Maggie’s Picks: Top 5 Shows of 2019


Show: “Othello”

Company: Babes with Blades

Venue: Factory Theater (1623 Howard St)

DICE RATING: d20 –– “One of the Best

TEN WORD SUMMARY: Shakespeare gets a much needed transfusion of bombastic feminine energy.

This complete transformation of Shakespeare’s Othello put a traditionally male-dominated story into the hands of an all female and non-binary cast. Directed by Mignon McPherson Stewart, this production made you aware of the human cost of maintaining an important man’s reputation, and how little societal reverence towards important men has changed. Brianna Buckley and Kathrynne Wolf were amazingly formidable opponents as Othello and Iago. Wolf’s Iago traded any villainous mustache-twirling for a presence that was quiet and insidious. I was disturbed at how understanding I was of their deepening levels of personal treachery. Meanwhile, Buckley’s Othello traded an abundance of joy for deep anger and suspicion, discovering how quickly their claim to privileges extended only to white men can be overturned.


Show: “Head Over Heels”

Company: Kokandy Productions

Venue:  Theatre Wit (1229 W Belmont Ave)

DICE RATING: d20 — “One of the Best

TEN WORD SUMMARY: This glam-rock fairy tale and gender non-conforming dance party has EVERYTHING.

This madcap, energetic production of the Go-Go’s fairy tale musical was exceedingly serious in one arena: radically inclusive casting. Directing team Derek Van Barham and Elizabeth Swanson left the binary behind, as well as any preconceived notions an audience may have about what makes a typical ingenue/ romantic male lead. Instead, the artistic team asked audiences to see this exceptionally capable cast in roles they might get overlooked for by less imaginative productions. What resulted was revolutionary and fun; and you’ll wonder how you ever got along without delightful queer stage pairings, genre-spanning vocal ranges, and bodies of all sizes. “Head Over Heels” just wanted us to stop worrying about old traditions, appropriateness, or what other people may think, and live truthfully instead. 


Show: “The Total Bent”

Company: Haven Theatre, in association with About Face Theatre

Venue: The Den Theatre (1333 N Milwaukee Ave)

DICE RATING: d20 –– “One of the Best

TEN WORD SUMMARY: An embittered father and son can’t shake each other’s influence.

Director Lili-Anne Brown and authors Heidi Rodewald and Stew put a biopic tale in a beat poetry blender and the result was part queer fantasy, part navigation of large-looming history, music politics and racism. “The Total Bent” was like nothing you’ve ever experienced. It was funny, but it also implicated you, the audience, for laughing; it was musically catchy and dynamic, but it forced you to look at the pain and darkness it takes to become a white fan favorite in a world that refuses to love black queerness. Robert Cornelius and Gilbert Domally were unstoppable forces as father and son Joe Roy and Marty Roy. They may have had their differences, but their journeys to keep artistic integrity in a world that only wants to exploit them are nearly the same. 


Show: “I Know My Own Heart”

Company: Pride Films & Plays

Venue:  Pride Arts Center (4147 N Broadway)

DICE RATING: d12 – “Heckuva Good Show

TEN WORD SUMMARY: Anne Lister’s milkshake brings all the girls to the yard.

When you are a woman stuck in the repressive 19th century, and your actions, sexuality, and societal value under a microscope, there’s still hope that you can live out your true wants in the margins, with hidden letters, brief encounters and secret clubs. This was not enough for smitten Anne Lister, however, and this production from Pride Films and Plays and director Elizabeth Swanson had an uncanny way of making you appreciate one woman’s boldness to make her circumstances work for her. As Anne Lister and  Marianne Brown, Vahishta Vafadari and Lauren Grace Thompson made glorious romantic strides, then watched things fall apart in coded language and secret rendezvous, under our ever present judging gaze. 


Show: “Six”

Company: Chicago Shakespeare Theatre

Venue:  Chicago Shakespeare Theatre (800 E Grand Ave)

DICE RATING: d20 — “One of the Best


You were not ready for this feast of vocal talent, non-stop dance, and damn effective songwriting from creators Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss. It was a concert from history’s six most maligned wives of King Henry VIII. But forget him, this pop concert and favorite wife competition experience just goes to show these women were so much more than just wives or historical footnotes. It also goes to show how impossible it is for a woman in power with a dissenting voice to last five minutes against the men determined to squash those voices. These astounding women deserved your hoots, screams, and standing ovations.