Chris’s Picks – Top 5 Shows of 2014

top-5Chris’s Top 5 Shows of 2014

Over the last 12 months I saw a total of 62 plays. I am happy to report that only two of them received my lowest rating. And the overwhelming majority of them received one of my three top ratings (which Theatre in Chicago translated into either being “Recommended” or “Highly Recommended”). It was a good year full of good theatre.

Here are my Top 5 shows:

  1. Show: Exit Strategy
    Company:Jackalope Theatre Company
    Venue: Broadway Armory Theater
    TEN WORD SUMMARY:  Doomed to fail, unlikely allies fight against a school closure.
    RATING:  d20 = “One Of The Best”
    This visceral play by Ike Holter delivered a visceral kick in the gut. It displayed emotional muscle and tight writing. The dialogue was brought to life by an amazing ensemble cast, and the play’s subject hit home with almost every single person in the audience. Our education contributed heavily to the people we’ve become. It’s at our core as individuals. More often than not, we forget how fundamentally important it is to us, to the people who make it happen, and to the kids who are experiencing it right now. Man! This was one Hell of a reminder. Down and dirty and in your face. Passionate and compassionate. All sides were good guys, and all sides were bad guys. I left this show saying “Wow!”  That is still the impression it leaves with me.
  2. Show: Songs from an Unmade Bed
    Company: Pride Films & Plays
    Venue: Apollo Studio Theater
    TEN WORD SUMMARY:  Songs of sex and love hit all the right notes!
    RATING:  d20 = “One Of The Best”
    It’s been many months since I saw this play, but the songs are still stuck in my head. I’m humming “The Man in the Starched White Shirt” as I write this. There was something brilliant in taking a song cycle that is usually done as a one-man show and making it a complete play by breaking the songs out to two singers who interact with each other and tell a story. Kevin Webb and Jordan Phelps are phenomenal singers and acted through their pieces more strongly than most actors can with just straight lines. I saw them each in other shows this year, too, but together they made a musical I wish I could go back and see again.
  3. Show: The Downpour
    Company: Route 66 Theatre Company
    Venue: Greenhouse Theater Center
    TEN WORD SUMMARY:  Marriage and motherhood are endangered by repeat of ugly past.
    RATING:  d20 = “One Of The Best”
    Straight-up realism will almost never sing to me. I go to the theatre to experience something theatrical. But, Caitlin Parrish wrote a script that takes on a condition that is difficult to talk about in even its simplest form: mental illness.  And she takes it up a few levels of intensity by looking at how mental illness of a parent affects young children, and also what happens when that mental illness is passed on to the next generation.  The small ensemble sucked me in and made me care about characters who could have been in a TV drama, but were live on stage and holding out their lives for my scrutiny while punching me in the gut with a fist of truth.
  4. Show: Monstrous Regiment
    Company: Lifeline Theatre
    Venue: Lifeline Theatre
    TEN WORD SUMMARY:  Terry Pratchett’s feminist satire on war has bite … with fangs.
    RATING:  d20 = “One Of The Best”
    Most people would contend that Science Fiction and Fantasy are better suited for the big screen than the stage, due to the need for special effects. Lifeline, however, demonstrated that sometimes the opposite is true. This story about a female regiment of soldiers all pretending to be men, made amazing use of mostly simple theatrical conventions to create a world unlike any other. The Discworld novels are full of fantastical stories, and this one truly shines on the stage.
  5. Show: Our Class
    Company: Remy Bumppo
    Venue: Greenhouse Theater Center
    TEN WORD SUMMARY:  People can do horrible things.  Polish classmates experience the worst.
    RATING:  d20 = “One Of The Best”
    Our Class (Remy Bumppo) – I’m not sure how often one can leave a play about the Holocaust with a spring in their step, but I did after this show. This tale of Polish neighbors who did horrible things to each other throughout their lives demonstrated all the horrible sides of human nature, and I mean All of them. And yet, it also showed the resiliency with which people can make it through all of the worst things in life. That very human element that makes us so much less than we could be if we were to be our best selves is what makes this play resonate at a higher level than many other plays about the suffering of the 20th century. Eloquent writing and exquisite direction made for a terrific play: a play that I felt good about, despite feeling terrible about what it addressed.