Top Ten Picks of the Season / by R. Sheth

January 7, 2007
By Chris Jones
Tribune Theater Critic

Winter '07 Preview: Theater

From the Chicago premiere of the widely acclaimed David Lindsay-Abaire play Rabbit Hole to Frank Galati's exploration of the Oedipus Complex to Tina Landau's much-awaited revival of The Diary of Anne Frank, the first part of this year bristles with high-profile projects at Chicago theaters. Here are 10 shows that seem to merit staking out an immediate spot on your calendar. Be aware, though, that this is merely a taste of what's to come:

- Radio Golf, Goodman Theatre

The Goodman Theatre has produced all of the plays in August Wilson's astonishing cycle depicting the African-American experience in each decade of the 20th Century. The playwright -- a lover and supporter of theater in Chicago -- always came with them. And stayed for weeks. The latest -- and last -- Wilson play arrives, sadly, without its late author. It won't be the same. But this pre-Broadway engagement feels all the more essential.

- Doubt, LaSalle Bank Theatre

Broadway plays rarely tour, especially with their original star. But Cherry Jones, a perfectionist actor known for her total immersion in a role, is coming to town with John Patrick Shanley's superb, Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about abuse and complication in a Catholic school in the early 1960s. Even theater lovers who typically eschew touring musicals are going to want to head to the Loop for this one. The tour is a close duplication of the remarkable Broadway production.

- The Color Purple, Cadillac Palace Theatre

The full title is Oprah Winfrey presents `The Color Purple,' which helps explain the massive demand for tickets as Chicago hosts the kickoff of the first national tour of the Broadway musical version of the beloved Alice Walker novel. Far and away the biggest theatrical event of the spring, The Color Purple will be in Chicago for at least 26 weeks and maybe far beyond. Original star Felicia P. Fields comes home with a show that will be attracting busloads from across the Midwest.

- Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? LaSalle Bank Theatre

This Broadway revival featured fantastic performances from the unlikely but inspired duo of Kathleen Turner and Bill Irwin, both of whom are coming to Chicago with the touring version of Edward Albee's classic tale of an endlessly droll and cruel married couple's booze-soaked self-destruction. The run is short, but the night is long.

- Execution of Justice, About Face Theatre at Victory Gardens Greenhouse

The fine playwright Emily Mann is revising her much-admired docudrama about the assassination of Harvey Milk in the San Francisco of 1978 (the piece draws from trial transcripts and other material from the tumultuous era). And About Face Theatre also has secured the services of Gary Griffin -- the Chicago director behind The Color Purple. Now that nearly 30 years have passed, this high-profile show likely will take on a whole new hue -- and it's one that Chicago will see first.

- Lady, Northlight Theatre

Playwright Craig Wright wrote many of the episodes of the HBO drama Six Feet Under, as well as the powerful play Grace, which Northlight premiered last year. Wright's newest effort for Northlight involves hunting, Southern Illinois and the war in Iraq, and continues Wright's interest in the dramatic collision of red and blue America .

- Uncle Vanya, Court Theatre at the Museum of Contemporary Art

Charles Newell has an impressive track record for revisionist productions of classic theatrical works. And actor Kevin Gudahl -- whose work has deepened greatly in the last year or so -- seems ready to essay a role such as Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya. North Siders won't need to travel to Hyde Park because this production continues Court's savvy strategy of doing at least one show a year away from its home base.

- The Golden Child, Silk Road Theater Project

Specializing in works by playwrights of Asian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean backgrounds, Silk Road has grown exponentially over the last couple of seasons -- this little non-profit troupe has a beautiful new space in the basement of the Chicago Temple in the heart of Chicago's Loop. It has also snagged the rights to the Midwest premiere of this widely admired drama by David Henry Hwang about the conflict between Midwestern modernity and Eastern traditionalism that roiled China in the early 1900s.

- Betrayal, Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Given their prodigious intellects and complex personalities, Amy Morton and Tracy Letts -- the Hepburn and Tracy of Chicago theater -- should be in sync with Harold Pinter's lean and mean dissection of a relationship in destruction. Rick Snyder's new production for the Steppenwolf Theatre should deliver some cynical sizzle.

- Oklahoma! American Theater Company

Damen Keily has come up with the notion that Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma!, typically performed in epic fashion, will work just fine as a revisionist chamber piece that emphasizes the guts and sexual tensions of life in the territories. It's surely the most ambitious production in the bold American Theater Company's history.

Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune