What to see at Shakespeare 400 Chicago

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The melancholy Hamlet as you've never seen him before: Shanghai Peking Opera’s The Revenge of Prince Zi Dan. - XINHUA/ZOU ZHENG
  • Xinhua/Zou Zheng
  • The melancholy Hamlet as you've never seen him before: Shanghai Peking Opera’s The Revenge of Prince Zi Dan.

The catalog for Shakespeare 400 Chicago is officially out now, both online and in print. As festival producer Doreen Sayegh promised when I talked to her the other day, it is, indeed, possible to experience Shakespeare in some form every day from now until December.

You could do that, I suppose, simply by finding a complete Shakespeare somewhere and digging in, one play at a time, but to do this would miss the point of Shakespeare 400, which intends to do what Chris Jones suggested in a Tribune column a few weeks ago, to bring our entire divided city together in the service of art. These plays give us a way to talk about racism; sexism; treatment of minorities, immigrants, the elderly, and the mentally ill; and the abuse of power. Plus, seeing Shakespeare on stage reminds you of the original purpose of the plays: to entertain. Now I will stop channeling your high school English teacher and list some of the festival's highlights:

Belarus Free Theatre’s King Lear - NICOLAI KHALEZIN
  • Nicolai Khalezin
  • Belarus Free Theatre’s King Lear

King Lear
. The Belarus Free Theater was founded to protest Belarusian dictator Alexandr Lukashenko's police state. Many of its members have been jailed or forced into exile. When I asked Reader critic Tony Adler what show he was most excited about, he said it was this one. 2/5-2/14, Upstairs at Chicago Shakespeare, 800 E. Grand, 312-595-5600, chicagoshakes.com, tickets start at $48.

Culinary Complete Works. 38 chefs prepare 38 dishes or meals inspired by each of Shakespeare's 38 plays. Throughout the year.

Puck: The Beer. Enjoy this limited edition release by North Coast Brewing after your Culinary Complete Works meal. It's described as "a sharp and spritzy petite saison, with a delicious flowery, spicy dry-hop aroma," which is just how you'd imagine a beer inspired by A Midsummer Night's Dream to be, right?

Improvised Shakespeare. Back in 2013, the Reader dubbed iO's Improvised Shakespeare Company the Best Comedy Show to Satisfy Both English Nerds and Culture Snobs. They're still performing, and you can catch their act all year long. Thursday 8 PM, Friday 8 and 10:30 PM, Saturday 8 PM, iO Theater, 1501 N. Kingsbury, 312-929-2401, ioimprov.com, tickets start at $16.

Prospero's Storm. A kid-friendly (well, ages 8 and up) version of The Tempest presented by Chicago Playworks for Families and Young Audiences. 1/14-2/20, Merle Reskin Theatre, 60 E. Balbo, 312-922-1999, theatre.depaul.edu, $10.

Othello. Directed by Jonathan Munby of Shakespeare's Globe and the Royal Shakespeare Company. 2/18-4/10, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 E. Grand, 312-595-5600, chicagoshakes.com, tickets start at $48.

Paterson Joseph (Sancho) in National Theatre Studio’s Sancho: An Act of Remembrance. - ROBERT DAY
  • Robert Day
  • Paterson Joseph (Sancho) in National Theatre Studio’s Sancho: An Act of Remembrance.
Sancho: An Act of Remembrance. Paterson Joseph, a British actor and member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, imagines the life of Charles Ignatius Sancho, the first black man to vote in Britain and also an ardent Shakespearean. 2/17-2/21, Upstairs at Chicago Shakespeare, 800 E. Grand, 312-393-5600, chicagoshakes.com, tickets start at $48.

(In) Complete Works: Table Top Shakespeare. UK theater company Forced Entertainment stages Shakespeare's plays with everyday objects, such as spoons, salt and pepper shakers, and a cheese grater. 2/25-2/27, MCA Stage, 220 E. Chicago, 312-397-4010, mcachicago.org, tickets start at $30.

Richard III. This collaboration between the Gift Theatre Company, the Steppenwolf, and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago examines the role of disability in the machiavellian monarch's rise and fall. 3/3-5/1, Merle Reskin Garage Theatre, 1624 N. Halsted, 312-335-1650, steppenwolf.org, tickets start at $30.

Play the Knave: An Interactive Shakespeare Video Game. Now's your chance to star in a Shakespeare play, karaoke style in an interactive digital game devised by Gina Bloom and the ModLab at the University of California-Davis. 4/28, 4-7 PM, Hagstrum Room, Northwestern University, 1897 Sheridan, Evanston, shakespeare.northwestern.edu, free.

Tug of War. Chicago Shakespeare Theater's Barbara Gaines directs six of Shakespeare's historical plays in two marathon sessions of six hours each. The first half deals with foreign wars (mostly against France); the second with civil wars back home in Britain. Gaines says that the plays will mostly be told through the eyes of the common soldiers and question the decisions the leaders make at their expense. Part I: Foreign Fire, runs 5/12-6/12 and Part 2: Civil Strife runs 9/14-10/9. Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 E. Grand, 312-595-5600, chicagoshakes.com, $100.
Jonathan Pryce as Shylock in Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre’s production of The Merchant of Venice. - MANUEL HARLAN
  • Manuel Harlan
  • Jonathan Pryce as Shylock in Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre’s production of The Merchant of Venice.

A Distant Mirror
. Yo-Yo Ma and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra explore the music of the 16th and 17th centuries, maybe the stuff Shakespeare rocked out to when he was a crazy young club kid. 6/12, 3 PM, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, 312-294-3000, cso.org, tickets start at $46.

Gary Busey's One-Man Hamlet. But not with Gary Busey himself. Instead David Carl plays Gary Busey playing Hamlet, Gertude, Ophelia, Claudius, et al. Some people think it is the greatest Gary Busey impression of all time. There will also be puppets. 7/12-7/17, Upstairs at Chicago Shakespeare, 800 E. Grand, 312-595-5600, chicagoshakes.com, tickets start at $35.

Twelfth Night. For some reason, Twelfth Night is one of the most performed plays in the festival, along with Othello and Romeo and Juliet. Why is that? No one has yet explained. (Maybe it's that Viola is one of the few heroines who doesn't die, get silenced, or fall in love with someone wearing an ass's head?) Anyway, if you must see one, check out the Shakespeare in the Park version. It'll be going on in parks across the city all summer long. And it's free! More details about times and locations forthcoming, 312-595-5600, chicagoshakes.com.

El Eterno Shakespeare. Shakespeare and mariachi, two great world cultural achievements, together for the first time, courtesy of the Chicago Mariachi Project. More information to come.

The Merchant of Venice. The highly-acclaimed Shakespeare's Globe production starring Jonathan Pryce as Shylock is on its way from London to Chicago. Prepare your pound of flesh: this will probably be one of the festival's hottest tickets. 8/4-8/14, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 E. Grand, 312-595-5600, chicagoshakes.com, tickets on sale 5/15.

Songs of Lear. The Polish troupe Song of the Goat has created an original musical work based on scenes from King Lear that defies further description, at least in the Shakespeare 400 catalog. Clearly it's something you must see for yourself. 9/15-9/18, Upstairs at Chicago Shakespeare, 800 E. Grand, 312-595-5600, chicagoshakes.com, tickets start at $48.

The company of the Company Theatre of Mumbai’s Piya Behrupiya, a Hindi version of Twelfth Night - COURTESY OF COMPANY THEATRE
  • courtesy of Company Theatre
  • The company of the Company Theatre of Mumbai’s Piya Behrupiya, a Hindi version of Twelfth Night

Piya Beharupiya
. How is this Twelfth Night different from all other Twelfth Nights? It's in Hindi, performed by India's Company Theatre Mumbai. 9/27 and 9/29, 7:30 PM, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 E. Grand, 312-595-5600, chicagoshakes.com, tickets start at $48.

The Revenge of Prince Zi Dan. The Shanghai Peking Opera translates the story of Hamlet to Chinese opera, set in the fictitious ancient Red City. 9/28-9/29, Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph, 312-334-7777, harristheaterchicago.org, tickets on sale in the spring.

Gravediggers' Hamlet. Local folk/pop band the Lincoln Squares also retells the story of Hamlet, this time from the point of view of the gravediggers. More details about times forthcoming, upstairs at Chicago Shakespeare, 800 E. Grand, 312-595-5600, chicagoshakes.com, tickets on sale in the spring.

The Complete Deaths. There is probably no more fitting ending to a year of Shakespeare than the British group Spymonkey's performance of all 74 onstage deaths in the canon in a single show, one right after the other. Goodnight, sweet prince. And everybody else. 11/30-12/11, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 E. Grand, 312-595-5600, chicagoshakes.com, tickets start at $48.


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