Thodos Dance Company in A Light in the Dark Credit: Todd Rosenberg

A Light in the Dark: The Story of Helen Keller & Anne Sullivan As with last year’s vibrant Snowflake, Chicago Children’s Theatre shows that speech isn’t the only language to tell a tale in its latest, a coproduction with Thodos Dance Chicago that recounts the story of Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan. The work opens with Anne, haunted by the early loss of her brother, and shows how this gave rise to her passion for teaching. Eventually she’s hired by the Keller family as a tutor for blind, deaf, and mute Helen. Fittingly, few words are spoken on stage; Helen’s dances move from spastic to elegant, revealing her awakening. As the story progresses her movements become more controlled—but also more joyful, her wildness now channeled and contained. The final moments reveal the process has been spiritually transformative for both student and teacher.
—Suzanne Scanlon

The New Colony’s MergeCredit: Evan Hanover

Merge Atari’s rise and fall is one of the iconic cautionary tales of the computer era. Founded in 1972, the company built the video game industry on such mesmeric amusements as Pong, Pac-Man, Asteroids, and Centipede—growing exponentially before imploding in the early 80s. Spenser Davis’s new play tells the tale in formidable, often fascinating detail, from primitive antecedents through creative thefts, fateful buyouts, and clueless managers to the arrival of Nintendo in 1985. It’s necessarily chaotic material, given the convulsive events and eccentric personalities involved. But chaos sometimes gets the better of Andrew Hobgood’s 100-minute staging for the New Colony. Pacing the show itself as if it were a Pac-Man game is only amusing until it starts to warp the narrative and stunt characters. Still, Wes Needham, Lindsey Pearlman, and Omer Abbas Salem manage to stay vivid throughout. —Tony Adler

Remy Bumppo’s Pirandello’s Henry IVCredit: Johnny Knight

Pirandello’s Henry IV Tom Stoppard and Luigi Pirandello are theatrical brothers from different mothers, fascinated with the ways in which roles create identity, narrative makes destiny. So it was probably inevitable that the Czech-born Englishman behind Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (Stoppard) would translate the Italian best remembered for Six Characters in Search of an Author (Pirandello), choosing this 1922 work about a modern-day aristocrat whose fall from a horse leaves him with the delusion that he’s an 11th-century German king. The script is chock-full of intellectual and dramatic twists, but Nick Sandys’s staging for Remy Bumppo Theatre looks too stiff to handle them at first. You’ve got to wait awhile, until Mark L. Montgomery enters as the boggled blue blood, for any real excitement to kick in. Alternately woolly and cunning, arrogant, amused, tortured, and pissed, Montgomery’s Henry saves an otherwise unsatisfying show. —Tony Adler

Genesis Theatricals’ Thicker Than WaterCredit: Ronn Sparks

Thicker Than Water The weaknesses in Douglas Parker’s lyrical recounting of Andrea Yates’s 2001 bathtub drowning of her five children are manifest. Characters haphazardly alternate between embodying and narrating their scenes, the devil skulks about without purpose, and everyone, from coroners to reporters to police detectives, is equally inclined to wax poetic. But its great strength is equally apparent, namely its meticulous humanizing of the woman who murdered her children to save them from hell and to bring the death penalty upon herself for being a terrible mother. Similarly, Genesis Theatricals’ production, under first-time director Patrick Murphy, has its obvious flaws (lots of traffic flow problems, for starters), but its simple, straightforward approach lets nothing obscure its central horror. Melissa Nelson’s near catatonic turn as Yates is gripping. —Justin Hayford

Chicago Shakespeare’s Undreamed Shores, at Navy PierCredit: Charles Osgood Photography

Undreamed Shores Undreamed Shores is an elaborate audio tour of Navy Pier assembled by Chicago Shakespeare Theater in partnership with Richard Jordan Productions. The theme is “water,” its mystery and majesty. It ends up being part scavenger hunt, part guided meditation, as lines of Shakespearean dialogue filter through ambient soundscapes and an ensemble of male and female voices urges you to commit yourself to the unusual, experimental journey. Sometimes it feels revelatory, as when you’re asked to lie down and look up at various fixtures of the carnivalesque pier, seeing them from new perspectives; sometimes it feels like walking around Navy Pier, and through traffic (“Watch for cars!” say the voices), with headphones on. The Shakespeare, devoid of context and heavily adapted, is incidental; the real depth is in the adventure itself, which takes you through some pretty extraordinary stuff, including a stained glass museum. Tours take about 70 minutes; wear comfortable walking shoes. —Max Maller