... also high on the heap / by R. Sheth

December 28, 2008
By Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic

"The Seafarer" (now at Steppenwolf Theatre): John Mahoney, having the time of his life, is joined by those other Steppenwolves -- Francis Guinan, Tom Irwin and Alan Wilder -- for an alcohol and guilt-laced Christmas Eve bash, Irish style, while William L. Petersen, in grand form, plays an undertaker in "Dublin Carol," another Conor McPherson tale. Applause for all these Chicago stage veterans. (Steppenwolf Theatre)

"A Taste of Honey" (Shattered Globe): Shelagh Delaney's rarely revived gem from the British "new wave" era, expertly directed by Jeremy Wechsler, featured the remarkable Helen Sadler and Linda Reiter leading a topnotch cast.

"A Very Merry Unauthorized Scientology Pageant" (now at A Red Orchid Theatre): Ten kids, none older than 14, turn in uncannily wonderful performances in this bristling musical satire about the life and times of L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology. The show was one of the most scathingly funny and beguiling hours I spent in the theater all year.

"Grey Gardens" (closing today at Northlight Theatre) Hollis Resnik and Ann Whitney, both sensational, teamed as one of the more dysfunctional yet fascinating mother-daughter pairs around in the Chicago debut of this Broadway musical theater oddity.

"Million Dollar Quartet" (now at the Apollo Theatre): There's a whole lot of rockin' going on as an upstart Jerry Lee Lewis (a knockout turn by pianist-singer Levi Kreis) meets Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Elvis in this rollicking 90-minute musical about a legendary Memphis recording session.

"The Trip to Bountiful" (Goodman Theatre): Each of the entries in the Horton Foote Festival was memorable, but actress Lois Smith's performance as an old woman determined to revisit her family home was beyond luminous. (Patrick Andrews, a most gifted young actor, lit up the stage in Foote's quasi-autobiographical one-act play "The Actor.")

"Boneyard Prayer" (Redmoon Theatre): Master puppeteer Frank Maugeri and his team created a strange and literally earthy graveyard tale, awash in alcohol, tragedy and regret. Haunting.

"Jacques Brel's Lonesome Losers of the Night" (Theo Ubique): Using Arnold Johnston's finely tooled translations of Brel's lyrics, director Fred Anzevino, musical director Joshua Stephen Kartes and a cast of four actor-singers brought a little touch of Europe to Rogers Park, where the show sold out in a five-month run.

"Not a Game for Boys" (A Red Orchid Theatre): The all-male cast in this British play by Simon Block aced every sweaty scene.

"Four Places" (Victory Gardens Theatre): Joel Drake Johnson's understated drama, about an aging mother and the decisions that must be made by her two middle-aged (and troubled) children, hit close to home for many in the audience, with Mary Ann Thebus in stellar form.

"A Midsummer Night's Dream" (Chicago Shakespeare Theater's World's Stages series): British director Tim Supple gathered an Indian and Sri Lankan cast for this physically and musically exhilarating cross-cultural production that brought Shakespeare's dark comedy into unusually sharp focus. Ajay Kumar was the best Puck ever.

"Juno and the Paycock" (The Artistic Home): With its terrific revival of this Sean O'Casey classic, the Artistic Home tested the boards at its new permanent home in the former Live Bait Theatre space. "A darlin' thing, just darlin'."

"Dolly West's Kitchen" (TimeLine Theatre): Frank McGuinness' look at the tensions in an Irish family during World War II lingered in my mind long after I left the theater, with Kathleen Ruhl's performance a standout.

"Golda's Balcony" (Pegasus Players): In her solo turn as Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, Janet Ulrich Brooks easily outplayed more famous actresses who have tried their hand at the role.

"The Caretaker" (Mary-Arrchie Theatre): Pinter's play about man's inhumanity to man was given a delicious, tragicomic workout.

"Eurydice" (Victory Gardens Theatre): A touch of Beckett pervaded this very deftly performed reimagining of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth by playwright Sarah Ruhl.

"Scenes From the Big Picture" (Seanachai Theatre at the Storefront Theatre): Owen McCafferty's three-hour drama about "the new Ireland" -- all 21 characters and 40 scenes of it -- was superbly cast and impressively orchestrated.

"A Passage to India" (Vitalist Theatre): Director Elizabeth Carlin-Metz brought winning imagination and color to Martin Sherman's stage adaptation of the E.M. Forster novel about colonial India.

"Our Enemies: Lively Scenes of Love and Combat" (Silk Road Theater Project): A sparkling cast nailed the diamond-cut dialogue in Yussef El Guindi's very contemporary play about terrorism, the media, ambition and sex.

"Knute Rockne, All American" (Center Theatre, Munster, Ind.): This new Buddy Farmer-Michael Mahler musical about the legendary football coach has a great deal going for it. A Chicago company should take the ball and run with it.

"Picnic" (Writers' Theatre): Director David Cromer and his cast captured the essence of William Inge, a playwright who plumbed the soul of the Midwest in the mid-20th century. And set designer Jack Magaw's "you are there" tree-shaded houses could easily have been mortgaged.