins the season with a new spin on “The Taming of the Shrew” through Nov. 12. Artistic Director Barbara Gaines has assembled an all-female cast to stage Shakespeare’s battle of the sexes as a comedy being put on by a group of Suffragettes on the eve of the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1919, and Second City’s Ron West has written a new frame. Expect an exploration of sexual power and politics, among other things.

The holiday season, Dec. 1-Jan. 21, 2018, brings “Red Velvet,” Lolita Chakrabarti’s play about Ira Aldridge, the African American actor who took the London stage by a firestorm as the first black Othello in 1833, a time when anti-abolition protesters were rioting in the streets. Gary Griffin directs.

The most exciting development at CST is the opening of The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare, the long-awaited, ultra-flexible theater space where the Skyline Stage used to be. It makes its debut Sept. 19-23 as a large-scale proscenium venue seating nearly 800 for “The Toad Knew” from James Thierée and France’s La compagnie du Hanneton, then morphs into a 400-seat house with an expansive stage Oct. 17-29 for “Amarillo” from Mexico’s Teatro Linea de Sombra as part of the inaugural Chicago International Latino Theater Festival (see intro). Two Shakespeare productions, an abridged “Midsummer Night’s Dream” and Aaron Posner and Teller’s supernatural “Macbeth,” are on the bill for next year.

*Lookingglass Theatre Company (312-337-0665) opens its 30th season Oct. 4-Jan. 14, 2018 with the reprise of the circus-infused “Hard Times,” adapted and directed by Heidi Stillman from the novel by Charles Dickens and presented in association with the Actors Gymnasium. Ensemble members David Caitlin and Raymond Fox are among the returning denizens of smoke-choked Coketown, while newcomer Audrey Anderson is Sissy Jupe, the young orphan who brings a ray of hope when a traveling circus lands nearby.

*Steppenwolf Theatre Company (312-335-1650) offers the Chicago premiere of Jessica Dickey’s “The Rembrandt” in the Upstairs Theatre through Nov. 5. Originally called “The Guard,” the 2015 time-tripping drama is about a senior museum guard who touches Rembrandt’s “Aristotle With a Bust of Homer,” triggering funny-sad reflections on art, poetry, philosophy, and mortality. It stars ensemble members Francis Guinan as both the guard, Henry, and Rembrandt, and John Mahoney as his dying husband Simon and the Greek poet Homer. The other three actors also play dual roles.

In the Downstairs Theatre Oct. 7-17, Jonathan Berry directs the Steppenwolf for Young Audiences production of “The Crucible,” Arthur Miller’s 1953 play about the Salem Witch Trials. An allegory about the rise of McCarthyism in the late 1940s, it mixes fact and fiction and remains a potent cautionary tale about the toxic power of mass hysteria. The large cast includes Travis Knight as John Proctor, KristinaValada-Viars as his wife Elizabeth, and Naima Hebrail Kidjo as Abigail Williams, the teenager who brings them down.

Besides an enticing array of dance, music, readings, and more, Steppenwolf’s 1700 Theatre is hosting four Chicago International Latino Theater Festival weekend programs as part of its LookOut Series. They are ArteBoricua of Puerto Rico’s “Madea (Medea)” by Euripides Oct. 5-8, Chicago-based Aguijón’s “La Muerte y la Doncella (Death and the Maiden)” by Ariel Dorfman Oct. 12-15, Teatro Ludi of Cuba’s “El Peine y el Espejo (The Mirror)” by Abelardo Estorino Oct. 19-22, and Vueltas Bravas Producciones & Mitchell Productions Inc.’s “Miss Julia (Miss Julie),” which switches the action of August Strindberg’s play to Colombia, Oct. 26-28.

*Victory Gardens Theater (773-871-3000) tackles Jeanine Tesori (music) and Lisa Kron’s (book and lyrics) “Fun Home” through Nov. 12. Gary Griffin directs the Tony Award-winning (5 of them) musical inspired by Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir about coming out, finding acceptance, and grappling with her closeted father’s suicide. The incomparable Danni Smith plays the artist.
The second show, Nov. 4-Dec. 23, is ensemble playwright Tanya Saracho’ “Fade,” a co-production with Teatro Vista directed by that company’s Sandra Marquez. The behind-the-scenes drama focuses on Mexican-born Lucia, who is hired to write for a ruthless Hollywood television series and teams up the Mexican American custodian, Abel, who has a wealth of plot ideas.

*Remy Bumppo Theatre Company (773-404-7336) celebrates the 75th birthday of Thorton Wilder’s “The Skin of our Teeth” Oct. 4-Nov. 12. Arguably ahead of its time, the 1942 absurdist tragicomedy centers on the every-family that endures enough end-of-the-world disasters throughout the ages to call into question the value of survival. Kareem Bandealy plays George Androbus, the put-upon patriarch.

Next up, Nov. 22-Jan. 7, 2018 is “Puff: Believe It Or Not,” Ranjit Bolt’s world-premiere adaptation of Eugène Scribe’s forgotten gem about a cavalry officer who returns to the salon society of 1840s Paris to find his countrymen addicted to exaggeration, fakery, dissimulation, and just plain lying. Nick Sandys directs the witty satire of the worlds of letters, politics, and finance.

TimeLine Theatre Company (773-281-8463) opens with the Chicago premiere of “The Audience,” Peter Morgan’s re-imagining of Queen Elizabeth II’s private meetings with each of her 12 prime ministers over the course of six decades. Nick Bowling directs Janet Ulrich Brooks as Her Majesty. Among the PMs: Matt DeCaro as Winston Churchill, Harold Wilson and Tony Blair, and Carmen Roman as Margaret Thatcher. It runs through Nov. 12.

TimeLine moves to Stage 773 for its second show, local playwright Sarah Ruhl’s “In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play,” Oct. 26-Dec. 17. Inspired by Rachel P. Maines’ book “The Technology of Orgasm” and set in the 1880s, the witty play about self discovery and sexual awakening illuminates how much control men had over women’s lives.


*A Red Orchid Theatre’s (312-943-8722) fall show is Wallace Shawn’s “Evening at the Talk House” Oct. 5-Nov. 19. Shade Murray directs the dystopian comedy about theater people who gather to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of playwright Robert’s “Midnight in a Clearing with Moon and Stars” and end up exposing their moral cowardice and worse. The topnotch cast includes ensemble members Lance Baker, Kirsten Fitzgerald, and Natalie West.

*House Theatre of Chicago’s (773-769-3832) 16th season takes flight through Oct. 21 with the return of the Jeff Award-winning “United Flight 232,” adapted and directed by Vanessa Stalling from Evanston author Laurence Gonzales’ book based on research and interviews with survivors of the July 19, 1989
Sioux City Gateway airport crash of a DC-10 headed for O’Hare with 296 on board. Amazingly 184 passengers and crew survived.

*American Blues Theater (773-327-5252) serves up a double helping of Bedford Falls holiday cheer starting with the Chicago premiere of Steve Murray’s “This Wonderful Life” Nov. 2-26. James Leaming inhabits every role in this funny and touching one-man adaptation of the iconic film. Hard on its heels, Nov. 16-Jan. 6, 2018, is the 16th annual edition of ABT’s “It’s A Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!,” a 1940s-style live radio broadcast complete with Foley artist, carols, and milk and cookies served by the cast after each performance. Fun fact: Leaming was the radio play’s first George Bailey.

*Raven Theatre (773-338-2177) presents the Chicago premiere of Academy Award-winner (for “Moonlight”) Tarell Alvin McCraney’s “Choir Boy” Sept. 27-Nov. 12. Infused with gospel music, the play focuses on Pharus, a smart and enthusiastic student and choir leader at a black prep school who is seen as effeminate and must both come to terms with his sexuality and contend with homophobia.

*Shattered Globe Theatre (773-975-8150) bows in through Oct. 21 with “The Heavens Are Hung in Black,” James Still’s portrait of a tormented President Abraham Lincoln in the months leading up to the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. This debut in the “Land of Lincoln” stars Lawrence Grimm as the humane leader pondering why he’s taken the nation into civil war, and Linda Reiter as his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln.

*The Gift Theatre ( 773-283-7071) mounts the world premiere of Janine Nabers’ “A Swell in the Ground” Oct. 13-Dec. 10. Time-tripping through 17 years in New York, the play looks at four college friends trying to reconcile the lives they imagined with the lives they live.

*City Lit Theater Co. (773-293-3682) stages the first Chicago production of John Millington Synge’s “Deirdre of the Sorrows” in a century through Oct. 15. In the quintessentially Irish, prophecy-laden tale, the beautiful maiden of the title, promised in marriage to the King of Ulster since birth, instead flees with her lover and the king’s fierce rival warrior, Naisi, with predictably tragic consequences.

*Strawdog Theatre Company (773-644-1380) begins a season about identity through Sept. 30 with the Chicago premiere of Robert O’Hara’s “Barbecue,” which turns the typical dysfunctional family on its head with a couple of shocking twists. Damon Keily directs the story of trash-talking siblings, adicts all, who use a barbecue in a park as an excuse to stage an intervention for the youngest, Barbara.


*Northlight Theatre in Skokie’s (847-673-6300) opener through Oct. 22 is the Chicago premiere of “The Legend of Georgia McBride,” Matthew Lopez’s sassy music-filled comedy about a down-on-his-luck Elvis impersonator who finds his true voice when forced to step into high heels and perform in the drag show that takes over as the entertainment at the Florida Panhandle bar where he works. Nate Santana plays the beleaguered Casey, and Sean Blake is his drag mentor Miss Tracy Mills. It’s followed, Nov. 9-Dec. 17, by “The Book of Will,” Lauren Gunderson’s imaginative look at how the members of Shakespeare’s company managed to produce the First Folio in 1623 and preserve the playwright’s legacy.

*Writers Theatre in Glencoe (847-242-6000) ventured into new territory with the world premiere of “Trevor: The Musical” through Oct. 8 (see my review). Based on the 1994 Academy Award-winning short film that sparked The Trevor Project, a crisis and suicide prevention help line for LGBTQ youth, Dan Collins (book and lyrics) and Julianne Wick Davis’ (music) coming-of-age tale set in 1981 centers on a passionate 13-year-old Diana Ross fan whose crush on a hunky schoolmate gets discovered. The theater tapped big guns for the show among them director Marc Bruni (“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”). Next in the Nichols Theatre, Nov. 8-Dec. 23, is Oscar Wilde’s effervescent “The Importance of Being Earnest” staged by artistic director Michael Halberstam.

In the smaller Gillian Theatre, you can see the U.S. premiere of “Quixote: On the Conquest of Self” Sept. 27-Dec. 17. Monica Hoth and Claudio Valdés Kurí riff on the classic novel travels between Migeul de Cervantes’ world and our own. Kurí directs, and Henry Godinez is the knight of the big dreams.

*Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook (630-530-0111) fills the fall with the regional premiere of “Rock of Ages” featuring almost thirty 1980s hits packed into the story of an aspiring rock star and a small-town girl who help try to save Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, through Oct. 15, followed by “42nd Street,” which won the 1980 Tony Award for Best Musical, Oct. 26-Dec. 21.

*Marriott Theatre (847-634-0200) spotlights the regional premiere of Jason Robert Brown (music and lyrics) and Andrew Bergman’s (book) “Honeymoon in Vegas,” based on the 1992 film, through Oct. 15. Staged by the original Broadway team, including director Gary Griffin, the musical stars Michael Mahler as commitment-phobic Jack, Samantha Pauly as his girlfriend Betsy, and Sean Allan Krill as professional gambler Tommy. The holiday production, Oct. 25-Dec. 31, is Harvey Fierstein (book) and Alan Menken’s (music) Broadway hit, “Newsies,” directed and choreographed by Alex Sanchez.