2011 Top Ten Chicago Theatre Picks

2011 Top Ten Chicago Theatre Picks

From the first show of the year, Trap Door’s “HamletMachine” to the final opening of the year, last night’s “The Addams Family,” 2011 was a banner year for theatre in Chicago.  250+ theatre companies produced over 400+ shows.  Big blockbuster touring epics like Les Miserables to no-frills, all-poignant productions at ShawChicago entertained the Chicagoland masses.  Storefront theatres verses the established theatres wowed the city with innovation and collaboration.  Actors, writers, directors, designers showcased their best to intrigue and amuse audiences.  And it worked!  Out of the 247 shows I saw in 2011, there was less than a handful that didn’t captivate me with some imaginative element.  But the following is the list of the ones that blew me away…

 10.         The Last Act of Lilka Kadison by Lookingglass Theatre

Written by Nicola Behrman, David Kersnar, Abbie Phillips, Heidi Stillman and Andrew White, Directed by David Kersnar

This world premiere made me laugh, cringe and cry.  The spellbinding ensemble was magically uplifting in this Holocaust survivor’s tale.  

 9.           The Big Meal by American Theatre Company

Written by Dan LeFranc, Directed by Dexter Bullard

Another world premiere served up fifty years of meals and relationships.  LeFranc penned a meaty story about family. With prime choices casted, Bullard flame-broiled it to perfection.

8.           Count of Monte Cristo by Lineline Theatre

Adapted by Christopher M. Walsh (no relation), Directed by Paul S. Holmquist

The world premiere was a Walsh, Holmquist, Hainsworth masterpiece.  Every word was utilitarian in the tight dialogue.  The action was paced like a well synchronized dance.  In a role he was born to play, Chris Hainsworth’s performance captivated.

 7.           Porgy & Bess by Court Theatre

Lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin, Libretto by DuBose and Dorothy Heyward, Directed by Charles Newell, Music direction by Doug Peck

Newell skillfully stripped the classic down to the basics and whitewashed it.  Although the entire talented cast added voice to the poignant melody, an unforgettable Bethany Thomas dominated with “My Man’s Gone Now.”

6.           Festen by Steep Theatre

Dramatization by David Eldridge, Based on the Dogme film and play by Thomas Vinterberg, Mogens Rukov, and Bo hr. Hansen, Directed by Jonathan Berry

This Midwest premiere of family drama was staged and acted to perfection.  The angst was heart-gripping as alliances and characters shifted in surprising and organic-like revelations.

5.           Lucia di Lammermoor by The Lyric Opera of Chicago

Composed by Gaetano Donizatti, Directed by Catherine Malfitano, Conducted by Massimo Zanetti

Memorable emotional powerhouse!  Every level of passion was brilliantly actualized under the baton of Conductor Massimo Zanetti, the direction of Catherine Malfitano and sung to perfection by Suzanna Phillips.

4.           The Amish Project by American Theatre Company

Written by Jessica Dickey, Directed by PJ Paparelli

This disturbing and inspirational play was mesmerizing.  Paparelli masterfully directs an entire town reacting to a tragic shooting.  The community is played by one person.  Sadieh Rifai was phenomenal! 

 3.           An Iliad by Court Theatre

Adapted by Denis O’Hare and Lisa Peterson, Directed by Charles Newell

O’Hare and Peterson scripted a compelling one-man narration. Under the skillful direction of Newell, Timothy Edward Kane translated the myth to man.  Kane was superb!

 2.           Elizabeth Rex by Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Written by Timothy Findley, Directed by Barbara Gaines

The story intrigues with a behind-the-curtain-below-the-wig innovation. This show was a personally profound theatrical experience for me as a writer and a woman.  ELIZABETH REX is a superpower!

 #1.         En Route by Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s World Stage Series

created by Australian company One Step At A Time Like This

The extraordinary experience was all about putting together clues to move to the next step.  The ongoing revelation was part of the phenomena.  It was individualized and deeply profound.  En Routewas the most simplistic and unique art I’ve ever experienced!

Honorable Mentions:  The Caretaker (Writers Theatre), The Doyle & Debbie Show (Royal George Theatre), The Homosexuals (About Face Theatre) The Ugly One (SideShow Theatre), and Woyzeck (Oracle Theatre).

Choosing a top ten list was a difficult task.  Chicago enjoys the burden of too many multi-talented and courageous theatre companies.  We are lucky that way!  I look forward to 2012 challenging me even more with rivaling entertainment.

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