My Theatrical Year

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Where did those twelve months go? It just seemed like yesterday when I was washing the champagne and various other substances out of my hair (yep, that was quite the 2011 New Year’s Eve shindig), and now we are at the end of 2012, or the end of the world as we know it if you’re one of those Mayan Calendar Doomsday groupies.  I’ve compiled my sixth annual best theater in Chicago list, and I gotta say that this was probably the most difficult of the lists to put together since I began. I know I say this every year, but 2012 was quite the fantastic year in Chicago theater, with many, many notable actors, writers and theater artists coming to the city to work on truly stellar, world-class, only-in-Chicago productions.  But our storefront theater scene, which gave rise to and nurtured theatrical giants like Cromer and Letts, continued to be unparalleled in the country.  I’ve added and crossed-out the productions on this list several times despite the fact that I missed several shows (it was just impossible to balance my day job, extensive travel, and all that theatrical bounty). It’s also notable that for the first time in six years, I have no non-Chicago production in the top ten – that’s how great 2012 was. When New York magazine called Chicago theater the “farm team” for Broadway and off-Broadway, I scoffed and knew that that New York hack couldn’t really tell his sunken derriere from his skeletal face, because I know, and hundreds of Chicago audiences know, how good we have it here in the city, much better than those high-horsing New Yorkers.  Here then are my best Chicago shows for 2012, as well as the next 5: Read the rest of this entry »

Fresh Air, Part Two – Disgraced

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This is the second of a two-part blog post.

In my previous blog post, I wrote about The Inconvenience’s Hit the Wall.  The other noteworthy new work I saw in the early weeks of 2012 was American Theater Company’s world premiere of Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced, which began in late January but which has mercifully been extended into early March. Disgraced is a little bit more polished, somewhat more thoughtfully structured, and comes off more re-written (which is a good thing to say about a play in this case) than Hit the Wall, but it isn’t any less powerful, and arguably, is probably more topical and resonant.  The central character is a first-generation Pakistani-American, Amir (an extraordinary Usman Ally), who has thoroughly embraced the American Dream: the fast-track in his corporate law firm, an interior-decorated Manhattan apartment, a non-Pakistani artist-wife (a good Lee Stark in an underwritten role), a worldview that’s skeptical, challenging, and to a certain extent, shunning of his Muslim background and upbringing.  It’s a truly provocative piece of theater- Akhtar palpably and sometimes brutally tackles large-scale themes around cultural identity and assimilation. 

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