Arts & Culture » Fall Preview

Ten best bets for fall theater

A satanic hand puppet, a live version of Cheers, and a Twelfth Night in Hindi are among this season’s highlights.

Lauren Molina (Eileen) and Bri Sudia (Ruth) in rehearsal for Wonderful Town - LIZ LAUREN
  • Liz Lauren
  • Lauren Molina (Eileen) and Bri Sudia (Ruth) in rehearsal for Wonderful Town


Mary Zimmerman returns to Leonard Bernstein with Wonderful Town at the Goodman
September 10-October 16

Director Mary Zimmerman and musical director Doug Peck, who brought their adaptation of Leonard Bernstein's 1956 operetta Candide to the Goodman Theatre in 2010, reteam for a new take on Bernstein's jazzy 1953 hit Wonderful Town (reviewed here). Inspired by journalist Ruth McKenney's 1938 memoir My Sister Eileen, the show chronicles the exploits of two Ohio sisters—a writer and an actress—as they forge a new life in bohemian Greenwich Village. Zimmerman has moved the action from the 1930s to the 1950s because, she says, "the music belongs to the 1950s, and the exhilaration of Greenwich Village as an enclave of artists, poets and composers and writers is equally as true in the early 1950s as it was in the 1930s." Ruth will be played by Bri Sudia, with soprano Lauren Molina (a fine Cunegonde in Candide) as Eileen. —Albert Williams a 9/10-10/16: Wed-Thu 7:30 PM, Fri-Sat 8 PM, Sun 2 and 7:30 PM; also Tue 10/4, 7:30 PM, and Sat 10/1, 10/8, and 10/15, 2 PM, Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, 312-443-3800,, $18-$94.


The House of Atreus falls at Court Theatre
November 10-December 11

Following the success of last season's Agamemnon and Iphigenia in Aulis in 2014, Court Theatre brings the House of Atreus trilogy to completion with Sophocles's Electra, newly translated for the stage by founding artistic director Nicholas Rudall, who was also behind the others. The eternal themes of vengeance and family betrayal that undergird Greek tragedy achieve new life in Rudall's adaptation, which will be directed by Seret Scott, who last helmed Court's Native Son. Sandra Marquez returns as Clytemnestra, Michael Pogue plays Aegisthus, and Kate Fry is Electra.
—Max Maller a 11/10-12/11: Wed-Thu 7:30 PM, Fri-Sat 8 PM, Sun 2:30 and 7:30 PM; also Sat 11/2, 12/3, and 12/10, 3 PM, Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis,, $48-$68.

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  • Amiri Baraka


Rarely performed plays by Amiri Baraka, Sam Shepard, and more

It's a pleasure to have so many seldom-seen plays on offer this season. Dutchman, a 1964 one-act by poet-playwright Amiri Baraka (who then still went by LeRoi Jones), will get a revival at American Blues (8/26-9/25), paired with a commissioned work, Darren Canady's TRANSit (the double bill is reviewed here). Shattered Globe takes on True West, a minor masterpiece by Sam Shepard (9/8-10/22; reviewed here). And Black Button Eyes Productions will bring renowned French composer Michel Legrand's musical Amour to the Athenaeum (9/2-10/8; reviewed here). —Max Maller

The Revenge of Prince Zi Dan - XINHUA/ZOU ZHENG
  • Xinhua/Zou Zheng
  • The Revenge of Prince Zi Dan


Shakespeare 400 Chicago brings the world to town

Chicago Shakespeare Theater, ground zero for Shakespeare 400 Chicago, the yearlong celebration of the Bard's 400th birthday, plays host to a number of international companies this fall, among them the Shanghai Jingju Theatre with The Revenge of Prince Zi Dan, a Peking opera adaptation of Hamlet (9/28-9/29 at the Harris Theater; reviewed here); Company Theatre Mumbai with Piya Behrupiya, a Hindi version of Twelfth Night (9/27-9/29; reviewed here); and the Mexico City-based Foro Shakespeare, performing Chilean playwright Eduardo Pavez Goye's meditation on Romeo and Juliet, Enamorarse de un Incendio (9/22-9/24; reviewed here). Also on the schedule, from the UK, is The Complete Deaths, a compilation of all 74 onstage deaths from Shakespeare's complete works, performed one after the other by the antic four-member clown troupe Spymonkey (11/30-12/11). —Jack Helbig

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  • Philip Dawkins


New works by notable local playwrights

Catching the latest work from Chicago's notable playwrights should keep you busy this fall. Seems like each of them has something new to show us, including The Happiest Place on Earth (Sideshow Theatre Company, 9/17-10/23; reviewed here), an autobiographical solo show written and performed by Philip Dawkins; Skooby Don't (Hell in a Handbag Productions, 9/29-11/4; reviewed here), David Cerda's spoof of the animated mystery solvers; Andrew Hinderaker's The Magic Play (Goodman Theatre, 10/21-11/20), about an illusionist in crisis; and Calamity West's Give It All Back (Sideshow again, 11/20-12/18), about an artist holed up in a French hotel room. How We Got On (Haven Theatre Company, 9/29-11/12; reviewed here), a hip-hop coming-of-age tale by Idris Goodwin, and Octagon (Jackalope Theatre, 11/20-12/18), Kristiana Rae Colón's behind-the-scenes look at a poetry slam, will be making their first local appearances as well. —Zac Thompson

  • Michael Brosilow
  • TRANSit


Trans lives onstage

In November, Doug Wright's I Am My Own Wife (11/4-12/10), based on the real-life experiences of a German trans woman who survived both the Nazis and the Communists, returns to About Face Theatre, where it was developed in 2002 before going on to Broadway and a raft of awards. This time around, transgender performer Delia Kropp will be playing the central role. The increased visibility of trans lives onstage will be further reflected in American Blues Theater's TRANSit, about a subway encounter between strangers, written by Darren Canady in response to Amiri Baraka's Dutchman, with which it's running on a double bill (8/26-9/25; the shows are reviewed here), and Nothing Without a Company's [Trans]formation (11/17-12/17), a coproduction with the Living Canvas in which nude performers—trans, queer, intersex—celebrate the diversity of the human body. —Zac Thompson

Ted Danson and Shelly Long in Cheers - MARK J. TERRILL/AP
  • Ted Danson and Shelly Long in Cheers


Belly up to the bar at Cheers Live on Stage
September 20-October 23

Fans of the iconic 1980s sitcom (or even those who just recognize its greatness—Amy Poehler has called it the best television show ever) will have the chance to experience Cheers Live on Stage (reviewed here) this fall courtesy of Broadway in Chicago. Promising fidelity to the ensemble-based comedy, the live version uses scripts drawn from the first season. Register online for a lottery that allows a dozen audience members at each performance to take the stage at intermission and have a beer. —Suzanne Scanlon a 9/20-10/23: Wed-Fri 7:30 PM, Sat 2 and 8 PM, Sun 2 and 7:30 PM, Tue 7:30 PM, Broadway Playhouse, 175 E. Chestnut,, $32-$69.

  • Charles Osgood
  • Naperville


Suburbia in the sights of a Jeff Award-winning playwright
Now through October 16

Playwright Mat Smart is a champion of the much-maligned suburban life. His dramatic comedy Naperville (reviewed here), about a man who returns home after his mother suffers an accident that leaves her blind, is set in a Caribou Coffee shop that existed in the title town when Smart was growing up there. The New York Times found it "intricate and delightful." Smart's The Royal Society of Antarctica, staged by the Gift Theatre last year, won the Equity Jeff Award for Best New Work. —Deanna Isaacs a Through 10/16: Thu-Sat 8 PM, Sun 2 PM, Theater Wit, 1229 N. Belmont, 773-975-8150,, $20-$70.


Romeo y Julieta en espagnol
November 11-December 18

Othello in India. Hamlet in a biker bar. Macbeth on the moon. Relocating Shakespeare is all the rage. But to open its 26th season, Aguijón Theater—Chicago's only company devotedly solely to Spanish-language works—bucks the trend. Adapter Gerardo Cárdenas sets his Romeo y Julieta nowhere but a spare stage, asking audiences to attend to the timeless tale rather than anachronistic scenery. Director Sándor Menéndez, one of Chicago's best, helms the production. —Justin Hayford a 11/11-12/18: Fri-Sat 8 PM, Sun 6 PM, $25, $15 for seniors, students, and teachers.

Hand to God - LIZ LAUREN
  • Liz Lauren
  • Hand to God


Hand to God
September 17-October 16

Filth and felt have had a winning relationship onstage in shows such as Avenue Q. The twist in Robert Askins's 2011 dark comedy is that the raunchy puppet is attached to an unwilling, godly Christian body. A kid in rural Texas gets possessed and becomes a terrified ventriloquist to a googly-eyed satanic spirit. The casting of Chicago darling Alex Weisman in Victory Gardens' production bodes well for this vulnerable, sardonic, bitingly funny play. Gary Griffin directs. (Reviewed here.) —Dan Jakes a 9/17-10/16: Thu-Sat 7:30 PM (no shows Fri 9/16 and 9/23), Sun 3 PM; also Wed 10/5, 2 PM; Tue 10/11, 7:30 PM; and Wed 10/12, 7:30 PM, Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln, 773-871-3000,, $25-$45.  v

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