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Windy City Times 2023-12-13
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  WINDY CITY TIMES

You saw it first in 2013: The year in Chicago theater
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2014-01-08

This article shared 6321 times since Wed Jan 8, 2014
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These things tend to come in clusters, but why should theater be different? Acknowledging artistic fashions in no way diminishes their value, since what we call a "classic" is merely a play or practice that transcends its own time and tastes. That said, what contributions did 2013 make to the chronicle of playmaking in Chicago?

Most conspicuous was the focus on disabled characters in significant roles, from Dale Calandra's virtuoso portrayal of the grossly overweight existential hero in The Whale at Victory Gardens, AJ Ware lending icy dignity to the defiantly unfeminine amputee in The Peacock at Jackalope ( kudos to costumer Samantha Jones ) and Reginald Torian strapped to his bed as the paralyzed Curtis Mayfield for Black Ensemble's It's All Right to Have a Good Time, to Mary Beth Fisher and Annabel Armour navigating wheelchairs in, respectively, TimeLine's The Normal Heart and Remy Bumppo's Northanger Abbey. These were all able-bodied actors playing disabled, making the cast of Steppenwolf's Tribes the only one boasting both hearing-impaired John McGinty and hearing-unimpaired Alana Arenas as auditory-crossed lovers.

Another demographic receiving increased exposure was the long-unrecognized over-50 set, aka the Baby Boom generation. Other Desert Cities at Goodman and Homecoming 1972 at Chicago Dramatists viewed the events of the 1960s from unexpected vantages, as did Pride Films and Plays' Under a Rainbow Flag and the New Colony's Bear Suit of Happiness the experiences of gay GIs in an earlier era. Stella and Lou at Northlight proposed romance for two weary senior citizens ( sweetly portrayed by Frances Guinan and Rhea Pearlman ) and Lives of the Pigeons at the Side Project, teamed Don Bender and Vincent Lonergan for a chilling portrait of old men hiding post-war secrets. Molly Regan stripped down to her undies for Tribes and Larry Neumann, Jr., to even less for In God's Hat. Millicent Hurley's performance anchored The Trip to Bountiful at Raven and Paul Dillon reprised his signature role in Hellcab at Profiles. The highlight of the season, however, was nonagenarian Mike Nussbaum's exemplary impersonations of two geezers, one nearly two decades older than the other, and both younger than the actor portraying them, for Smokefall at the Goodman.

It was also the year that some of western literature's representative masterpieces were reconceived to emerge as altogether new and unfamiliar works: Mary-Arrchie's back-alley Glass Menagerie, Artistic Home's resurrective Night of the Iguana, Wayward Production's biker-gang Richard III, Timeline's foresighted Raisin in the Sun. It was the year that Victory Gardens moved Jason and Medea to Pilsen for Mojada, that Chicago Shakespeare murdered Marc Antony at the end of Julius Caesar and Goodman director Robert Falls had Isabella mugged in Measure for Measure.

On the technical front, Smokefall, Appropriate and The Nutcracker all featured self-destructing scenic decor, Ruckus Theater's Brewed, Ka-tet's Smudge and Strawdog's Improbable Frequency showcased intricate blinking-lights-and-curly-tubes robot apparatus, and the stageside bands for American Blues Theater's Lost Highway, Profiles' In God's Hat, Porchlight's Double Trouble, Haven's Wedding Singer and Theo Ubique's Master Class all enjoyed the spotlight ( despite the uncanny shape-shifting transformations of Matt Brumlow's Hank Williams in the first and Kelly Harrington's Maria Callas in the last ). Oh, and once again, not a week went by when you couldn't see a Ryan Bourque fight somewhere on a Chicago stage.

What can we hope to see in the coming year? More ensemble acting like we saw in Lifeline's Killer Angels and Steppenwolf's Lord of the Flies. More conceptually integrated productions like the Den's City of Dreadful Night, Factory Theater's Incident On Run 1217 and Goodman's Meet Vera Stark. More exposure for returning homeys like Maggie Speer, David Cromer and Michael Shannon ( who finally won a Jeff after nearly 20 years ), as well as recognition for the inexplicably underrated Mary Williamson for her outstanding work in A Permanent Image, Reverb and Kate and Sam Are Not Breaking Up—maybe in another play whose title makes editors squirm, like The M**f**ker With The Hat.


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