The Mayans didn't know it at the time, but their world ended when the Spanish ships landed. For drama critics in 2012, however, there were many other reasons to count it a landmark in Chicago theater history. After all, it was the year that:
1. Actors showcased their versatility. Called "stretching" in trade jargon, hard-boiled Steve Pickering played a sensitive romantic in Seanachai's Moon For The Misbegotten, boyish Patrick Blashill took on the patriarchal duties for Eclipse's Long Day's Journey Into Night and wholesome Rashawn Thompson got his sexy on as Marvin Gaye in Black Ensemble's Don't Talk About My Father, while Sally Murphy and Mariann Mayberry put their spunky-teenage-hoyden days behind them forever in Steppenwolf's Time Stands Still and Good People.
2. Longtime favorites proved themselves ageless. Black Ensemble's The Other Cinderella premiered in 1976, Goodman's A Christmas Carol opened in 1978, Late Nite Catechism convened classes in 1993 and The Christmas Schooner first sailed in 1995. They're all still running, but each production is as fresh as if minted yesterday.
3. Classics got new attitudes. Mary-Arrchie's Glass Menagerie (still playing through Jan. 20) restored the dreamlike dimension that Tennessee Williams wrote into a script too long relegated to classroom exercise, The Hypocrites' Romeo Juliet pared down the story of star-crossed lovers to four actors, and Oracle's Antigone explored civil disobedience in 1960s America. Ruckus' Common Hatred and Commedia Beauregard's Corleone spanned chronological and cultural boundaries, while Mary-Arrchie's Superior Donuts found its perfect home.
4. Great new plays made their debut. Jon Steinhagen's Blizzard '67 invoked bunker-drama tension from a legendary Chicago meteorological disaster, while Andrew Hinderaker's I Am Going To Change The World spoke to all the young Americans facing severely diminished career prospects in a changing economy.
5. We could understand every word. Accolades are due Eva Breneman in Absolute Hell and Christine Adair in The Oxford Roof Climber's Rebellion as well as their fellow dialect consultants and voice coaches for putting the "audio" in "audience."
6. Tech designers made flying carpets in tiny rooms. Like genies in bottles, Theatre Wit's Trainspotting, Victory Gardens' Oedipus El Rey, Mary-Arrchie's Glass Menagerie and Lifeline's Pride And Prejudice immersed us in sensory landscapes reflecting worlds beyond our immediate experience and widest expectations.
7. We could smell the sweat. Red Orchid's The Opponent put us right at ringside for boxing lessons, Cor Theatre's Skin Tight confronted us with a marriage fierce in every sense of the word, and The Inconvenience's Hit The Wall threw us out on the Greenwich Village streets for the Stonewall Riots.
8. Maturity was cool. Ian McDiarmid stripped to the buff for Chicago Shakespeare's Timon of Athens, as did Charin Alvarez for Oedipus El Rey. Howard Witt in Fish Men and Mike Nussbaum in Freud's Last Session kept their clothes on, but were still the most interesting men on the stage. (Eat your heart out, Dos XX.) Oh, and the Remy Bumppo company, after being almost hijacked by faddish foppery, renewed its mission to provide for adult sensibilities.
9. The animals stole the spotlight. Playgoers cheered and chewed hankies for the Handspring Puppet Company's equine hero in the touring production of War Horse, and ooohed and cooed over Jude Roche's Harry Bear in Chicago Shakespeare's Elizabeth Rex. However, the live goldfish in Death and Harry Houdini and the mouse in The Woman In White deserved earned their own bows as well.
10. The big horses ran, too. "Caballo grande, ande or no ande""Whether it runs or not, it's certainly a big horse." Contrary to the proverb, Goodman's The Icemen Cometh, Chicago Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and House Theatre's Iron Stag King not only trotted along with alacrity, but also a grace and agility belying their size.
Last year may have seemed fraught with contention, but the finish of one year means the beginning of another, and admit it. Won't it be kinda fun to see what happens next?