Raven Theatre's

Top 10 Chicago Plays of 2013

| December 29, 2013 | 0 Comments
Karl Hamilton and Mark David Kaplan in Chicago Children's Theater's "A Year with Frog and Toad" by Robert and William Reale, directed by Henry Godinez. (photo credit: Charles Osgood) Greta Oglesby and Toni Martin in TimeLine Theatre's "A Raisin in the Sun" by Lorraine Hansberry, directed by Ron OJ Parson. (photo credit: Lara Goetsch) Hans Fleischmann stars as Tom in Mary-Arrchie Theatre's "The Glass Menagerie" by Tennessee Williams, directed by Hans Fleischmann. (photo credit: Emily Schwartz) Jackson Doran, GQ, JQ and Postell Pringle in Chicago Shakespeare's "Othello: The Remix," created and directed by the Q Brothers. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow) Kenesha Reed, Genesis Salamanca, Angelina Llongueras, Lindsey Scalise, Hisako Sugeta and Danielle Nicholas star in Her Story Theater's "Shadow Town," written and directed by Mary Bonnett. (photo credit: Katie Herst)
Redtwist Theatre's "Clybourne Park" starred Kelly Owens Rodman, Michael Sherwin and Frank Pete star in Redtwist Theatre's "Clybourne Park" by Bruce Norris, directed by Steve Scott. (phtoo credit: Kimberly Loughlin) Manny Buckley, Tyshaun Lang, Keith Neagle, McKenzie Chinn, Lucy Sandy, Marjie Southerland and Morgan McNaugh in Pavement Group's "Harry and the Thief" by Sigrid Gilmer, directed by Krissy Vanderwarker. (photo credit: Brittany Barnes) Shavac Prakash and Scott Baity, Jr star in Collaboraction's "Crime Scene: A Chicago Anthology," conceived and directed by Anthony Moseley. (photo credit: Cesario Moza) Daniel Strauss and Lauren Lopez star as El-Fayoumy and Mother Theresa in Judas Redux and Starkid's "Last Days of Judas Iscariot" by Stephen Adly Guirgis, directed by Julia Albain. Callie Johnson, Rod Thomas, Susan McMongale and Josh Tolle in Drury Lane Theatre's "Next to Normal," directed by William Osetek. (photo credit: Brett Beiner)

 

Another year, another 12 months of great theater! 2013 blessed the Windy City with inspired new works and riveting revivals from a wide range of companies – the largest equity houses to the smallest of Chicago’s storefronts. Taking into account the 600+ productions that we reviewed in 2013, here are our picks for the best of the best. Bravo!!   (note: for the 3rd year in a row, we’re honored to have the national website Huffington Post use our choices for their Top 10 Chicago productions!)

See our picks below the fold

     


          Top Ten Chicago Plays of 2013

(in alphabetical order; all summaries by Lauren Whalen)

       

 Collaboraction's "Crime Scene: A Chicago Anthology," conceived and directed by Anthony Moseley. (photo credit: Cesario Moza)

Crime Scene: 
      A Chicago Anthology

Collaboraction 

The Windy City’s beauty is tragically undercut by its pervasive racism and violence, issues skillfully explored through multimedia, song and storytelling in Collaboraction’s daring new play. Thanks to the cast’s raw, honest performances and Anthony Moseley’s sure direction, Crime Scene thoughtfully explored incidents such as a Facebook-fueled gang fight and the mistaken-identity shooting of a 12-year-old, using the perspectives of everyone from a weathered Chicago cop to a twentysomething woman now unable to express herself thanks to lifelong handicaps from a baseball-bat beating. No easy answers were offered, no ethnicity stereotyped and no one was safe. Agit-prop theater at its finest, Crime Scene sparked an anger at the city’s injustice – and a drive to eradicate it.  (read review)

     

 

Kelly Owens Rodman, Michael Sherwin and Frank Pete star in Redtwist Theatre's "Clybourne Park" by Bruce Norris, directed by Steve Scott. (phtoo credit: Kimberly Loughlin)

 

Clybourne Park

Redtwist Theatre 

Redtwist’s fast-paced, intimate staging of Bruce Norris’ Pulitzer Prize-winning script was also excellently timed. Clybourne Park was billed as a companion piece to Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun – which happened to be playing concurrently at Time Line Theatre. The two plays share a character, bigoted neighborhood watchman Karl Linder, but Clybourne Park paralleled past and present race relations with savvy satire and haunting accuracy. Centering around a Chicago house, first in 1959 and then in 2009, Norris’ uncomfortably realistic dialogue crackled to life thanks to a hardworking cast. Steppenwolf’s production made Chicago Theater Beat’s Top 10 list in 2011, and Redtwist now takes its rightful place among the city’s best and brightest. (read review)

     

 

Maggie Cain and Hans Fleischmann star in Mary-Arrchie Theatre's "The Glass Menagerie" by Tennessee Williams, directed by Hans Fleischmann. (photo credit: Emily Schwartz)

  

The Glass Menagerie

Mary-Arrchie Theatre 

Director Hans Fleischmann put a fresh spin on Tennessee Williams’ near-ubiquitous classic, by turning narrator Tom (Fleischmann) into a homeless man collecting glass bottles while rambling about his past. This innovative decision upped the story’s dreamy surrealism while staying true to the playwright’s vision. Considering Menagerie is 70 years and countless interpretations old, Fleischmann’s imaginative take was not to be ignored. Also daring to break clichés, Maggie Cain didn’t play mother Amanda as a fading Southern belle, opting instead for a distinct, human characterization. Williams would have been proud.  (read review)

     

 

Alexander Lane and Manny Buckley star in Pavement Group's "Harry and the Thief" by Sigrid Gilmer, directed by Krissy Vanderwarker. (photo credit: Brittany Barnes)

   

Harry and the Thief

Pavement Group

Equal parts action blockbuster and outrageous comedy, this 90-minute romp made excellent use of The Den Theatre space and showed surprising amounts of subtlety. Pavement Group’s world premiere had an absurd premise – a zany inventor sends an emissary back in time to supply arms to Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman – but stellar execution from a terrific ensemble of witty, eager players. Historical drama, fight sequences, and an 80’s soundtrack seamlessly blended into an imaginative, memorable concoction with a dash of spicy social commentary. (read review)

     

 

Lauren Lopez stars in Judas Redux and Starkid's "Last Days of Judas Iscariot" by Stephen Adly Guirgis, directed by Julia Albain.   

The Last Days

     of Judas Iscariot

Judas Redux 

A group of college buddies reunite years after graduation and launch a Kickstarter campaign to revive a play from their glory days. The backstory of this production is almost as compelling as the show itself, and this Last Days of Judas Iscariot radiated pure passion in every moment. Thoughtfully orchestrated but never manipulative, Judas combined courtroom drama and character study to explore the enigmatic betrayer. Reed Campbell and Aaron Seeburger’s portrayal of Judas’ and Jesus’ doomed friendship was darkly beautiful.  (read review)

     

 

Susie McMonagle and Rod Thomas star in Drury Lane Theatre's "Next to Normal," directed by William Osetek. (photo credit: Brett Beiner)    

Next to Normal

Drury Lane Theatre 

Mental illness, endless grief and family dysfunction seem like less-than-ideal topics for a musical – yet in Next to Normal, suffering was never more emotionally melodious. Drury Lane’s debut of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winning show, like its tortured matriarch protagonist, was relentless in its quest for understanding and redemption. Perhaps nothing will help Diana (Susan McMonagle, in a tour-de-force performance) defeat her inner demons, which range from bipolar disorder to post-traumatic stress from the loss of her infant son, but there’s hope that long-neglected daughter Natalie (Callie Johnson) can break the cycle. Director William Osetek’s staging was borderline electric, pushing an already-strong production over the edge to genius. (read review)

     

 

JQ and GQ in Chicago Shakespeare's "Othello the Remix," created and directed by the Q Brothers. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)     

Othello: The Remix

Chicago Shakespeare

A hip-hop reimagining of Shakespeare’s ultimate cautionary tale? On paper, Othello: The Remix sounded both too good to be true and primed for disaster. Instead, the Q Brothers’ commission for Chicago Shakespeare Theater did the impossible: it made hip-hop fans out of the crustiest English majors. This utterly brilliant four-man production paid tribute to Eminem, A Tribe Called Quest and other legends; incorporated slapstick humor into a tragic storyline and made it work; and never strayed from the Bard’s warning that paranoia and jealousy can inspire violence in the most well-meaning individual. The Q Brothers spotlighted that at their wordplay-loving, base instinct-acting, emotional hearts, Shakespeare and hip-hop aren’t so different after all.  (read review)

     

 

Daryl Satcher and Mildred Marie Langford star in TimeLine Theatre's "A Raisin in the Sun" by Lorraine Hansberry, directed by Ron OJ Parson. (photo credit: Lara Goetsch)

   

A Raisin in the Sun

TimeLine Theatre 

What happens when an impoverished African American family on Chicago’s South Side encounters unexpected fortune? TimeLine’s banner year of painfully relevant revivals (see also: The Normal Heart) began with Lorraine Hansberry’s groundbreaking play – and this production opened on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Ron OJ Parson’s loving and devoted direction pushed every player to the limits – and each actor proved worthy of the challenge, especially Greta Oglesby as steadfast widow Lena, who never wavered in her faith. Designers Brian Sidney Bembridge and Janice Pytel brought the family’s battered apartment and threadbare wardrobe to life, illustrating a need for change before a single word was spoken.  (read review)

     

 

Her Story Theater's "Shadow Town," written and directed by Mary Bonnett. (photo credit: Katie Herst)    

Shadow Town

Her Story Theater 

Sex trafficking is alive, well – and local. With a deft hand and poignant heart, Her Story Theater painted a grim portrait of a largely hidden multibillion dollar industry, based on Mary Bonnett’s series of interviews with Chicagoland perpetrators and victims. Trafficker Prime Cut (Rashawn Thompson) guided the audience through a ten-part treatise on pimping underage girls, evocatively illustrated by an athletic cast. Rather than exploitative images of sex and violence, Shadow Town presented stories of drug-addicted parents and online chat rooms that led its young protagonists into a seedy, damaging underworld. Alternately depressing and optimistic, the production presented a subculture that goes on right under our noses – and deserves more of our attention. (read review)

     

 

Karl Hamilton, Mark David Kaplan, Christine Bunuan, Brittani Arlandis Green and Shawn Pfautsch star in Chicago Children's Theater's "A Year with Frog and Toad" by Robert and William Reale, directed by Henry Godinez. (photo credit: Charles Osgood)

   

A Year With Frog & Toad

Chicago Children’s Theatre 

This energetic, bubbly musical adaptation of Arnold Lobel’s beloved “Frog and Toad” stories was an ideal match for Chicago Children’s Theatre. Both smart and sweet, A Year with Frog and Toad engaged young children (who could be seen waving at actors as they exited the theater) and inspired simple nostalgia in adults. Willie and Robert Reale’s book and score always entertained and never pandered, all while the two leads, Karl Hamilton and Mark David Kaplan established a humorous, loving rapport. (read review)

     

      

Close Runners-Up

     

  

Kate Arrington and Cliff Chamberlain star in Steppenwolf Theatre's "Belleville" by Amy Herzog, directed by Anne Kauffman. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)

  

Belleville

Steppenwolf Theatre 

Every married couple has secrets, but some are more dangerous than others. Fear and vulnerability reigned supreme in Amy Herzog’s modern take on Hitchcockian suspense. Restaged at Steppenwolf by Anne Kauffman, Belleville never resorted to cheap shock, opting instead to slowly but surely violate the audience’s sense of trust, mirroring that of the two married couples in the story. One of the play’s most suspenseful moments occurred on an empty stage, using the sound of a crying baby to incite fear of physical and emotional violence. It’s a device perfected by Hitchcock and mostly absent in modern pop culture: pinpoint deep-seated insecurity, and toy with it.  (read review)

     

  

Ryan Walters stars as Eddie Foy in The Ruffians' "Burning Bluebeard" by Jay Torrence, directed by Halena Kays. (photo credit: Evan Hanover)

  

Burning Bluebeard

The Ruffians

Burning Bluebeard was almost meta in nature: a group of actors and a director reuniting to revive a play about a group of actors reuniting to revive a play. However, Bluebeard’s characters were performing for a ghost audience – the spirits of hundreds of adults and children lost in the 1903 Iroquois Theatre fire – with a healthy dose of survivor’s guilt (only one cast member died). Inspired by actual events and injected with acrobatics, contemporary music and lively drama, Burning Bluebeard was not to be missed in 2011, or 2013. (read review)

     

  

David Cromer and Patrick Andrews star in TimeLine Theatre's "The Normal Heart" by Larry Kramer, directed by Nick Bowling. (photo credit: Lara Goetsch)

  

The Normal Heart

TimeLine Theatre 

“There’s something wrong with me.” So began TimeLine’s stirring, stunning production of Larry Kramer’s thinly veiled memoir play, less theater and more battle cry. Every bit as relevant as it was in its 1980’s heyday, this chronicle of the early days of the AIDS crisis and the activism that followed inspired sobbing and cheering alike. David Cromer led a stellar ensemble of top-notch actors as Ned Weeks, a man who made friends, lovers and enemies, but never stopped fighting for what was right: life.  (read review)

     

    

Dale Calandra and Cheryl Graeff star in Victory Gardens Theater's "The Whale" by Samuel D. Hunter, directed by Joanie Schultz. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)

  

The Whale

Victory Gardens Theater

Nothing is uglier than intentional decline. Now picture watching a 600-pound man who, following the death of his lover, is determined to eat himself to death – but not before making a connection with his sullen long-lost teenage daughter. Victory Gardens never shies away from the controversial, and thank goodness for that: Joanie Schultz’s direction of Samuel D. Hunter’s script constantly challenged audiences and performers, but it also delivered an otherworldly wisdom. And as equally flawed parent and child, Dale Calandra and Leah Karpel have never shone brighter. (read review)

     

       

Select Production Videos

  

Crime Scene: A Chicago Anthology


  

A Year with Frog and Toad


  

Next to Normal


 

The Whale


     

A Raisin in the Sun


  

The Normal Heart


All summaries by Lauren Whalen 

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Category: 2013 Reviews, Adaptation, Best-of-Year, Bruce Norris, Chicago Children's Theatre, Chicago Shakespeare, Collaboraction, Drama, Dramatic-Comedy, Drury Lane Oakbrook, Extensions-Remounts, Her Story Theater, Lauren Whalen, Mary-Arrchie Theatre, Musical, New Work, Pavement Group, Redtwist Theatre, Starkid, Tennessee Williams, TimeLine Theatre, William Shakespeare, World Premier

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