Top 10 Chicago Plays of 2015

| January 1, 2016


Matthew Sherbach and Armand Fields star in Northlight Theatre's "Charm". John Mahoney and Audrey Francis star in Steppenwolf's "The Herd". Charli Williams, Anna Dauzvardis and Katrina D. Richards star in Raven Theatre's "Direct from Death Row: The Scottsboro Boys". Bernard White, Nisi Sturgis, Zakiya Young and J. Anthony Crane star in Goodman Theatre's "Disgraced." Becca Savoy, Michael McKeough and Sandy Elias star in Griffin Theatre's "Pocatello".Larry Yando and Eva Louise Balistreiri star in Chicago Shakespeare's "The Tempest" by William Shakespeare. Eunice Woods stars in American Theater Company's "The Project(s)" by PJ Paparelli and Joshua Jaeger. Mike Nussbaum stars in TimeLine Theatre's "The Price" by Arthur Miller.  Brian Parry and Jacqueline Grandt star in Redtwist Theatre's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" by Edward Albee. Brendan Connelly and McKenna Liesman star in Red Theater and Oracle Productions' "R + J: The Vineyard.

Another year, another 12 months of great Chicago theater! 2015 blessed Chicagoland with inspired new works and riveting revivals from a wide range of companies – the largest equity houses to the smallest of the city’s storefronts. Taking into account the 700+ productions that were produced in the Windy City over the last year, here are our reviewer’s picks for the best of the best. Bravo!!

See our picks below the fold


Top 10 Chicago Plays of 2015

Listed in alphabetical order. All summaries by Lauren Whalen

Monica Orozco and Dexter Zollicoffer star in Northlight Theatre's world premiere of "Charm" by Philip Dawkins.     


Northlight Theatre  (Oct 21 – Nov 8)

When you’re young, trans and on the streets, manners are probably the furthest thing from your mind – but Mama’s about to change all that. Acclaimed Chicago playwright Philip Dawkins crafted this beautiful drama, based on a real-life etiquette class taught by an elderly transgender woman at Boystown’s Center on Halsted. Funny and touching without ever resorting to schmaltz, Charm deftly followed the journey of Mama and her students and how saying “please,” belting one’s pants and learning to waltz can provide a barricade of pure hope against an undeniably cruel world. (our review)

Anna Dauzvardis, Semaj Miller, Brandon Greenhouse, Breon Arzell, Charli Williams and Kevin Patterson star in Raven Theatre's "Direct from Deathrow: The Scottsboro Boys" by Mark Stein, directed by Michael Menendian.   

Direct from Death Row:
      The Scottsboro Boys

Raven Theatre (Sept 22 – Nov 14)

“Vaudeville” and “Death Row” are rarely uttered in the same breath, let alone explored in the same production. Raven Theatre’s daring production broke this rule and many others, mixing past and present in a harrowing but relevant history lesson. Playwright Mark Stein, director Michael Menendian and a crack design team expertly incorporated music, dance and commedia dell’arte in an innovative analysis of race in the American justice system. As the titular “boys” – nine young black men accused of raping two white women in 1931 – awaited their fate, the audience was forced to reflect on today’s racial politics, and ask themselves: have we made any progress on this front, or is our society simply running in circles?  (our review)

Bernard White and Nisi Sturgis star in Goodman Theatre's "Disgraced" by Ayad Akhtar, directed by Kimberly Senior.   

Goodman Theatre (Sept 20 – Oct 18)

Disgraced went where few productions have gone before, relentlessly analyzing race relations with in-your-face skill. Most of the Pulitzer Prize-winning one-act play is set at a dinner party, where two interracial couples find themselves going head-to-head and heart-to-heart. After its 2012 world premiere at American Theater Co., followed by a successful Broadway run, Ayad Akhtar’s provocative play returned to its Chicago home with tightly-paced direction courtesy of Kimberly Senior, and a cast whose energy positively crackled for 90 minutes of snappy dialogue and shocking action. Disgraced never shied away from tough topics, and its capable quintet of actors eagerly dove in to the controversial material. (our review)

Cliff Chamberlain, Francis Guinan and Lois Smith star in Steppenwolf Theatre's "The Herd" by Rory Kinnear, directed by Frank Galati.   

The Herd

Steppenwolf Theatre Company 
(April 2 – June 14)

Steppenwolf had a banner 2014-15 season, with a plethora of fantastic plays adhering to the theme, “how did I get here?” The Herd took this question literally with a common occurrence – a birthday party – with uncommon twists involving surprise guests and revealed truths. An all-star cast including John Mahoney, Francis Guinan and Lois Smith superbly executed British actor Rory Kinnear’s debut play, thanks in part to Frank Galati’s expert direction. Bursting with gallows humor and genuine heart, The Herd was living, breathing proof that hell may be other people, but family is forever. (review)


Michael McKeough and Sam Guinan-Nyhart star in Griffin Theatre's "Pocatello" by Samuel D. Hunter, directed by Jonathan Berry.    


Griffin Theatre Company 
(Nov 14 – Dec 13)

As audience members walked into Pocatello, they were treated to Joe Schermoly’s set, perhaps the most realistic I’ve ever seen in live theater. Schermoly’s flawless recreation of an Italian chain restaurant was a character all its own, and served as a rich backdrop for playwright Samuel D. Hunter’s trademark relentlessness. With empathy and intelligence, director Jonathan Berry wove the story arcs of the employees of a failing highway restaurant in Idaho. Tragic and deeply human, Pocatello was an opus for Griffin Theatre Company, creating a world both specific and universal.  (our review)

Roderick Peeples, Kymberly Mellen and Bret Tuomi star in TimeLine Theatre's "The Price" by Arthur Miller, directed by Louis Contey.      

The Price

TimeLine Theatre (Aug 26 – Nov 22)

Arthur Miller’s poignant, piercing drama isn’t his best-known, but perhaps it should be. TimeLine Theatre’s sterling interpretation could go a long way in lifting The Price from obscurity, preserving Miller’s perfect plotting in a quiet, intimate production. Bret Tuomi and Roderick Peeples shone as two estranged brothers recalling their riches to rags childhood while determining the fate of their late father’s brownstone and the goods inside. A tale as old as time – and Miller’s personal response to the absurdist theater dominating Broadway in the late 1960’s – The Price was a rare masterpiece that began with the simplest of premises but gradually dove deeper into the complexities of family. (our review)

Kenn E. Head and Anji White star in American Theater Co's "The Project(s)" by P.J. Paparelli and Joshua Jaeger.       

The Project(s)

American Theater Company 
(May 6 – June 21)

ATC’s Artistic Director, the late P.J. Paparelli, left behind a magnum opus with this brilliant mélange of documentary theater and a cappella music. Eight African-American actors took the stage as a plethora of characters – some of them white – in a vibrant oral history of Cabrini-Green, Wentworth Gardens, and the Robert Taylor and Ida B. Wells Homes. Paparelli and co-writer Joshua Jaeger used verbatim interviews from former and current Chicago Housing Authority residents, city officials and academics and further enhanced the stories with Jakari Sherman’s inspired choreography and music. The Project(s) was like nothing Chicago has seen before – and sadly, because of Paparelli’s tragic death earlier this year, will ever see again. (review)

Brendan Connelly, Chris Schroeder and Brenda Scott Wlazlo star in Red Theater and Oracle Productions' "R + J: The Vineyard," adapted by Aaron Sawyer and Janette Bauer.   

R + J: The Vineyard

Red Theater Chicago
Oracle Productions 
(Oct 24 – Feb 20, 2016)

The little theater company that could, Red Theater Chicago teamed up with Oracle Productions to create a Bard adaptation with hearing and deaf actors…completely free to the public. Adaptors Aaron Sawyer and Janette Bauer set William Shakespeare’s love and suicide story in 19th century Martha’s Vineyard, which at the time had a large hereditary deaf population and a shared sign language. Communication is at the core of Romeo and Juliet – secrets are spilled, confidences betrayed and words of love and death freely spoken – and R+J: The Vineyard tackled these issues in an inventive, innovative way that inspired and delighted hearing and deaf audiences from beginning to end. (our review)

Larry Yando and Eva Louise Balistreiri star in Chicago Shakespeare's "The Tempest," adapted and directed by Aaron Posner and Teller.

The Tempest

Chicago Shakespeare Theater 
(Sept 17 – Nov 8)

Teller is best known as the single-monikered, nonverbal half of legendary magic duo Penn & Teller. He’s also a lifelong Shakespeare enthusiast, thanks to his father reading him the Bard’s plays as a child. But the Teller-directed production of The Tempest at Chicago Shakespeare Theater wasn’t all card tricks and levitation (though there were plenty of each). Deep reverence and understanding radiated from every staging move and every syllable, and this Tempest took on an otherworldly quality. Teller didn’t just display his passion for his favorite Shakespeare play: he took the audience with him, so they too could experience the childlike wonder of one who never stopped believing in magic. (our review)

Jacqueline Grandt and Stephen Cefalu, Jr. star in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" by Edward Albee, directed by Jason Gerace.      

Who’s Afraid
     of Virginia Woolf?

Redtwist Theatre (Sept 12 – Oct 31)

Edward Albee’s parable of marital discord (and addiction) is incredibly easy to screw up, to the point where the playwright’s articulate arguments descend into screaming and outright parody. Not so under the direction of Jason Gerace. Redtwist Theatre’s interpretation was just this side of outrageous, and brimming with masochistic glee. Thanks to Gerace and a phenomenal quartet of actors, there was nothing more sick and fun than watching a dinner party descend into madness as two couples tore each other – and themselves – to shreds. This Virginia Woolf set the bar high for future productions: a bitter cocktail of an evening and a harsh reminder of the fleeting nature of love. (our review)


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Category: 2015 Reviews, American Theater Company, Arthur Miller, Best-of-Year, Chicago Shakespeare, Edward Albee, Goodman Theatre, Griffin Theatre, Lauren Emily Whalen, Northlight Theatre, Oracle Theatre, Raven Theatre, Red Theater, Redtwist Theatre, Steppenwolf, TimeLine Theatre, William Shakespeare

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