Francis’s Fall Picks: Top 10 Must-See Productions in Chicago

Culture, Dance, Music, Theater Add comments

autumn-leaves.jpgFor anyone outside of Boystown and Andersonville, there is so much more going on this fall in Chicago than the Madonna concert (which, for those of you who have just come back to the city from the island of Tuvalu, is scheduled for October 26-27 at the United Center).  Everyone (well, the Chicago Tribune and TimeOut Chicago that is) have made up their lists of the top fall live performances (theater, opera, dance) that they recommend you attend, which is a good thing – it’s both the blessing and the bane of living in a great, lively, cultural center like Chicago, that you can go to see a show every night, and still not see it all, so guidance is imperative (plus the fact that no one really has an unlimited art consumption spending budget) .  Here then, in no particular order, are From the Ledge’s picks for the must-see performing arts events of the fall – they’re an eclectic lot, showcasing both the best efforts of local Chicago talent as well as top international artists making pitstops in our wonderful town, confirming our stature in the global artistic community. Varied in discipline, theme, and artistic approach, they all, nevertheless, promise exciting, memorable, uniquely impactful nights at the theater.  I’ll be at all of them, so if you see me, say hi!

Steppenwolf Theater opens its 33rd season with Frank Galati’s new adaptation of Haruki Murukami’s incandescent novel Kafka on the Shore (September 18-November 16), which I read a couple of years ago and loved.  It’s a beautiful novel of memory, wish fulfillment, and mastery of one’s destiny – I am very excited to see how Galati translates Murukami’s poetic and haunting images to the stage.  I really liked his last adaptation of a Murukami work, After the Quake, which also premiered at the Steppenwolf a couple of years ago, but which unfortunately received mixed reviews.  It’s either you get Murukami or you don’t, and Galati is a superb interpreter.  Kafka on the Shore also marks the return to Chicago of the excellent ensemble member Francis Guinan after his acclaimed Broadway performance in August:  Osage County.

Some of the most brilliant, blistering, jaw-dropping live performances this fall will be seen at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s performance series.  I think the selections are particularly strong, and in my opinion, should atone for the atrocity the MCA foisted on Chicago audiences last year, Societas Raffaello Sanzio’s Euro-trash corn, Hey Girl!  Renowned African choreographer Hedy Maalem, who works mostly in France, is presenting his unique take on Stravinski’s Le Sacre du Pritemps (The Rite of Spring), running from October 17-19, which has already been well-received at the Spoleto Festival this year.  Maalem has assembled an eclectic group of dancers from West Africa, and given them a dance piece meant to evoke the time he spent in Lagos, Nigeria and his reflections on the cross-cultural clashes and search for identity, set to Stravinsky’s classical masterwork, and incorporating multi-media and film.  My other MCA performance pick is something that will be unrivalled by anything you’ll ever see in Chicago this year:  the acclaimed New York experimental theater group Elevator Repair Company’s Gatz, a seven and a half hour performance that has a full reading (yes, reading, as in read by an actor with a book in hand) of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby at its center.  Yes, I’ll be giving up seven and a half hours of my life, hours that could have been spent on a variety of activities such as napping, playing mahjongg, reading Perez Hilton’s blog, and getting a Brazilian wax, but hey, Gatz could be a once in a lifetime experience (as many of the reviews have pointed out) or the theatrical equivalent of waterboarding. I gotta take risks sometimes! Gatz will be playing from November 14-16.

The Court Theater production that everyone is buzzing about is the season opener, the long-delayed Chicago premiere of Tony Kushner’s Caroline, or Change, currently in previews, but the one play I am eagerly anticipating is Anne Bogart and the SITI company’s Shakespearian take, Radio Macbeth, which marks the cutting-edge New York theater group’s return to Chicago after presenting Hotel Cassiopeia, also at the Court, a couple of years ago. Radio Macbeth, which was shown at the Public Theater’s extremely bleeding (not just cutting)-edge Under the Radar Festival in 2007, is about a group of actors rehearsing the Scottish play who gradually realize that they are being haunted by ghosts of the play’s performers from long past.  Oh, and it’s staged as a radio drama!  Lovely.

The savvy Lyric Opera is aggressively pushing the traditional operas Manon and Madama Butterfly, as well as the Gershwin musical Porgy and Bess in its promotional materials, knowing full well that these would be the ones that would naturally appeal to it’s uhmm, mature, audience.  But for me, the one opera this season that could possibly bring in the new audiences that the Lyric craves and leave us, uhmm, less mature, operagoers, breathless, is Alban Berg’s Lulu, directed by the on-the-ascent Scottish director Paul Curran.  The story of Lulu constantly lends itself to highly stylized concepts (think Pabst’s silent film with Louise Brooks or even Chicago’s own Silent Theater Company’s recent production), so I’m really excited to see what Curran is going to do with the piece- will it be hip, over-the-top, eye-poppingly innovative?  It’s a new Lyric production, so we’ll have to wait until November 7 when it opens (it runs till November 30) to find out.

After his stunning re-imagining of Our Town at the Hypocrites last spring (which is also being remounted this fall), even if OBIE-winner David Cromer is directing the gutting of a three-flat, I’ll be buying a ticket.  He is directing a couple of plays in Chicago this season, but the one I am most intrigued by is the Chicago premiere of Itamar Moses’s Celebrity Row at the American Theater Company, which deals with issues around homeland security, and its impact on individual rights and liberties.  It should be quite the provocative theatrical experience! Celebrity Row runs from October 16-November 9.

Fresh off its Tony Awards win as Best Regional Theater, the Chicago Shakespeare Company raises the bar for all theater groups in the city by putting together a season full of many shows you won’t be able to see anywhere else.  Sean Graney, who is currently wowing the city with his mezmerizing production of Brecht’s The Three Penny Opera, will direct a production of Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II, staged promenade-style, with limited seats available for those who want to see the play seated (which is an absolute necessity at Chicago Shakes, since the number of canes, walkers, and artificial hips at any given performance there rivals the Lyric Opera).  Jeffrey Carlson, who I saw in the original Broadway production of Edward Albee’s The Goat or Who Is Sylvia?, is playing the petulant, delusional, super gay lead character.  I am sure this Edward II, which runs from October 1 to November 9, is going to be explosive.  The other Chicago Shakespeare entry I am very much looking forward to is British director Tim Supple’s Indian subcontinent-set A Midsummer Night’s Dream which has already dazzled Europe, India, Australia, and Canada.  It is supposedly quite the unique experience, clarifying and deepening Shakespeare’s text with its use of seven languages (including Tamil and Sanskrit), Bengali music, circus acrobatics, and a dash of Bollywood fervor.  Anyone who calls themselves a theater lover but fails to see this production I will personally banish to theater cluelessness-land (or Wrigley Field).  See this Midsummer from November 25-December 7.

Bonnie Metzgar opens her first season as About Face Theater Artistic Director with a bang:  she is bringing to Chicago for the first time the acclaimed New York theater performance artist, self-described “pastiche artist”, Taylor Mac, who has been sighted performing raunchy, politically-charged songs in drag while strumming a ukulele, in a full-length piece called The Young Ladies of.  According to Mac’s website, this piece about his soldier-father, “bridges the gap between masculinity and femininity, fathers and sons, and red and blue states.”  I’m there!  The Young Ladies of plays from September 26-October 26.

The Chicago storefront theater scene is always electric but it’ll probably reach it’s blinding apex this fall with TUTA Chicago‘s The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, onstage from November 20-December 21Messrs Piatt and Vire at TimeOut Chicago have already selected this as the one to watch this season in their Fall Preview issue, and I couldn’t agree more.  Director Zeljko Djukich is supposedly focusing on the violence and cruelty, and not the romance and frilly adolescent antics of this Shakespearian classic, which will probably make this less Baz Luhrmann and more Ivo von Hove…terrific!

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2 Responses to “Francis’s Fall Picks: Top 10 Must-See Productions in Chicago”

  1. Paul Rekk Says:

    Francis, if the blogosphere ever goes the way of adopting literary rivals, I may just choose you. What with your loving Court’s Titus Andronicus and now hating Hey, Girl!, I sit baffled once more.

    Do you know which performance of GATZ you’ll be at? That may be a prime time for pistols at ten paces. Or at least a ‘Hey! I’m Paul!’

  2. francis Says:

    Paul, since the MCA might not be big enough for a “High Noon” type of showdown, and since I’m really not a pistol-packin’ papa anyway, I would welcome debating the merits of “Titus” and the demerits of “Hey Girl!” with you over a highball or a cuppajoe. :)

    I’ll probably be at the Saturday performance of GATZ (November 15) and I would be thrilled to say not only, “Hey Paul, I’m Francis!” but “Look, we agree on something for once!” (Hopefully that we both like the production!)

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