Sarah’s Picks: Top 5 Shows of 2017

It has been an exciting year in the Chicago scene. Companies large and small have been pushing the boundaries on how stories can be told, and what theatre can achieve, and the results have been entertaining, glorious, and at times, heartbreaking. I have put together five examples of energetic and enlightening productions from the year, and I look forward to what 2018 brings to our lovely city.


Show: “Machinal”

Company: Greenhouse Theater Center

Venue: Greenhouse Theater Center

TEN WORD SUMMARY: We are all in the machine, and we cannot escape.

DIE RATING: d20 – “One Of The Best”

Sophie Treadwell’s classic play about the gears of society grinding down a Young Woman (Heather Chrisler) was a revelation. You can read Maggie’s review here at Theatre By Numbers, which expertly unpacks the production’s overall power. The movement work displayed by the ensemble, and the fierce central performance by Chrisler, brought the audience deeper and deeper into a nightmare scenario as the narrative unfolded, and the overall message of Treadwell’s work is as timely today as it was during the 1920s. This production has been racking up spots on Top Ten lists all across the city, and that is much deserved.


Show: “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity”

Company: Red Theater Chicago

Venue: Strawdog Theatre Company

TEN WORD SUMMARY: An energetic tale of charisma and hard choices about art.

DIE RATING: d12 – “Heckuva Good Show”

“Chad Deity” took Chicago by storm only a few years ago, so one could ask whether it needed a storefront revival in 2017. But all my doubts about the necessity of Red’s production vanished upon meeting Alejandro Tey as Mace, a wrestling purist who invites the audience into his aesthetic love for the sport, while also revealing his deepest fears about his identity and career. Tey’s performance was alive and encouraging, and his fellow cast members provided lots of laughs amid their ever-developing signature moves. Harsh Gagoomal excelled as Mace’s friend VP, and Semaj Miller brought two tons of energy to his elaborate entrance as Chad Deity. Though the Strawdog space did not allow for much technical bang and flash during the wrestling sequences, the production’s up-close acrobatics and actor interactions with the audience made this an engaging and purposeful evening of theatre.


Show: “Three Days of Rain”

Company: BoHo Theatre

Venue: Heartland Studio

TEN WORD SUMMARY: Elegant staging and transformative performances mark this excellent, haunting production.

DIE RATING: d20 – “One Of The Best”

Elegantly directed by Derek Van Barham, “Three Days of Rain” remains haunting and enticing years after Richard Greenberg wrote it. A clear-headed and subtle examination of how little we actually know and understand our parents, this jewel of a production expertly captured inconsistencies and parallels across timelines between two sets of troubled young men and women. Kyle Curry and Kate Black-Spence excelled at playing the children of distressed parents, as well as the parents themselves in the illuminating second act of the show. G. “Max” Maxin IV’s excellent lighting design shifted the audience between time periods, and between internal and external monologues, without losing the continually vanishing thread of the parents’ narrative.


Show: “The Fair Maid of the West”

Company: Oak Park Festival Theatre

Venue: Austin Gardens

TEN WORD SUMMARY: A rollicking adventure awaits the audience, along with killer fights.

DIE RATING: d20 – “One Of The Best”

“May that man die derided and accursed that will not follow where a woman leads.” This signature line from “The Fair Maid of the West,” a sixteenth century script, was greeted with whoops and cheers on the evening I attended the production. Though this tale seems simple on the surface – as it recounts seafaring adventures, lost and rediscovered love, and oodles of palace intrigue – the play hides a sly streak of politics and satire just under its rollicking fight sequences. Adapted and directed by Kevin Theis, and helmed by game and lively performers Amanda Forman and Zach Livingston, this production had a lot to say about the current state of international and gender politics in contemporary America.


Show: “Shockheaded Peter”

Company: Black Button Eyes Productions

Venue: Athenaeum Theatre

TEN WORD SUMMARY: Terrible things happen to kids; loved every second of events.

DIE RATING: d20 – “One Of The Best”

If Bertold Brecht and Edward Gorey got together and wrote a musical, the result would likely resemble “Shockheaded Peter,” a goulish and entertaining series of fables that allow no character to exit the story unscathed. Based on a German children’s book, this unspooling nightmare featured song and dance numbers about a pyromaniac kid catching on fire (much to the delight of the family cats), bullies getting their heads popped off, and one unfortunate child flying away by accident on a windy day. Ed Rutherford’s throw-in-every-talent-plus-the-kitchen-sink direction, along with music director T.J. Anderson’s lively interpretation of the score by the Tiger Lillies, made for a wonderful day of theatrical torture. Our show-off Master of Ceremonies (Kevin Webb) was more than delighted to invite the audience into tales whose morals slip and slide around our heads, and cast members Ellen DeSitter, Kat Evans, and Pavi Proczko provided strong musical support throughout.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: “Fun Home” (Victory Gardens Theater); “A View from the Bridge” (Goodman Theatre); “Gentle” (TUTA Theatre Chicago); “Captain Blood” (First Folio Theatre); “J.B.” (City Lit Theater).