My Chicago Theater Picks for Fall 2011

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Where have I been?  Looks like everywhere, except for this blog.  August was a blur of 15 hour days for nearly two weeks straight in Arizona trying to get my client project completed, attempting to recover from some health issues, and waiting to snap a photo with Cate Blanchett at the stage door of the Kennedy Center after a matinee performance of Uncle Vanya.  I’ve just come back from Boston to see what the big hoo-hah was about on the updated Porgy and Bess at the American Repertory Theater (more on that in a succeeding blog post).  I’ll be in town, hopefully, for the next couple of weeks so I’ve been perusing my weeks of unread email from theater companies to figure out what to tell my avid blog readers about the upcoming Chicago fall theater season.  The season, unfortunately, in one word, is underwhelming.  In more than one word:  there’s a lot of your usual dead white male playwrights this season. Oh and then there’s Sarah Ruhl, whose plays always make me run screaming back to the dead white male playwrights; at least they knew how to write.  Thank goodness, then, for the following shows, my picks for the Chicago fall theater season:

Follies (Chicago Shakespeare Theater)- It’s not just one of my favorite Sondheim musicals of all time, it’s one of my favorite musicals ever.  One of the country’s foremost Sondheim interpreters, Gary Griffin, directs the opening production of Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, a new mounting of this wonderful, luscious, complicated, maddening, unforgettable piece of musical theater.  I’m a little perturbed that of the four leads only Susan Moniz, as Sally Durant, a role that has been been played by theatrical legends from Barbara Cook to Bernadette Peters, has substantial Chicago theater credits (I think the theater’s New York actor-itis has run rampant more than usual in this production), but to be able to hear the fantastic Hollis Resnik, as Carlotta, belt out my own personal anthem of survival and tenacity, “I’m Still Here”, will be worth the price of admission.  October 4-November 6 at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Courtyard Theater.

Clybourne Park (Steppenwolf  Theatre)-  Full disclosure:  I am president of the junior board of Steppenwolf and a member of the theater’s Board of Trustees.  But I still strongly feel that Bruce Norris’ Clybourne Park, winner of this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Drama, will be the provocative spark which will give life and invigorating energy to what is shaping up as an anemic fall theater season.  Taking off from Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun (the play begins in 1959 with the white family packing up their Woodlawn house in the Chicago Southside after having sold it to the Youngers), Norris explores the changing urban landscape, attitudes, and concerns over half a century.  Ensemble member Amy Morton directs a WOW cast which includes Cliff Chamberlain, Karen Aldridge, John Judd, and Ensemble member James Vincent Meredith.  September 8-November 6, Steppenwolf’s Downstairs Theatre.

Sophocles:  Seven Sickness (The Hypocrites) -  So who else in this town other than Sean Graney would have the meteor-sized cojones to write and direct a four hour adaptation of Sophocles’ seven existing plays and throw in a complimentary vegetarian buffet dinnet to boot?  Uhmm, no one.  I love, love, love the best of Graney’s work, and feel the opposite with an equal level of passion for the ones that don’t work.  If he is as brilliant with his new go-around with Sophocles (I was on the fence with his previous Oedipus) as he was with Christopher Marlowe and Charles Ludlam, I will gladly stay for four more hours, with or without the buffet.  September 7-October 23, Chopin Theatre.

Elling (Redtwist Theatre)Elling was an Oscar-nominated Norwegian comedy about two friends dealing with their respective mental problems.  Yep, you read it right, “comedy”.  Its Broadway adaptation, starring Brendan Fraser and Denis O’Hare, closed after 9 performances last year.  I guess the tourists from OK City didn’t really dig a comedy about mental patients.  But I trust Redtwist Theatre, one of this city’s foremost, and literally and metaphorically in-your-face storefront theaters, will give this work it’s due (another Scandinavian film-turned-Broadway flop, Festen, thrived in a similar intimate storefront space this spring at Steep Theatre).   Goodman Theatre Associate Producer will direct the stars of my favorite Redtwist show to date, The Pillowman‘s Andrew Jessop and Peter Oyloe, whose indescribable bromantic-competitive chemistry is always fascinating to watch. September 24-October 30, Redtwist Theatre.

The Kid Thing (About Face Theatre and Chicago Dramatists) – Chicago playwright Sarah Gubbins’ world premiere play about two gay couples and a potential donor is being co-presented by two of the city’s leading theaters and directed by Joannie Schultz.  Themes around how to define family and parenting in this decade are so resonant and so urgent that this play is a must-see for those who seek thoughtfulness and immediacy in their theater night out – folks who are probably sick of dead white male playwrights and Sarah Ruhl.  September 1-October 16, Chicago Dramatists.

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4 Responses to “My Chicago Theater Picks for Fall 2011”

  1. Esther Says:

    I’m seeing Clybourne Park at Trinity Rep in Providence and I’m really excited for it. They did A Raisin in the Sun a few years ago and this seems like such an interesting spin on that classic American story. It’s disappointing that a Pulitzer Prize winner couldn’t get to Broadway but on the other hand, it’s great that so many regional theatre companies are able to do it. Looking forward to comparing notes!

    I’m one of the few who saw Elling on Broadway and I liked it. I thought it was a sweet, funny story about very quirky characters trying to make their way in the world. Not the deepest play I’ve ever seen but entertaining.

    Another R.I. theatre company is doing Festen and I’m really looking forward that, too, after reading the Chicago production.

    And lol about Sarah Ruhl. We tend to get quite a bit of her in Providence, because she went to Brown I guess. A little bit goes a long way.

  2. francis Says:

    Hi Esther! Thanks for the note. You mentioned on Twitter that an LA company is doing “A Raisin in the Sun” and “Clybourne Park” side by side. I think that would be quite a theatrical event.

    We also get a lot (I mean, A LOT) of Sarah Ruhl plays in Chicago because she’s from Evanston and she has relationships in town from the Goodman to Piven Theater. Victory Garden is doing “In the Next Room” this September; I might just see it to see what level of awful she is up to now. Her “Passion Play” and “Eurydice” are two of the worst plays I have ever seen in my life (and that’s saying something).

  3. Bob Rashkow Says:

    I am looking forward to “Pornography” at Steep Sat. night. But thanks for letting me know about “Elling” (I adore Peter Oyloe) and the link (from Hypocrites’ e-mail list) to “Sophocles and 7 Sicknesses”. Hypocrites somehow didn’t indicate the run length but you did! (I also adore Sean Graney.) Theater rules in Chicago!

  4. francis Says:

    Hi Bob, thanks for your comment. I hope you enjoy “Pornography”, it’s both intellectually provocative and emotionally searing.

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