This isn’t a “best theater of the year” list. As we’ve noted about past lists, we don’t see everything. Most of our writers are freelancers, business owners or employed with other gigs, and it’s hard for us to cover the hundreds of theater productions that are usually staged in this great theater city. We last wrote an article like this in December 2019, And you know what happened after that.
Most Chicago theaters found some way to continue to showcase their work in limited ways although some shut down for a year or two. Some were able to ramp up and create new virtual productions or play recorded versions of past productions for theater-hungry audiences. But from March 2020 through most of 2021, there wasn’t much live theater in Chicago. Live theater started up again in 2022, with some creative and management hiccups
Chicago has about 250 theater companies, from large and midsize Equity houses to tiny storefronts. We cover some of the large Equity theaters and review some touring Broadway shows, but our hearts belong to the quirky, small and sometimes crazy genius productions at storefront theaters that are trying to make a go of it. Our theater reviewers picked their favorites among the shows they reviewed in 2022, and this is the result, in alphabetical order. Special mentions are listed at the end. And you can scroll through our Stages pages to see what we’ve said about Chicago theater for the last seven years
Our Favorite Plays
Chagall in School. Art was enmeshed in the politics of the Russian revolution in James Sherman’s world premiere play, Chagall in School, directed by Georgette Verdin and staged by the Grippo Stage Company at Theater Wit. Based on events in the life of artist Marc Chagall, the play featured a star-studded roster of famous and argumentative painters. This literate and fascinating story was enhanced by Sherman’s crisp dialogue. (Nancy S. Bishop)
Fiddler on the Roof. Two of my favorite productions this year were a pair of productions of classic shows by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick. One of them was Lyric Opera’s astounding production of Fiddler on the Roof. I’ve seen Fiddler several times—twice on Broadway—and this show was easily the best production. Visually overwhelming, musically enthralling, the Lyric’s deeply affecting Fiddler owed much of its genius to director Barry Kosky, who first staged this production at Berlin’s Komische Oper. As I said in my review, it was a show that turned familiar wonders into fresh astonishments. (Doug Mose)
It Came from Outer Space. And now for something completely different from Chicago Shakes, a B movie turned musical staged in a shoebox and a total delight. (Lisa Trifone)
Leopoldstadt. I’m breaking my own rule here, because Leopoldstadt is not a Chicago show. If we’re lucky, we’ll get to see a touring production of Tom Stoppard’s masterpiece story of the lives of a Viennese Jewish family through two world wars and the Holocaust. The four scenes in Leopoldstadt are stunning and grow darker as we see these lives destroyed as the world around them is annihilated. (Nancy S. Bishop)
The Locusts. The Gift Theatre staged The Locusts, a moody thriller with a realistic feel for the non-glamorous Florida. Touches of magical realism were portrayed with a theme of women’s disposability in American culture. The play was a world premiere by playwright Jennifer Rumberger with taut direction by ensemble member John Gawlick. (Kathy D. Hey)
Malapert Love. I was a bit giddy after watchingThe Artistic Home’s Malapert Love by Siah Berlatsky. Finally, some real farce was written by an ensemble member. Shades of Shakespeare with truly fine acting and direction by Julian Hester. (Kathy D. Hey)
Midsummer Night’s Dream. Shakespeare’s story of three pairs of lovers whose romances get tangled when they encounter fairies in the woods got a delightful spin with this production by Midsommer Flight, performed last summer in several city parks. Sharp direction, insightful script trims, and gender/queer/color diverse casting decisions by Beth Wolf make this magical rom-com a perfect play to watch on a late summer afternoon. (Nancy S. Bishop)
Moulin Rouge. Broadway in Chicago. Bombastic, overstuffed and “extra” in every way, this Broadway in Chicago touring production delivered on Baz Luhrmann’s vision from the original film on which it’s based. (Lisa Trifone)
A Noel Coward trilogy. We were blessed with three fine productions by three theater companies of period comedies by Noel Coward, the master of that genre. In June, we reviewed Blithe Spirit by Eclectic Full Contact Theatre at the Skokie Theatre. In the fall, we reviewed Hay Fever by City Lit Theater and Private Lives by Raven Theatre. Michael Woods directed Blithe Spirit, a frothy comedy featuring ghosts, seances and a vengeful late wife. Hay Fever, directed by Terry McCabe, featured a classic zany English family and a play without a plot. Eight people are thrown together for a weekend that turns into pandemonium. In Private Lives, directed by Ian Frank, the best moments belonged to Rudy Galvan as one of the mismatched husbands and Bradley Halverson as the ravishing French maid, Louise. (Nancy S. Bishop)
The Old Man and the Pool. Mike Birbiglia always delivers smart, thoughtful and touching comedy, and his new one-man show, The Old Man and the Pool (which Chicago got before he moved it to Broadway) is no exception. Birbiglia’s show was performed at Steppenwolf Theatre. (Lisa Trifone)
She Loves Me. As I noted in my Fiddler comment, two of my favorite productions this year were a pair of classic shows by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick. The second was Blank Theatre’s jewel-box production of Bock and Harnick’s music box show She Loves Me. Presented on the Reginald Vaughn Theater’s tiny stage, She Loves Me brimmed with charm, talent and intelligence. It was a perfect revival of a delightful show. (Doug Mose)
The Ugly One. Trap Door Theatre did a brilliant production of Marius von Mayenbeurg’s The Ugly One. Trap Door is known for the production of European playwrights. There is a different sensibility to the writing—a fearlessness and ferocity that is both a hilarious and evocative commentary on societal mores. The ensemble acting and direction by member Michael Mejia are equally ferocious in this satire on the concept and deceptive business of beauty. (Kathy D. Hey)
Buried Child—AstonRep. There’s nothing more satisfying than a sharply directed and well-acted production of a Sam Shepard play. Shepard’s middle America is at its seamy, seedy worst with family secrets, lies and sometimes murder. AstonRep’s fine production was staged on a poignant note, as the company announced this world be its last season. (Nancy S. Bishop)
Clyde’s—Goodman Theatre. Set in a diner out on the highway, Clyde’s is populated with ex-con workers and an ex-con owner with a devilish persona. Lynn Nottage’s latest play gave us plenty to think about. (Nancy S. Bishop)
The Devil Wears Prada—Broadway in Chicago. Not because the show is good (it’s not!), but because this was the highly anticipated world premiere and the energy in the room was palpable. A very cool Chicago theater experience, indeed. (Lisa Trifone)
Hadestown—Broadway in Chicago. The tragic Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice was told with a refreshingly original style and a terrific percussive score, performed by a seven-piece on-stage orchestra. The jazzy, bluesy music was woven with folk and pop threads that the cast strutted and jived to throughout the play. Hermes, our MC and guide to the Netherworld, was played with brio by Levi Kreis. (Nancy S. Bishop)
Light Falls—Steep Theatre has staged many plays by English playwright Simon Stephens; Light Falls is his latest. Simons’ script is made up of bits of dialog from single lines to intense exchanges, among pair of characters, suggesting that events are occurring simultaneously. Robin Witt’s choreographic direction enhances this time-warped approach. (Nancy S Bishop)
Chicago Humanities Festival Events
It’s not theater, but most of the Chicago Humanities Festival events that we covered appeared on the Stages page of Third Coast Review. For writer Karin McKie, they were her favorite events of 2022.
The Chicago Humanities Festival offers an annual array of unique events and riveting lectures, interactions with thought leaders and tastemakers, as well as authors, auteurs, and artists. During 2022, the CHF’s “Public”-themed events offered a trio of community bus tours, an interactive way to become better acquainted with some of the Windy City’s 77 neighborhoods.
Bronzeville Tour. Spring brought attendees to tour Bronzeville, under the expert curation of Chicago historian and internet sensation Shermann Dilla Thomas, known as Dilla. Notable stops around the “Black Belt” and the “Stroll” included the uplifting yet somewhat hidden “The Light of Truth” Ida B. Wells memorial at 3729 S. Langley Ave., and the Great Migration statue of a man made of shoe soles at 345 E. Eastgate Place. Dilla explained why Hennessy cognac is a favorite African-American libation, and how acclaimed female writers (in addition to Wells), such as Gwendolyn Brooks and Lorraine Hansberry, used the city and its residents as inspiration for poems and plays. Spend your holiday shopping dollars at the innovative Black retail complex Boxville, because, as Dilla always says, “everything dope comes from Chicago.”
Cooler by the Lake. Michelle Obama’s childhood stomping grounds were explored in September’s “Cooler by the Lake” trolley tour of an adjacent southside African-American neighborhood. Highlights of this sojourn included an explosion of colorful murals by residents throughout the community, the historic Avalon Regal Theater—“the epicenter for Black entertainment in America” (hopefully to be renovated soon)—and Imani’s delicious handmade bean pies, another holiday gift suggestion.
Pilsen Mural Tour. Latinx street art was explored in September as well. Local muralist Sam Kirk led a large group around the 18th Street corridor for the Pilsen Mural Tour. The largely immigrant neighborhood documents faces and issues, and commemorates lives and deaths, on walls and viaducts around the community. The walking tour’s first stop was a line of indigenous profiles on 16th Street, near another row of female elder and ancestor faces. Kirk shared her “Fierce” mural to promote queer inclusion in this area, as well as details about how street artists preserve their art from the elements and from vandalism. When in Pilsen, enjoy the plethora of Mexican dining options too.
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