Tuesday, December 23, 2008


In no particular order, here are my top ten Chicago theater experiences:

1. "Our Town" (The Hypocrites) - David Cromer is the director of the hour (I've been an adamant fan since his thrilling "Angels in America" for the Journeymen a decade ago), and his searing interpretation of Thornton Wilder's American classic delved right to the heart of the text like a bolt of lightning. The production is headed to New York.

2. "A Flowering Tree" (Chicago Opera Theater) - It was a true treat to hear John Adams conduct his own fragrant fairy tale of an opera. His stage director Nicola Raab and her team of singer/actors and designers understood that the most fulfilling of fairy tales are rooted in pain and consequently took their audiences on a potent emotional journey. This production was a triumph in collaboration -- all aspects of production colluded to create an unbreakable spell.

3. "Caroline, or Change" (Court Theatre) - I found Court's production to be an improvement upon George C. Wolfe's original New York staging. It seemed much more balanced under Charles Newell's insightful direction, with E. Faye Butler sharing the spotlight with Kate Fry's invaluable supporting turn.

4. "The Brothers Karamasov" (Lookingglass Theatre) - Lookingglass at last proved its storytelling maturity, as well as confirmed its unmatched sense of the theatrical, with its sprawling, muscular, and wholly successful adaptation of Dostoevsky's epic novel.

5. "Eurydice" (Victory Gardens Theatre) - This wonderful production of Sarah Ruhl's playful, wistful deconstruction of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth was the first time I'd seen the Biograph mainstage used to its utmost effect, thanks to Jessica Thebus's simple yet expansive staging.

6. "Gatz" (Elevator Repair Service) - An epic project which understood that sometimes prose is inextricable to the essence of a novel (certainly the case for F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby) and made unforgettable theater out of it. Bravo, MCA, for giving Chicagoans a chance to experience this.

7. "Dublin Carol" (Steppenwolf Theatre) - The best Chicago McPherson production in a year which has seen some excellent, very high profile productions ("The Seafarer", also at the Steppenwolf; and "Shining City" at the Goodman) from this acclaimed Irish playwright. "Carol" was a haunting, impeccably acted production, and despite being a downer, the best holiday show of the season.

8. "Ruined" (Goodman Theatre) - Lynn Nottage's powerful world premier at the Goodman impressed with some of the most harrowing and heartbreaking performances of the season. Kudos to director Kate Whoriskey, as well, for staging a production of great authenticity and compassion. Along with Cromer's "Our Town", this one's headed to New York.

9. "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, visiting company) - Tim Supple's exciting and authentic South Asian production oozed youthful energy and sexuality and was hands down the finest production of "Midsummer" I had ever seen.

10. "Don't Dress for Dinner" (British Stage Company) - The single funniest evening spent in a theater all year. This production of the famous farce did not make a false move and its execution looked downright effortless.

Honorable Mentions:
-"Shining City" (Goodman) - very fine performances of a very fine Conor McPherson play
-"As You Like It" (Writer's) - cozy, wistful production of my favorite Shakespeare comedy
-"Eugene Onegin" (Lyric Opera) - this exquisitely minimal production of the famous Tchaikovsky opera had an enormous emotional impact
-"The Trip to Bountiful" (Goodman) - Lois Smith was breathtaking in this beautiful, gentle production
-"Les Miserables" (Marriott) - (almost) erased memories of the original staging; that's a pretty big compliment
-"Sweet Charity" (Drury Lane) - Drury Lane reinstated themselves as one of the big guns with this joyous, Broadway-quality production
-"Speech and Debate" (ATC) - the most truthful play about teenage angst I have ever seen
-"Funk It Up About Nothin'" (Chicago Shakespeare) - I didn't think it was possible, but the follow-up to "Bombity" was just as fun and clever
-"Lulu" (Lyric Opera) - Lyric deserves enormous credit for staging this tough Berg classic in such pristine, uncompromising fashion
-"Picnic" (Writer's) - director David Cromer once again proves his worth with his claustrophobic, heartbreaking take on this Inge classic

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