According to statistics crunched by the League of Chicago Theatres, the 250 theater companies in the Greater Chicago area produce more world premieres than any other city in the country by far, usually several hundred every calendar year. We're just scratching the surface here with a few interesting choices coming up in the next three months. There will be a lot more when the flowers bloom again. Shows are listed chronologically and run dates begin with the preview performances ( which often are lower-priced ).
Another Word for Beauty, by Jose Rivera with music by Hector Buitrago, Goodman Theatre, open and running through Feb. 21 ( www.goodmantheatre.org ): Gifted and poetic dramatist Jose Rivera creates an exotic and improbable worldan annual beauty pageant held among the female inmates of a Bogota, Columbia prison, complete with gorgeous gowns, elaborate headdresses and dancing ( to Buitrago's original songs ). Inspired by true events, the work explores suffering and the socio-political circumstances that have lead these women to hard time.
Le Switch, by Philip Dawkins, About Face Theatre at Theater Wit, open and running through Feb. 21 ( www.theaterwit.org/tickets ): What does it mean today to be committed, married and queer? About Face artistic associate Philip Dawkins tackles the question in a romantic comedy which spans several cities and nations as marriage equality comes to the United States. Dawkins has previously has proved himself a skillful, clever and witty playwright, so one approaches Le Switch with keen anticipation.
Vices and Virtues, by Neil LaBute, Profiles Theatre ( www.profilestheatre.org ), open and running through March 6 ( www.profilestheatre.org ): This assortment of 11 short plays mixes world and Midwest premieres by a playwright and screenwriter famous ( if not notorious ) for his attitudes toward love, romance and women. The plays are presented in repertory over two full evenings, each directed by a different artist and featuring a company of 20 actors. Profiles promises both bills will offer stories of love, lust, hate, humor, sadness, virtue, depravity. This is Profiles' 13th collaboration with LaBute, who is a resident artist with the troupe.
Midnight Cowboy, adapted by Chris Hainsworth from James Leo Herlihy's novel, Lifeline Theatre, Feb. 19-April 28 ( www.lifelinetheatre.com ): Yes, this is the Midnight Cowboy of Joe Buck and Ratso Rizzo fame, which takes audiences to New York City's seedy world of male hustlers and 42nd Street before the Theater District was cleaned up. ( Don't worry; a bit of the old tang still remains. ) The novel dates from 1965 and one wonders if Hainsworth and director Christopher M. Walsh will attempt to update it in any way. It's a colorful work because of the environment in which it's set, but because it's a profound work because it's about human emotional needs.
In A Word, by Lauren Yee, Strawdog Theatre, Feb. 5-March 19 ( www.strawdog.org ): After eight years laboring in the artistic vineyard, Yee very much is an up-and-coming playwright with local connections to Victory Gardens and Goodman theaters and now Strawdog. This play is receiving three separate world-premiere productions through a program of the National New Plays Network. It concerns a woman who slowly is losing it after the disappearance of her son two years earlier, faced with a seemingly-unconcerned husband and an incompetent detective.
2666, adapted by Robert Falls and Seth Bockley from Robert Bolano's novel, Goodman Theatre, Feb. 6-March 13 ( www.goodmantheatre.org ): This is An Eventa five-hour adaptation of an epic novel that spans over a century and carries its story and themes from Germany to Spain to Mexico in an exploration of the nature of evil and the power of art. Bolano is a Chilean-born author, Falls is Goodman's Tony Award-winning longtime artistic director, and Bockley is a gifted young playwright and director, currently a resident artist at the Goodman. This is one of those big events that could prove to have national, even international, theatrical impact.
Cocked, by Sarah Gubbins, Victory Gardens Theater, Feb. 12-March 13 ( www.victorygardens.org ): It's a comfy life in Chicago's Andersonville for attorney Taylor and journalist girlfriend Izzieuntil Taylor's unsettling brother crashes with them ... and eventually causes the women to rethink their anti-gun beliefs. The play involves secrets and betrayals and is described by Victory Gardens as "a timely thriller." Acclaimed director Joanie Schultz guides the three-person cast of Patrese D. McClain, Kelli Simpkins and Mike Tepeli.
Rolling, by Calamity West, Jackalope Theatre at the Broadway Armory, March 24-April 1 ( www.jackalopetheatre.org ): Ripped from the headlines, as the cliche goes, this play is inspired by the case of the Rolling Stone story about a sexual assault on a university campus which turned out to be fraudulent.
United Flight 232, adapted and directed by Vanessa Stalling from Flight 232, a non-fiction book by Laurence Gonzales, House Theatre of Chicago at the Chopin Theatre, March 10-May 1 ( www.thehousetheatre.com ): The House tries something quite different ( for the company )a rollicking-good disaster story. The difference is that this one actually happened and The House is adapting a work of fact-based non-fiction. In 1989, a Chicago-bound airplane with 296 people on board experienced mechanical issues in mid-flight and nearly crashed. For 44 minutes, as the crew struggled to save the plane and make an emergency landing, terror gripped everyone onboard as they faced their impending Armageddon. Prepare for white knuckles.
Mosque Alert, by Jamil Khoury, Silk Road Rising, March 24-May 1 ( www.silkroadrising.org ): Khoury's fiction-inspired-by-fact play focuses on the interactions of three suburban families ( and across two generations ) when the local Islamic community wants to build a new community center on the site of the town's historic-but-now-empty library. Just days before writing this article, something very much like the play was on the 10 p.m. news. The Crusades are over but the melody lingers on!
Mary Page Marlowe, by Tracy Letts, Steppenwolf Theatre March 31-May 29: It doesn't matter what this play is about; it's by Tracy Letts 'nuff said. Steppenwolf Ensemble member Letts has won Tony Awards as both an actor and as a playwright, so it's a pretty safe bet that he knows how to write good stuff for performers. This new one appears to be one of his more intimate dramas ( vs. the semi-epic scale of his August: Osage County ), concerning an accountant from Ohio and the difficult decisions she's made ( as we all do ) in the course of an ordinary life. As John Lennon remarked, "Life is what happens while you're making plans." Steppenwolf's new artistic director, Anna D. Shapiro ( also a Tony winner ) directs.