Sarah’s Picks: Top 5 Shows of 2018

Reviewing theatre is a pleasure in a city where larger companies and smaller storefronts can explore a variety of perspectives in highly theatrical ways. Below are just a few of the brilliant productions I was lucky enough to witness this year. Each demonstrated how imaginative and daring the scene can be, with everything from new plays to established narratives. You’ll find the list includes ghosts, flashbacks, conversations with God, and a dilemma involving a taxidermied human being. Enjoy, as you reflect on your own top five for the year!


Show: “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”

Company: Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Venue: Steppenwolf Theatre

TEN WORD SUMMARY: Looking through another’s eyes generates conflict, compassion, and theatrical surprise.

DIE RATING: d20 – “One Of The Best”

Steppenwolf’s stripped-down take on the story of a neuroatypical teen detective was criticized by some for not going as big as the previous touring production, but the specificity and smallness of its character moments made it a Chicago gem. Director Jonathan Berry relied on his performers to build the ATMs and oncoming trains that frighten and confuse Christopher (Terry Bell), a boy in search of justice for the dog next door. By focusing the production on movement, Berry and his ensemble demonstrated that we only need imagination to engage with those we feel we could never understand.


Show: “Indecent”

Company: Victory Gardens Theater

Venue: The Biograph Theater

TEN WORD SUMMARY: Belief in art may change, but its necessity never will.

DIE RATING: d20 – “One Of The Best”

“Indecent” is a raucous accounting of “God of Vengeance,” a Yiddish play with the first-ever kiss performed between two women on Broadway. Paula Vogel’s script calls for klezmer music, jumps across time, and the raising of ghosts. Director Gary Griffin, best known in town for musical theatre productions, brings a bracing energy to the proceedings, while his actors dig deep into the pre-World War II and post-HUAC politics of the text. As languages and societies change, Vogel shows us that the eternal in art can save our souls, no matter what is done to our bodies.


Show: “Crumbs From the Table of Joy”

Company: Raven Theatre

Venue: Raven Theatre

TEN WORD SUMMARY: A humane and heartfelt memory play that features marvelous acting.

DIE RATING: d20 – “One Of The Best”

Memory is a pliable fiction, as shown to great effect in this early Lynn Nottage play. Her young Ernestine (Chanell Bell), obsessed with movies and happy endings, lives under the religious strictures set out by Father Devine, a man her own father (Terence Sims) worships so intensely, he moved his whole family to a dingy New York flat in order to be close to the preacher. When her Aunt Lily (Brianna Buckley) arrives on the scene, Ernestine’s fantasies finally mix with reality. Buckley breezes into this production like a tornado, and steals the story right out from under the protagonist.


Show: “The Harvest”

Company: Griffin Theatre Company

Venue: The Den Theatre

TEN WORD SUMMARY: Faith without works is dead, unless you’re waiting for signs.

DIE RATING: d12 – “Heckuva Good Show”

Everyone searches for answers in Samuel D. Hunter’s observant take on evangelical life. Josh (Raphael Diaz) wants to hear from God, and has signed on to a years-long mission in order to motivate a conversation. His best friend Tom (Colin Quinn Rice) mourns the loss of his childhood pal, and together, the two brush up against more complicated, charged feelings. Meanwhile, Kathryn Acosta’s Denise struggles to find the words to claim space in her marriage and charity work. Tensions boil over gradually, and Sotirios Livaditis’ dingy church basement serves as a perfect setting to a banal reckoning with the Lord.


Show: “Nightmares & Nightcaps: The Stories of John Collier”

Company: Black Button Eyes Productions

Venue: Athenaeum Theatre

TEN WORD SUMMARY: Humor and spectacle entwine to create a lively narrative analysis.

DIE RATING: d12 – “Heckuva Good Show”

John Collier’s work has a flamboyant irony to it that adapts well to the stage. Director Ed Rutherford combed through his stories, and with typical Black Button Eyes flair, brought to life some of Collier’s acidic takes on marriage, success, and whether or not it’s okay to be in love with a stuffed human trophy. While the ensemble gamely dances its way through Collier’s twists of fate, Jeremiah Barr’s puppet work delights the senses, and Rutherford’s command of comic timing holds the disparate stories together.

Coming soon …

I have five further excellent picks from this year’s theatre scene, but they will be published at the Windy City Times. I will provide the link here once that list has been published. Stayed tuned for our “Bottom 5” of the year, and for Maggie’s “Top 5.” And let us know your own choices on our Facebook page! We would love to hear about the incredible work you have seen this year.