This year in Chicago Theatre has been tumultuous yet full of so much growth. 2018 saw communities coming together like never before, with the Latinx Theatre Commons‘ Carnaval of New Latinx Works and the Alliance of Latinx Theatre Artists’ Awards.
We said goodbye to American Theatre Company, under the brief yet highly significant Will Davis’ leadership. His work pushing the boundaries of gender and casting still reverberates throughout this city. New leadership has arisen in the form of Andrew Cutler, Amanda Fink, and Eric Gerard, at Black Box Acting Company as they take over the mantle from Audrey Francis and Laura Hooper.
In the midst of all this change, amazing theatre was made and Rescripted was invited to see some incredible things this year. Our list is based both on works that gripped our writers, as well as pieces we thought pushed the paradigm forward. We don’t believe in ranking shows, and so we present our Rescripted Recognized, in chronological order from most recent.
Rescripted Recognized: La Ruta at Steppenwolf Theatre
A world premiere play from Isaac Gomez directed by Steppenwolf Ensemble member Sandra Marquez, La Ruta is a heart-wrenching story dedicated to the women who have disappeared along the road in Juarez, Mexico. Featuring an entirely Latinx cast and a prominently Latinx design team, La Ruta is a significant stride for the theatre community. Read what Hannah Herrera Greenspan thought of it here.
Rescripted Recognized: In the Canyon at Jackalope Theatre
Calamity West’s In the Canyon directed by Elly Green was a sharply directed warning shot for the future. At a time when politics feel black and white, West pulled no punches in the starkly rendered world of In the Canyon. Pair that with excellent ensemble performances, and you’ve got a tour-de-force of drama. “Calamity West has written a play set in a near future so plausible it feels as though we’re already, inescapably, locked into it.” – Hallie Palladino. Read the rest of Palladino’s review here.
Rescripted Recognized: Flyin’ West at American Blues Theater
Flyin’ West by Pearl Cleage at American Blues Theatre was full of flying dialogue, steaming side-eye, and a whole lot of Black Excellence. The women took the forefront here, with recently departed Chicago actor Tiffany Oglesby as the shotgun toting Sophie (good luck in L.A.!). Wardell Julius Clark’s dramatic stage death had the audience hollering as he got his just desserts, Sydney Charles was captivating as an ingenue in love, and Joslyn Jones brought tears to our eyes in an emotional monologue.
“Director Chuck Smith has an excellent eye for cultivating setting, allowing it to bring just as much character as the extraordinarily compelling ensemble, to marvelously rich effect. At its core Flyin’ West is an expansively glorious tale of bravery, freedom, and sisterhood guaranteed to set your soul free.” – Sheri Flanders. Check out what else she had to say about Flyin’ West here.
Rescripted Recognized: No Child at Definition Theatre Company
No Child by Nilaja Sun and directed by Chika Ike was about the effects of its namesake, No Child Left Behind, and other oppressive educational practices. Featuring many emerging Chicago stars, this educational dramedy about a teaching artist with stars in her eyes touched our hearts.
“No Child is an inspiring, thoughtful, and fun show put on by one of Chicago’s brightest emerging companies. I commend Definition for working with so many Black directors in their seasons, both emerging and established.” – Read the rest of Regina Victor’s review here.
Rescripted Recognized: Tilikum at Sideshow Theatre Company
Tilikum became a cultural moment this summer, when this Chicago Tribune review infamously claimed the play was about whales. This could not be further from the truth.
Kristiana Rae Colón’s world premiere with Sideshow Theatre company was actually a clever allegory about the prison industrial complex and its effect on Black men. Directed by Lili-Anne Brown, it featured poetry and femme drummers that created their own language via projections, a visual risk that paid off. Read Emma Couling’s Review of Tilikum here.
Rescripted Recognized: Hamlet at The Gift Theatre
Hamlet at the Gift Theatre was helmed by Monty Cole, starring emerging stars like Daniel Kyri and Netta Walker as well as audience favorites like Robert Cornelius and Shanesia Davis. Cole pulled no punches with this Hamlet, presenting his version of the Bard’s text with costuming that at times looked inspired by Beyonce, and choices that called to mind the streets of Chicago.
“A highlight of the play was when Hamlet silently spray painted on the cream wall of his home the words of Audre Lorde in neon pink: “Your silence will not protect you.” With this choice Cole created a wormhole through time and space, connecting Shakespeare to Audre Lorde’s resistance against white supremacy and homophobia through her literary and political work, to today when so many of us rely on Lorde’s words for solace and encouragement as we fight against oppressive systems.” – Tanuja Jagernauth, read the rest of her review here.
Rescripted Recognized: The Displaced at Haven Theatre
The second Gomez world premiere on our list and the second featuring Karen Rodriguez (paired here in a steamy couple with the doe-eyed ingenue Rashaad Hall), this dream team could do no wrong in 2018. “Rifts, secrets, and jump scares are abound in Gomez’s captivating psychological thriller. Halfway through watching it I put my notebook down and clutched the person I’d brought with me, because Karen Rodriguez had possessed my soul. The performances of both actors and the high stakes of the play demand the audience’s attention.” – Read Regina Victor’s review of The Displaced here.
Rescripted Recognized: The Light Fantastic at Jackalope Theatre
“The Light Fantastic combines Ike Holter’s brilliantly funny writing with formidable production design that makes the play, directed by Gus Menary, work on several levels. It’s a deliciously spooky thriller with a reverse Faustian twist. It’s an endearing romantic comedy. It a clever send-up of horror genre tropes (I likely missed five references for every one that I caught). And it offers up a refreshingly empowering narrative that hinges on female agency as opposed to the female helplessness the genre has long relied upon.” – Read Hallie Palladino’s take on The Light Fantastic.
Rescripted Recognized: To Catch a Fish at Timeline Theatre
Brett Neveu’s world premiere To Catch a Fish directed by Ron OJ Parson contained one of the most tender standout performances of the year, Geno Walker as Terry Kilbourn. Based on a true story, Neveu’s documentary piece was a visually stunning accomplishment in Timeline’s space designed by Regina Garcia. Visually ambitious, To Catch a Fish was irrefutable proof that Parson can give new plays a unique flavor as well as he can the classics.
“The play’s subject of entrapment is echoed in Parson’s taut staging and he maintains an atmosphere of suspense throughout. Terry is often at the center of the action with other character’s circling, encroaching on his physical space. From the beginning there’s a palpable sense of danger as the two menacing white ATF officers mock and manipulate Terry.” – Read more of Hallie Palladino’s review of To Catch a Fish here.
Rescripted Recognized: We’re Gonna Be Okay at American Theatre Company
We’re Gonna Be Okay by Basil Kreimendahl directed by Will Davis at American Theatre Company was their final show before an unexpected closing. Folks in community were aware that Davis and Managing Director Katie Klemme had inherited an unstable financial picture, but what they did with the resources they had cannot be denied.
“We’re Gonna Be Okay at American Theater Company by Basil Kreimendahl directed by Will Davis perfectly captures what it feels like to be living in the midst of a crisis. In our current political climate, no matter which side of the debate you find yourself on, there is an undeniable sense of panic as we try to hold on to a life that feels like it’s trying to run away from us. America, a land of unlimited possibility, and paralyzing fear. In Will Davis’ production, that fear is palpable, but it is also accompanied by laughter, love, and hope.” – Read the rest of Regina Victor’s Review here.
Rescripted Recognized: The Light at The New Colony Theatre
The Light written by Loy Webb and directed by Toma Langston was an enthralling Black love story and two-hander acted by Tiffany Oglesby and Jeffery Owen Freelong Jr. It was also an undisputed hit that was remounted at Theatre on the Lake, and will receive its off-Broadway debut in New York at the MCC Theater this January. The Light was also the last show produced by former Artistic Directors and Co-Founders Evan Linder and Andrew Hobgood, with Stephanie Shum and Fin Coe now taking the helm.
“In one of the most dramatically effective moments of Loy Webb’s, The Light, Genesis (Tiffany Oglesby) describes to her fiancé, Rashad (Jeffery Owen Freelon Jr.), how black women have been socialized to believe they have just two options in the wake of trauma: be strong or fall apart. In response, Rashad suggests he can carry some of that burden and offers his love as “option three.” With this Webb embarks on illuminating not only a series of important emotional truths but also some serious political ones. But, as the play’s title would suggest, for all its weighty content, at its heart this play is an uplifting character driven romance.” – Read the rest of Hallie Palladino’s review here.
This list is far from complete. There are so many shows we loved that are not on this list, and so many shows you loved that we may have missed. If there’s something you want to lift up and recognize from 2018, @ us on social media, or write about it in the comments. Happy New Year, and here’s to another great year of making theatre in Chicago!