Top Plays of 2013

chicagocritic's top plays of 2013
Top Plays of 2013

Tom Williams’ Picks for 2013:

1. Once

Based on the film written & directed by John Carney

Book by Enda Walsh

Music & Lyrics by Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova

Directed by John Tiffany

Movement by Steven Hoggett

Music Supervision by Martin Lowe

Produced by Broadway In Chicago

At the Oriental Theatre, Chicago

Sweet, charming and totally romantic pop/folk music tugs at the heart.

Once is a love story that tells the story of an Irish musician – Guy (Stuart Ward fresh off the London production of Once)  and a Czech Girl -(Dani de Waal) who are drawn together by their  love of music. Guy is a street musician who plays melancholy folk styled tunes on his guitar. He laments the heartbreaking loss of his girlfriend who left him for New York.  He mopes around Dublin with only his vacuum repair work in his Da’s shop to keep him busy. His angst has him inert until Girl rescues him as an unexpected friendship and musical creative collaboration evolves into a strong and complicated romance. The music contains the raw emotions of the two as well as their fellow band members who are a compilation of local Dublin friends, relatives and pub associates.

2. An Iliad

iliad logo
An Iliad

Based on Homer’s The Iliad

Translated by Robert Fagles

Directed by Charles Newell

At Court Theatre, Chicago

A remount  once again is a fabulous turn by Timothy Edward Kane that gives passion to Homer’s saga

Tim Kane’s remount of his Jeff  Award wining performance from 2011 reopened tonight. It was even more riveting than the original.  Everything i said in my 2011 review still was evident tonight. Below is what I said in 2011:

“One of the many remarkable things about Timothy Edward Kane’s riveting performance of Homer’s The Iliad is his nimble ability to both reach the depths of despair and the jubilation as the Poet who tells the story of the mythical ten-year Trojan War. Kane’s performance is a major theatrical triumph as he glides through 90 minutes of verbal dexterity that includes speaking in classical Greek, delivering Homer’s lines (translated by Robert Fagles), and adding modern references as extemporized comments to give contemporary relevance to the epic poem.

3. The Land of Smiles


An operetta in three acts

Music by Franz Lehar

Based on the story by Viktor Leon

Libretto by Ludwig Herzer & Fritz Lohner-Beda

English Translation by Hersh Glagov & Gerald Frantzen

Produced by Chicago Folks Operetta

At Stage 773, Chicago

“I’m not singing operetta – I’m singing Lehar! -tenor Richard Tauber

Major artistic achievement unfolds with an English translation of Franz Lehar’s popular The Land of Smiles

Chicago Folks Operetts’s new English translation (from German) of The Land of Smiles marks the first production of Smiles in Chicago in 25 years. This is a landmark production; an exquisite artistic achievement; and a beautifully sounded and sung operetta. Each artistic element contributes to a wonderful, lavish and lovable theatrical experience. From the 20 piece orchestra conducted by Kim Diehnelt to the wonderful set designed by Ian Zywica to the fabulous video projections by Liviu Pasare with terrific rear-screen images and personal silhouettes to the vivid and unique costume designs by Kate Kamphausen- all thses elements contributed to make The Land of Smiles an artistic splendor seldom seen on a Chicago stage!

4. Oklahoma


Music by Richard Rodgers

Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II

Based on Green Grow the Lilacs by Lynn Riggs

Directed by Gary Griffin

Conductor James Lowe

Choreographed by Gemze De Lappe in Agnes De Mille’s style

At the Civic Opera House, Chicago

Lush, lavish, and down-home Oklahoma! still resonates as an ode to America

It is so refreshing to see and hear Oklahoma! being done completely similar to the 1943 original. All the songs, all the respires, all the underscoring from Robert Russell Bennett’s original orchestrations are used as conductor James Lowe has  37 musicians in the pit to give Richard Rodgers’ score its due. The complete Oklahoma! is three hours and fifteen glorious minutes as we become immersed in world of early 20th Century America.

Get to the Civic Opera house to experience the original Oklahoma! in all its glory, all its down-home charm, and all its artistic acumen. You’ll either discover or re-discover the genius of Rodgers & Hammerstein as they changed the landscape of Broadway musicals forever with Oklahoma!

5. Burning Bluebeard


Based on Chicago’s 1903 Iroquois Theatre Fire

Written  by Jay Torrence

Directed by Halena Kays

Produced by The Ruffians

At Theater Wit, Chicago

Fantastic avant-garde show as fine alternative to all the holiday shows

Burning Bluebeard is inspired by the true story of the 1903 Iroquois Theatre fire that in 15 minutes killed over 600 audience member and one cast member. This fantastical tale finds six singed clown performers at the burnt remains of the theatre (set design by Dan Broberg). They are attempting to perform their spectacular Christmas Pantomine once and for all. They hope to reach the happy ending of their second act that wasn’t possible due to the fire.

This is a marvelous theatrical event. It combines theatricality with historical storytelling. It demonstrates how a tragic event can haunt the survivors. The brilliance of the acting and the creativity of playwright Jay Torrence and the spectacular staging by director Halena Kays makes Burning Bluebeard a landmark event! I can’t thing of a more impressive show currently running. Best get your tickets soon because many of the performances are sold out. We can hope this show gets legs.

6. A Raisin in the Sun


By Lorraine Hansberry

Directed by Ron OJ Parson

At Timeline Theatre, Chicago

Lorriane Hansberry’s 1959 classic drama still resonates today

Written about a Chicago family trapped in a two-bedroom apartment on the South Side of Chicago, A Raisin in the Sun is one of the finest plays of the 20th Century (it is Number 9 on my list).  Based loosely on Hansberry’s own family experience integrating a white Chicago neighborhood, A Raisin in the Sun follows the events of the Younger family as they struggle to get their part of the American dream. This family believes that a better life is just around the corner.

A Raisin in the Sun is a testimony to the strength of family, the role of faith and courage as personal integrity triumphs as we see a man emerge with a moral compass to do right by himself and his family. The characters created by Hansberry are memorable and quite real.The passionate direction by Ron OJ Parson with the terrific dedicated performances by all the characters, particularly by Greta Oglesby (Mama) and Jerod Haynes as Walter speak to the humanity and spirit of the struggling African-American families in the1950′s.

7. The Seafarer


By Conor McPherson

Directed by Matt Miller

Produced by Seanachai Theatre Company

At The Den, Chicago

“He knows not
Who lives most easily on land, how I
Have spent my winter on the ice-cold sea
Wretched and anxious, in the paths of exile
Lacking dear friends, hung round by icicles
While hail flew past in showers…”

 From the medieval poem The Seafarer translated by Richard Hamer

 Dark humor fuels McPherson holiday allegory

 For an alternative to all those family-friendly holiday shows, try The Seafarer.  It’ll give you reasons to go on the wagon for the duration of the holidays! McPherson’s The Seafarer is another of his cathartic plays that allow him to purge his personal battle against alcoholism. (He is now dry for more than 10 years!) He paints contemporary Irish life wherein many men use the act of drinking as a male bonding ritual and a means of companionship. Heavy drinking is a reality escape and a self-loathing act of loneliness and isolation. McPherson inherits the theme from other Irish playwright such as Sean O’Casey, Brendan Behan, Eugene O’Neill, Brian Friel, and Martin McDonagh—all of which place drinking as an act of hopelessly desperate and shameful souls. With The Seafarer, Conor McPherson establishes himself among the elite of living playwrights. This is an outstanding play filled with dark humor and loads of pathos.

8. The Pianist of Willesden Lane


Adapted & Directed by Hershey Felder

Staring Mona Golabek

At the Royal George Theatre, Chicago

Elegant blend of storytelling and music is an emotional triumph!

Concert pianist and radio show host Mona Golabek co-wrote the book “The Children of Willesden Lane,” about her concert pianist mother’s journey from 1938 Vienna to England on the Kindertransport (the train that saved thousands of Jewish children). Miss Golabek is an accomplished pianist having learned from her mother who herself was inspired by her mother in Austria.

She teamed up with Hershey Felder who adapted and direct Mona Golabek’s one woman show, The Pianist of Willesden Lane, that utilizes Felder’s combination of storytelling with piano music. In this case, the story told by Golabek is the true story of her mother’s flight from Austria to England and eventually to the USA. We see the  effects of the antisemitic policies from the Nazis on the Jewish  residents of Vienna. Fourteen year old Lisa Jura, a youthful keyboard virtuoso, is selected by her family to leave Vienna to England. Miss Golabek calmly and most effectively tells her mother’s story while thrilling us with her piano skills as she plays selections from Bach to Beethoven to Debussy to Chopin.

9. The Old Man and the Old Moon


By Pigpen Theatre Co.

Directed by Stuart Carden & Pigpen Theatre Co.

At Writers Theatre, Glencoe

Storytelling reaches new heights with expert use of indie-folk music,  shadow puppetry and charming characters

College professors need to be aware of what they say to their students as when Stuart Carden challenged seven freshman students at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh to unleash their creative bounds. Alex Falberg, Ben Ferguson, Curtis Gillen, Ryan Melia, Matt Nuernberger, Arya Shahi, and Dan Weschler instantly began creating  dramatic shows with no limits. They blend resonant storytelling with spirited original indie-folk music (all play at least one instrument) with inventive use of shadow puppetry as well as using ordinary objects as puppets. These guy almost redefine ensemble creativity as all seven are equally involved in the writing and staging of all their works.  While still in college, these seven formed Pigpen Theatre Co. that did a variety of creative endeavors including live shows, music concerts and recordings, film projects, even a children’s book. All their projects are devised collectively as no individual receives writing, composing or directing credits. They start with what story they want to tell, then they figure out how to best tell that story. the results can be magical.

10. The Normal Heart


By Larry Kramer

Directed by Nick Bowling

Produced by TimeLine Theatre

At Stage 773, Chicago

“A very strange thing has happened in the post-AIDS generation.

I don’t know what to call them; it’s not really post-AIDS,

but let’s call them the healthier, younger ones. They don’t want to know.

They don’t want to know the old people; they don’t want to know

the history; they don’t want to acknowledge

that the people who died were even part of their history. I talk about this a lot.

How can you dare to ignore everything that happened? These people died so

that you could live. Those drugs are out there because people died for them.

[It’s] shocking what’s going on now in the gay population. I have lost a great

deal of pride in being gay..”
Larry Kramer, in an interview with PBS’ Frontline

Riveting and emotionally powerful look at the start of the AIDS plague

TimeLine Theatre presents Larry Kramer’s 1985 drama, The Normal Heart, that was both a call to action and a vivid personalized look at the devastating effects of an unknown plague surfaced mostly in the gay community in the 1980′s. We meet gay men dying quickly from a plague that seems to be only affecting them. A dedicated and outspoken doctor, Dr. Emma Brookner (Mary Beth Fisher in a riveting performance) pleads with influential gay men to get the word out to abstain from having sex until scientists find the cause of the plague that causes the immune system in an infected body to shut down. Ned Weeks (David Cromer), playwright Larry Kramer’s alter ego) is the abrasive, confrontational, combative writer turned activist who leads the fight to awaken the world to the crisis. He battles an deferential local and federal government as well as a gay community who isn’t about to change their sexual habits.

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