Raven Theatre's

Top 10 Chicago Plays of 2012

| January 6, 2013 | 0 Comments

Taking into account the nearly 700 productions that we reviewed in 2012, here are our picks for the best of the best. Bravo!!  (FYI: We’re honored to have the national website Huffington Post use our choices for their Top 10 Chicago productions here)

Mary Beth Fisher and Rob Lindley star in Court Theatre's "Angels in America" by Tony Kushner, directed by Charles Newell. Molly Regan, Lusia Strus and Mariann Mayberry star in Steppenwolf Theatre's "Good People" by David Lindsay-Abaire, directed by K. Todd Freman. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow) Rania Salem Manganaro stars in The Inconveniences' "Hit The Wall" by Ike Holter, directed by Eric Hoff. (photo credit: Ryan Borque) Brian Dennehy and Nathan Lane star in Goodman Theatre's "The Iceman Cometh" by Eugene O'Neill, directed by Robert Falls. (photo credit: Liz Lauren) Brandon Dahlquist, Shannon Cochran and Jonathan Weir star in Writers' Theatre's "A Little Night Music" by Stephen Sondheim, directed by William Brown. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)
Adam Poss and Madrid St. Angelo star in star in Victory Gardens' "Oedipus el Rey" by Luis Alfaro, directed by Chay Yew. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow) Chiara Mangiameli and Rick Bayless star in Lookingglass Theatre's "Rick Bayless in Cascabel" by Heidi Stillman and Tony Hernandez and Rick Bayless. (photo credit: Sean Williams) Lyric Opera of Chicago's "Show Boat", conducted by John DeMain, directed by Francesca Zambrello. (photo credit: Robert Kusel) Jason Danieley as George and Carmen Cusack as Dot, in Chicago Shakespeare's "Sunday in the Park with George" by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, directed by Gary Griffin. (photo credit: Liz Lauren) Richard Cotovsky and Preston Tate Jr. star in Mary-Arrchie Theatre's "Superior Donuts" by Tracy Letts.  (photo credit: Greg Rothman)

 

See summaries and video

     


          Top Ten Chicago Plays of 2012

(in alphabetical order; all summaries by Lauren Whalen)

       

Mary Beth Fisher and Rob Lindley star in Court Theatre's "Angels in America" by Tony Kushner, directed by Charles Newell.  (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)

  

Angels in America

Court Theatre 

Staged in full, Angels in America is truly epic: a seven-hour “gay fantasia on national themes” that encompasses the AIDS crisis – and faith, work, drug addiction, dreams and every imaginable form of love. Director Charles Newell took Tony Kushner’s seminal script head-on, assembling the crème de la crème of Chicago actors and granting them the perfect balance of intense guidance and artistic freedom. Standouts included Larry Yando as a closeted and infected attorney, Rob Lindley as a nurse abandoned by his lover and experiencing increasingly ethereal visions, and Hollis Resnik as the haunting specter of executed spy Ethel Rosenberg. With its intensely ambitions subject matter, Angels in America could have been a mess. In the hands of the dream team of Kushner and Newell, it’s elevated to a groundbreaking, life-changing, truly great work. (reviews: Part I and Part II)

     

Mariann Mayberry and Alana Arenas star in Steppenwolf Theatre's "Good People" by David Lindsay-Abaire, directed by K. Todd Freman.

  

Good People

Steppenwolf Theatre 

From her slumped posture to her tough Southie cadence, Mariann Mayberry was achingly brilliant as laid-off dollar store employee Margie, who could never rise above the hardscrabble hand she was dealt. As Margie tracked down her old flame turned successful physician Mike (Keith Kupferer) and asked him for a job – any job – with increasingly ugly results, David Lindsay-Abaire‘s crackling dialogue and K. Todd Freeman’s able direction shaped a twisted morality tale where the definition of "good" shifted as quickly as Margie’s underhanded but weirdly relatable tactics. During a tense two hours we winced, clenched and ruefully snorted at the most uncomfortably real story to hit Chicago this year.  (read more)

      

Arturo Soria and Desmond Gray star in The Inconveniences' "Hit The Wall" by Ike Holter, directed by Eric Hoff.  (photo credit: Ryan Borque)

  

Hit the Wall

The Inconvenience

Director Eric Hoff used 10 actors, a force-of-nature rock band and aggressive staging for playwright Ike Holter’s cinematic reenactment of the Stonewall Riots, a face-off that symbolically launched the struggle for gay rights. The reluctant rebels – among them a Judy Garland mourner, a draft-dodging drifter, and a feminist lesbian – came together on June 28, 1969 to defend a Greenwich Village dance club and the rights of everyone to be exactly who they are without shame. Stunning performances and sure direction depicted both a celebrated historical event and its continuing relevance in a world where equality is still a day-to-day battle. (read more)

     

Stephen Oulmette stars in Goodman Theatre's "The Iceman Cometh" by Eugene O'Neill, directed by Robert Falls.

 

The Iceman Cometh

Goodman Theatre 

Robert Falls’ magnum opus came in the form of Eugene O’Neill’s ode to pipe dreams, the cost of salvation and the psychology of letting go. Nathan Lane’s smooth charisma and cartoonish persona were a perfect fit for traveling salesman Hickey, whose anticipated annual visit to a saloon of lost souls resulted not in the usual debauchery but an attempted conversion. Among the hardest sells was fallen anarchist Larry Slade, and Brian Dennehy’s nuanced interpretation highlighted every painful doubt, slump and heartbreak of a man who’d given up on everything but the bottle. Director Falls’ tight pacing (yes, it’s possible in a five-hour play) and Kevin Depinet’s marvelous set design rounded out the ultimate tragedy of purgatory: what happens when you’re still breathing, but your soul is long gone? (read more)

     

Cory Goodrich, Shannon Cochran, Shannon Corey, J. Michael Finley and Deanna Dunagan star in Writers' Theatre's "A Little Night Music" by Stephen Sondheim, directed by William Brown.

  

A Little Night Music

Writers’ Theatre 

This sumptuous celebration of a smiling Swedish night shone bright thanks to lavish production values and intricate, organic staging. Kevin Depinet’s set was minimalist magic, Rachel Anne Healy crafted stunning Edwardian costumes and William Brown’s direction was a master class in sexuality and subtle humor. The able cast glided through Sondheim’s poetic score with aplomb, especially the magnetic Deanna Dunagan as wizened Madame Armfeldt, who presided over each amorous twist and turn with a crackling wit and twinkling eye. (read more)

      

Jessie David Perez and Adam Poss star in Victory Gardens' "Oedipus el Rey" by Luis Alfaro, directed by Chay Yew. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)

  

Oedipus el Rey

Victory Gardens Theater 

Placing ancient stories in rough settings is nothing new – but playwright Luis Alfaro skillfully maneuvered the Oedipus tragedy while paying tribute to classical elements. A Greek chorus of prisoners roamed the space like wild animals as recently released punk Oedipus (Adam Poss) rose to power in L.A. gangland, completely unaware of the destiny he was doomed to enact. Company artistic director Chay Yew brought horrific glory to every ragged breath and agonized scream, and Charin Alvarez’s Jocasta was a gritty revelation, beaten down by life but with a childlike openness to more love. (read more)

      

Shenea Booth and Nicolas Besnard star in Lookingglass Theatre's "Rick Bayless in Cascabel" by Heidi Stillman and Tony Hernandez and Rick Bayless. (photo credit: Sean Williams)

  

Rick Bayless in Cascabel

Lookingglass Theatre 

Chicago’s most celebrated chef, starring in a play? Only the city’s most innovative ensemble could turn a potentially embarrassing stunt into a decadent evening where food leads to love, which leads to more food. Rick Bayless chopped and seared with the grace of a prima ballerina, as the newest addition to a Mexican restaurant, where wonderful things happen as soon as he fires up the oven. A tender story unfolded as Bayless fashioned edible art, aerialists dazzled from on high and unconventional clowns delighted on the ground, transporting the audience to a sensual wonderland where every taste, sight and sound was richly astounding. (read more)

      

Lyric Opera of Chicago's "Show Boat", conducted by John DeMain, directed by Francesca Zambrello. (photo credit: Robert Kusel)

   

Show Boat

Lyric Opera of Chicago 

Requiring stellar voices and skillful acting, Show Boat may be an old chestnut, but its execution is far from easy. Director Francesca Zambrello made a genius move when staging the racially charged musical melodrama at Lyric: the principal cast were a flawless blend of acclaimed musical theater performers, seasoned opera professionals and beloved Chicago stage actors. Engaging in these characters’ journeys – even at their darkest moments – was enchanting, uplifting and ultimately rewarding. And the iconic “Ol’ Man River” was a searing exploration of troubled humanity, delivered with trembling weight in every syllable by Morris Robinson’s haunting bass. (read more)

     

Carmen Cusack as Dot in Chicago Shakespeare's "Sunday in the Park with George" by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, directed by Gary Griffin. (photo credit: Liz Lauren)

    

Sunday in the Park
                With George

Chicago Shakespeare Theater 

Chicago Shakespeare’s interpretation of Stephen Sondheim’s most ambitious show worked on intellectual and visceral levels. Director Gary Griffin assumed the head-spinning task of a love and art story that spans over a century, with breathtaking wit and sterling visuals. Griffin seamlessly guided the audience through the romance of turn-of-the-century France and the austere gallery atmosphere of the 1980’s, aided by Mike Tutaj’s glorious video projections. In the dual role of painter Georges Seurat and George, his mixed-media artist descendent, Jason Danieley dabbed just the right touches of endless focus, money-grubbing charm and angst-ridden creativity. (read more)

      

Preston Tate Jr. and Richard Cotovsky star in Mary-Arrchie Theatre's "Superior Donuts" by Tracy Letts.  (photo credit: Greg Rothman)

  

Superior Donuts

Mary-Arrchie Theatre

In so much pop culture, the friendship between a grumpy aging white man and an energetic young black man is portrayed with sappy clichés and eye-rolling stereotypes. Not so in Mary-Arrchie’s tour de force, extended and revived several times this year for good reason. Tracy Letts’ outstanding script plunked the viewer smack in the middle of Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood – heavy with immigrants, their children and ailing local businesses fighting with the Starbucks across the street – with dialogue so real it could be happening at a coffee shop or el stop right this minute. But this Donuts’ true strength lay in its two leads: Preston Tate, Jr. played employee Franco with ambition as wide as his smile, and Richard Cotovsky’s grizzled Vietnam vet turned shopowner Arthur made a captivating emotional journey with plenty of smart-aleck banter along the way. (read more)

       

Available Production Videos

          

Angels in America, Millennium Approaches

Angels in America, Perestroika

Hit the Wall

The Iceman Cometh

A Little Night Music

Oedipus el Rey

Rick Bayless in Cascabel

Show Boat

Sunday in the Park with George

Sunday in the Park with George

 

All summaries by Lauren Whalen 

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Category: 2012 Reviews, Best-of-Year, Chicago Shakespeare, Court Theatre, Goodman Theatre, Huffington Post, Inconvenience, The, Lauren Whalen, Lookingglass, Lyric Opera, Mary-Arrchie Theatre, Stephen Sondheim, Steppenwolf, Tony Kushner, Victory Gardens, Writers' Theatre

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