Chicago theater mid-season preview, Part 3: Steppenwolf, Lookingglass, Chicago Shakes
Preview: Steppenwolf relocates Ibsen’s missing housewife Nora. Lookingglass mulls God. Chicago Shakespeare asks: To be, or not?
By Lawrence B. Johnson
You will recall that that Nora, the unhappy wife in Ibsen’s play “A Doll’s House,” split. Well, Nora is back, in Lucas Hnath’s “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” which launches the winter-spring portion of the season at Steppenwolf Theatre. Meanwhile, a really unexpected dinner guest shows up in Kareen Bandealy’s new play “Act(s) of God” at Lookingglass, and Chicago Shakespeare revisits that unhappiest of princes – ever perched on the existential fence between being and nothingness.
Here’s a fast look at what’s ahead at Steppenwolf, Lookingglass and Chicago Shakes, the final installment in our three-part take on a mid-winter that’s not so bleak beneath the city’s theater marquees.
- “A Doll’s House, Part 2” by Lucas Hnath (Feb. 10-March 17): A young 19th-century wife and mother reappears after a fifteen year escape from traditional society’s constraints…with an incredibly awkward favor to ask the same family that she abandoned. “I love this play,” says artistic director Anna D. Shapiro. “You needn’t have seen (Ibsen’s) ‘A Doll’s House’ or even know what it was about. Lucas takes a classic idea and infuses it with the challenges of growing up in a contemporary world of feminism and individuality. It’s incredibly touching and a beautiful examination of marriage.”
“The Children” by Lucy Kirkwood (April 18-June 9): In an isolated seaside cottage in the East of England, two retired nuclear scientists are startled by a visit from a former colleague, who proposes a chilling and dangerous plan.
- “Ms. Blakk for President” by Tina Landau and Tarell Alvin McCraney (May 23-July 14): Joan Jeff Blakk is America’s first black drag queen presidential candidate. It’s Chicago 1992 and, with the AIDS crisis at its height, Joan and the newly formed Queer Nation Chicago have big goals in mind. Joan sets off on an exhilarating and dangerous journey to drag queer politics out of the closet and into a future where everyone has a place at the table.
- “True West” by Sam Shepard (July 5-Aug. 25): This American classic traces the sometimes violent and always volatile relationship of Austin and Lee, estranged brothers who find themselves trapped together in their mother’s empty house with not much more than a typewriter and a set of golf clubs. In its first Steppenwolf revival since 1982, the company re-imagines Shepard’s masterpiece through the eyes of a new generation of Steppenwolf artists, with a little help from those who came before. “Sam Shepard wrote about being American, and the growing urban American culture of his time,” says Shapiro. “‘True West’ is about how ambitious aspirations can be pretty destructive to the soul. When all you care about is being successful, you tend to forget about what is more important, what is eternal.”
- “Act(s) of God” by Kareem Bandealy (Feb. 13-April 7): As a family gathers for an overdue dinner, a mysterious envelope arrives with astonishing news. They soon find themselves scrambling to welcome a visitor of cosmic proportion. Absurdity reigns as ancient fissures open wide, long-held certainties crumble, and life gets real. Will this nuclear family explode? “This is an existential dark comedy of cosmic proportions,” says artistic director Heidi Stillman, “and it’s very funny. It’s about a family’s relationship to religion and God. Does God exist? Is this mysterious stranger who has come to dinner really God?”
- “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” adapted by David Catlin (May 8-Aug. 4): An eerie evening of ghost stories crackles to life as Mary Shelley unspools her tale of Victor Frankenstein and his unholy experiment. This gothic tale of love, horror, and the power to create life – and destroy it – awakens in this visceral, original retelling of “Frankenstein.” “Mary Shelley’s book is 200 years old,” notes Stillman, “and in this adaptation historical people in the room like the 19-year-old Mary, Lord Byron and Percy Shelley move in and out of the Frankenstein story. It’s a very physical production, and the double layering makes its super engaging.”
Chicago Shakespeare Theater
- “An Inspector Calls” by J.B. Priestley (Feb. 19-March 10): A peaceful dinner party at the prosperous Birling home is shattered when an inspector arrives to investigate a young woman’s death. Revelations shake the foundations of the family’s lives, prompting an examination of their consciences –and ours. “When I saw this production in London, I was overwhelmed by the sheer artistry,” says CST artist director Barbara Gaines. “It’s a chestnut of a play, a classic thriller, that’s incredibly relevant to our own time, everything the world is going through right now. You’re left holding your breath.”
“Hamlet” by William Shakespeare (April 17-June 9): Raúl Esparza, Law and Order: SVU alum, takes on the iconic title role in a production staged by artistic director Barbara Gaines, who returns to “Hamlet” for the first time in more than 20 years. Reeling from grief over the death of his father and dismayed by the sudden marriage of his mother to his uncle, the Prince of Denmark struggles with vengeance amid a roiling sea of betrayal and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to. “I directed it in ’95, but it’s such a different play for me now,” says Gaines, who again will direct. “The first time around, I wanted to do the whole big thing – politics, families, the universe itself. Now it’s more personal, more intimate. What happens to you when your dad has just died, and you see your mother making love to your uncle?”
- “Six,” a musical by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss (May 14-June 30): Divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived. The six wives of King Henry VIII join forces for a musical celebration of empowerment – shining a spotlight on women who are much more than the history books might lead us to believe. The all-woman cast, backed by an all-woman band known as the Ladies in Waiting, traverses the spectrum of modern-day pop. The queens take the mic to reclaim their identities out of the shadow of their infamous spouse, remixing 500 years of historical heartbreak into an exuberant celebration of 21st-century girl power.
- Mid-season preview, Part 1: What’s in store at Goodman, Northlight, Steep: Read it here
- Mid-season preview, Part 2: Ahead at Porchlight, American Blues, Raven: Read it here
Tags: Anna D. Shapiro, Barbara Gaines, David Catlin, Heidi Stillman, J.B. Priestley, Kareem Bandealy, Lucas Hnath, Lucy Kirkwood, Lucy Moss, Sam Shepard, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Tina Landau, Toby Marlow, William Shakespeare