The League of Chicago Theatres reports that close to 1,000 plays, musicals, revues, one-person shows and other works of theatrical performance art are produced in Greater Chicago each year. Hey, even Stage Door Jonny can't sleep with that many shows, and Jonny is a theater whore.
To tell the truth, of course, Jonny wouldn't want to sleep with all of them. Some shows are not to Jonny's taste and others are just bad. Most Chicago theater productions are likely to have at least one member of the LGBT community involved in them, so gay participation alone isn't a litmus test. Theme and content are much more likely to grasp ( and hold ) Jonny's attention. On that basis, Jonny offers his year-end review of LGBT hits and misses of 2006.
Teatro Luna got January off to a bodacious and delicious start with Sex-Oh! While most of the sex in Sex-Oh! was hetero, the show of solo memoirs written and performed by the Latinas of Teatro Luna was earthy enough, funny enough and sometimes pointed enough for all sexual proclivities to enjoy. January also saw the opening of The Kiss of the Spider Woman at Bailiwick Repertory, an inventive and compelling production that went on to collected a slew of 2006 Joseph Jefferson Citations.
One of the highlights of the year was the February world premiere of Loving Repeating by About Face Theatre at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Director/adapter Frank Galati and composer Stephen Flaherty ingeniously took the words of Gertrude Stein and shaped them into an audacious and entertaining vaudeville evening. Later that month, Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake finally made a Chicago stop ( that took five years ) at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. Bourne's genderfuck version of Tchaikovsky was stylish and long. There were dazzling moments, but the show's one-beat idea got old fast that the whole was less than the sum of its parts.
Broadway in Chicago thoroughly redeemed itself, however, with its March Cadillac Palace offering of the one, the only, the grand, the great, the hilarious and the not-to-be-missed Dame Edna. Not to be outdone by a mere drag queen, Bailiwick launched its original nudie-cutie-boy show, Barenaked Lads in the Great Outdoors. The songs are sketches were something of a mixed bag, but the show drew a crowd and ran until November, stopping only long enough to regroup and revise as Barenaked Lads Save Christmas, which continues through Jan. 7, 2007.
The Hypocrites added Tony Kushner's 'gay fantasia on national themes,' Angels in America, to the theatrical stew in March, with both parts of the show ( Perestroika and Millennium Approaches ) running in repertory through May. It's a good thing The Hypocrites fared well with Angels, because their wunderkind artistic director, Sean Graney, really took it on the nose for his next show, Porno. Leaving his home troupe behind, Graney ventured out as playwright for Porno, produced at the Side Project in May and June. Critics felt Graney's sexually explicit and negative work not only was disgusting but also demeaned gays and straights alike.
Summertime brought Bailiwick's annual Pride Fest with nearly a dozen offerings during the warm months. Of particular note was Dorian, a dance/movement interpretation by director/choreographer Tommy Rapley of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. The one-man autobiographical piece Ball, about a gay man combating testicular cancer, also disarmed critics and audiences, making them both laugh and squirm. The writer/performer was Brian Lobel.
September and October alone brought forth more than 100 shows, as the new 2006-2007 season got underway. LGBT audiences took to The Two Noble Kinsmen at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. The 1613 play by Shakespeare and John Fletcher isn't specifically gay or lesbian, but it became more than a little of each as edited refreshingly staged by Darko Tresnjak, who deftly directed its sexual undercurrents. When the two pretty princes in skivvies cried 'dibs' on the same girl, it was clear they really should kiss and be gay.
Quite by happenstance this autumn, a gaggle of Off-Loop theaters found themselves producing plays by the out, satirical and virulently-lapsed Catholic playwright Christopher Durang. So they did the smart thing: They marketed them collectively as the Fall of Durang. Between September and November there were Durang plays produced by the Chemically Imbalanced, Infamous Commonwealth, Next, Oracle and Prometheus theater troupes. The productions drew a lot of attention but were a decidedly mixed bag in terms of quality. They also proved that not all of Durang's work can withstand the test of time.
Quite by chance, 2006 turned into a festival year for playwright William Inge, as all four of his greatest hits were produced within nine months. Audiences could see, successively, Bus Stop at Writers' Theatre; Picnic at the Festival Theatre; Come Back, Little Sheba at Shattered Globe; and The Dark at the Top of the Stairs at American Theater Company. Sexual repression in general and gay undercurrents specifically percolate throughout the unhappily closeted author's work, and it's all so very 1950s that Inge had fallen into critical disfavor. His plays, however, have continued to hold the stage, critics be damned. This year, all four of the productions scored well with reviewers. Could Inge be coming back into favor?
The year rounded out with Timeline Theatre's fine production of Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour, a play about the fear and scandal of lesbianism rather than about the fact of it.
Check back with Jonny and other Windy City Times theater critics in a few weeks, as we preview upcoming shows for winter and spring, the second half of the 2006-2007 season. Remember, there are no small roles, only small actors. And there are no small seats, only fat asses.