Picking the top moments in Chicago theater is difficult enough without having to rank them. So here, in no particular order, are nine theatrical memories we're not apt to forget for a long while. Here's hoping 2010 is equally indelible.
Patrick Andrews' introducing Fraulein Sally Bowles in Cabaret: After years of cringingly mediocre ( at best ) productions, the Drury Lane, Oak Brook roared back to life this year with stunning production values and A-List casts. Among the best of the best: Patrick Andrews as the Emcee in director Jim Corti's shocking and wonderful Cabaret. As the white-hot epicenter of the show, Andrews was a den mother of debauchery equally at home in a ménage a trios and a goose-stepping kick line. As he introduced Sally Bowles, chorine queen of denial, he revealed the Emcee's dark heart in a single, memorable moment: Our host for the evening was a leering, hypnotic prophet intent on blinding everyone with glitter while the world went to hell.
Tracy Letts' entrance in American Buffalo: Letts had the best opening shot of the season, hurling expletives and looking like a low-rent porn star as he descended into the claustrophobic tomb of a junk shop in David Mamet's testosterone-crazed classic. Ninety minutes later, he hadn't lost an iota of energy as he made like a one-man tornado who didn't give a fcuking fcuker's fcuk what or who he destroyed in the show's epic, climactic tantrum.
Joseph Foronda's two big numbers in Miss Saigon: Never mind the doomed ingénue. For us, Miss Saigon has always been about the Engineer. Proof? He's at the center of the musical's showstoppers, If You Want to Die in Bed and The American Dream. Foronda delivered them both with infinite wile and unstoppable charisma, giving us an Engineer as enduring as a cockroach, as endearing as a precocious child and as irresistible as, well, the American Dream.
Michael Shannon in Mistakes Were Made: Felix Artifex was the tour de force of the year. Damaged, driven and the deliverer of a 100-minute monologue, this was not a character for amateurs. But in Oscar nominee Michael Shannon's hands, the producer unsuccessfully trying to keep from imploding while grasping at one last chance of redemption, was wholly error-free.
Matt DeCaro shoe-polishing the cat in The Lieutenant of Inishmore: When DeCaro went to work giving a dye job to a dead feline, he embarked on a scene of blackhole dark humor. And as the sad-eyed, less than brilliant father of a sociopathic and murderous Irish superpatriot, DeCaro created one of the season's most memorable losers. It takes a whipsmart actor to play dumb and desperate with such heart and soul. DeCaro has both the smarts and the inherent ability to make us empathize with himeven when he's huffing Kiwi black.
Eddie Torres' direction of The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity: As someone who viewed the world of professional wrestling as the worst kind of mindless machismo, we went into Chad Deity with extreme skepticism. But Torres' skilled shaping of Kristoffer Diaz ground-breaking and eye-opening ( and potentially bone-breaking ) dramatic comedy had us at Desmin Borges' opening monologue. Diaz' script required a keen ear for both polyglot urban rhythms and the unctuous whitebread idiocy. Torres heard them all, and made them resonate. We predict a TKO at the 2010 Jeff Awards.
The final scene in Victory Gardens' Blackbird: Yes, William Petersen and Mattie Hawkinson were spellbinding throughout in David Harrower's morally provocative story of a pedophile confronted by his victim 15 years after he seduced her. Directed by Dennis Zacek, the piece was equally disturbing and mesmerizing. As for that final scene, it was a jaw-dropper that made the blood cold and threw everything that had occurred earlier into a profoundly unsettling and ambiguous light.
The opening scene of Desire Under the Elms: The titular trees were missing in Bob Falls mammoth ( and controversial ) staging of Eugene O'Neill's tale of land, love and sinister maternity. Instead, overpowering boulders hung from the sky. Below, a pair of mute, muscular farm hands engaged in Sisyphean labor, hauling mighty rocks across set designer Walt Spangler's overwhelming foreboding and barren landscape. Those long, silent opening moments set the mood for the tragedy that ensued: Bleak, bold, intensely physical and utterly compelling.
Eric Burgher's fruit-basket scene Ellen Fairey's Graceland: The play itself, we'd argue, was a tad overrated, its plot a fairly predictable character study in dysfunctional family relations. But director Matthew Miller made the production razor-sharp, both in terms of character depth and laugh-out-loud humor. The high point arrived with the delivery of one of those cheesy "fruit bouquet" arrangements. Actually, it wasn't the fruit, per se. It was deliveryman Burgher's expression as he cowered behind a monster corsage of strawberries and cantaloupe chunks. Whether or not you've ever delivered fruit for a living, you've been there. That pathos was both sublime and eminently recognizable.