Chicago 101: Theater and Performing Arts | Performing Arts Feature | Chicago Reader

Chicago 101: Theater and Performing Arts 

The best offerings from local companies this fall.

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Matt Sax in Clay

Matt Sax in Clay

SEEING A PLAY in Chicago can be easier and cheaper than going to the movies. Most theaters offer student rates, low-price or free previews and industry nights, and/or discounted rush tickets. Weeknights are usually cheaper than weekends (and seats are easier to get). Some theaters have a regular “pay what you can” policy; others offer free seats to volunteer ushers. Even high-priced commercial shows like Wicked and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee have day-of-show lotteries for bargain seats. And the League of Chicago Theatres’ Hot Tix booths sell half-price tickets; go to or for booth locations and available shows.

The Reader publishes longer reviews as well as comprehensive theater listings, complete with critical commentary. They’re posted online at with links to ticket services for individual shows. The listings also highlight openings, closings, recommended productions, and free shows. You don’t have to plan months in advance to enjoy our internationally famous theater scene. For every big-bucks commercial production that comes to town, there are a dozen low-cost alternatives—classic drama and cutting-edge world premieres, musicals and performance art, large-cast ensemble pieces and hip-hop solo shows. The storefront/basement/loft/garage theaters are known as a breeding ground for emerging talent. This is the place to see people at the start of their careers, people who wouldn’t mind being John Malkovich—or David Schwimmer, or John or Joan Cusack, or Megan Mullally, or Joan Allen, or any of the other stars who got their start here.

Here’s a sampling of what they’ll be up to this fall: Congo Square’s The African Company Presents Richard III tells the true story of an all-black early-19th-century Shakespearean company, running through October 15 at the Duncan YMCA Chernin Center for the Arts (1001 W. Roosevelt, 312-587-2292).

A solo show by hip-hop artist Matt Sax, presented by About Face Theatre, Clay focuses on a young man who finds himself through poetry. It’s running through November 18 at Lookingglass Theatre in the historic Water Tower Water Works (821 N. Michigan, 312-337-0665).

Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, the Neo-Futurists’ long-running late-night underground hit, features “30 plays in 60 minutes,” with a different lineup of new material each week, at the Neo-Futurarium (5153 N. Ashland, 773- 275-5255). Admission price is $7 plus the roll of a die.

Lydia Diamond’s wrenching adaptation of Toni Morrison’s poetic novel, The Bluest Eye, about a black girl in 1940s Ohio who dreams of having blue eyes, plays at Steppenwolf (1650 N. Halsted, 312-335-1650) October 6-28 prior to heading for off-Broadway.

The House Theatre of Chicago dramatizes the most famous family feud in American history in Hatfield & McCoy, a Romeo and Juliet romance running through November 4 at the Viaduct Theater (3111 N. Western, 773-251-2195).

Profiles Theatre (4147 N. Broadway, 773-549-1815) presents the midwest premiere of Neil LaBute’s Fat Pig, about a young career guy whose buddies mock him for falling in love with a plus-size woman. The provocative comedy runs through October 29.

Chemically Imbalanced Comedy has launched “The Fall of Durang,” a joint effort by several small troupes to present a minifestival of plays by controversial playwright Christopher Durang. CIC’s The Vietnamization of New Jersey at the Cornservatory (4210 N. Lincoln, 773-865-7731), about a blind veteran who returns to his parents’ home with an Asian wife, runs through October 8. Infamous Commonwealth Theatre stages another Durang, Betty’s SummerVacation, at Live Bait Theatre (3914 N. Clark, 312-458-9780) through October 1.

Remy Bumppo Theatre Company’s revival of The Best Man, Gore Vidal’s biting drama about behind-the-scenes scheming during a presidential campaign, runs through November 5 at Victory Gardens Greenhouse (2257 N. Lincoln, 773-871-3000). Fans of political intrigue may also enjoy The General From America, Richard Nelson’s portrait of Revolutionary War traitor Benedict Arnold, a timely contemplation of notions of “right” and “wrong” during wartime. It plays through October 8 at TimeLine Theatre (615 W. Wellington, 773-281-8463).

Stage Left Theatre (3408 N. Sheffield, 773-267-6293) uses American history to illuminate the present as well, in David Alan Moore’s In Times of War, a world premiere running October 3 through November 11, about a secret commission ordered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to convict German saboteurs in New York City.

The Black Ensemble (4520 N. Beacon, 773-769-4451), which specializes in musicals saluting African-American singing stars, is presenting the Dionne Warwick tribute Don’t Make Me Over through October 29, followed by Don’t Shed a Tear (The Story of Billie Holiday), starting November 4.

The Plasticene physical-theater ensemble’s One False Note, or How to Rob a Bank, playing October 19 through November 5 at the Storefront Theater (66 E. Randolph, 312-742-8497), employs “the body in action, objects in motion, light as revelation, and sound as sensation” to explore the question of whether or not crime pays.

Hizzoner stars playwright Neil Giuntoli as the legendary Mayor Richard J. Daley. The hit play, about Da Mare’s struggles with the turbulent racial and antiwar politics of the late 1960s, is in an open run at Prop Thtr (3502-4 N. Elston, 773-539-7838). Also at Prop: the Rhinoceros Theater Festival, an annual showcase of experimental theater—more than 30 productions in all—runs through mid-November. A celebration of cutting-edge unpredictability, Rhino Fest pays tribute this year to avant-garde master Samuel Beckett.

Marquee Names

ANTHONY FLEMING III stars as slave-rebellion leader Denmark Vesey in Charles Smith’s new drama Denmark, opening October 14 as the inaugural production of Victory Gardens Theater’s new space in the historic Biograph Theater.

FRANK GALATI One of the city’s most eminent directors (Steppenwolf member, Goodman associate director, Northwestern University professor, and Tony-winning Broadway director) is dealing a pair of queens this season: The Pirate Queen, starting previews October 3 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre prior to moving to Broadway, and his puppet adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, playing at Victory Gardens in December. Also, City Lit Theater is mounting his chamber-theater adaptation of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

SEAN GRANEY The artistic director of the Hypocrites ensemble has stirred fierce controversy with his handling of sexually charged material; his first show this season is a December revival of Tennessee Williams’s steamy Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the Building Stage.

TRACY LETTS Equally accomplished as actor and writer, he’s featured at Steppenwolf this season in Martin McDonagh’s dark comedy The Pillowman and Harold Pinter’s marital drama Betrayal, and Steppenwolf is premiering his new play August: Osage County next spring. William Friedkin’s much anticipated screen adaptation of his hit Bug opens nationwide this December.

BRETT NEVEU has been favorably compared to Mamet, Pinter, and Albee. This season he has two world premieres: The Meek, at A Red Orchid Theatre (where he’s an ensemble member), and Harmless, at TimeLine Theatre.

MARY ZIMMERMAN The Tony-winning director and Galati protege brings the myth of Jason and the Golden Fleece to life in her rendition of Apollonius’s Argonautika at Lookingglass Theatre in October; she remounts her version of the 12th-century Persian epic The Mirror of the Invisible World at the Goodman next summer. | AW

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