You don't have to jump through hoops for your fall entertainment. (Vita Radionova performing with Teatro ZinZanni) Credit: Courtesy Teatro ZinZanni

Theaters, comedy clubs, museums, galleries, and other venues are blowing off the COVID-19 shutdown dust and preparing to welcome you back this fall. Many companies are picking up with productions that were cut short in March 2020, while others have world premieres up their sleeves. We suggest calling venues ahead of time or checking their websites to clarify their current COVID protocols and seating arrangements for patrons. 

THEATER (Kerry Reid)

Teatro ZinZanni

“Dinner and a show” used to imply a prime rib buffet and a revival of a classic American musical comedy. But underneath the glittering indoor spiegeltent big top at this circus variety show, it means acrobats, clowns, comedians, dancers, singers, and more. The ZinZanni extravaganza, which started out in the late 90s in Seattle and played in San Francisco for years, had made its Chicago debut the summer before the COVID-19 shutdown, and it was one of the first to reopen this summer. Reader contributor Irene Hsiao noted in her review of the new show: “Impossible distillations of physics, ingenuity, and craft keep bodies hovering between flight and fall—exquisite illustrations of trust in humans and human invention, radiant, perilous, tilting extravagantly on the edge of folly, mastery of this moment.” Open run, Cambria Hotel, zinzanni.com/chicago

The Magic Parlour

If you like your thrills delivered close up, then Dennis Watkins’s long-running magic show at the Palmer House Hilton might be just the ticket. Watkins, like a lot of performers, switched to virtual performances during the shutdown, but he’s back with a breathtaking array of feats involving card tricks, mentalism, and much more. Open run, Palmer House Hilton, themagicparlourchicago.com.

The Infinite Wrench

The Neo-Futurists were among the earliest Chicago companies to switch to online programming. Now they’re ready to welcome visitors back to the friendly confines of their theater, where you can peruse the Hall of Presidents or hang out in the Neo-Futurist State Park before catching their signature show (33 years old and counting!), featuring 30 plays in 60 minutes performed in random order, with an unknown “wrench” in the nightly works making things even more interesting. Reopens Mon 9/20 7:30 PM, then in an open run Sat-Sun, neofuturists.org

Late Nite Catechism

Schools are open again, and so is Sunday school with Sister in another long-running made-in-Chicago favorite. Created by Vicki Quade and Maripat Donovan in 1993, it’s been running in Chicago (along with various Quade-created spin-offs) ever since, except for . . . you know. Since its longtime home at the Royal George is closed, the show has moved over to the Greenhouse Theater Center, with Second City vet Jeena Streege joining the rotating bevy of faux-nuns in this interactive Catholic comedy. Open run, greenhousetheater.org.

American Mariachi

Goodman Theatre planned to produce José Cruz González’s comedy about a 1970s all-femme mariachi band last year. It’s happening now under Henry Godinez’s direction, presented as one of the many shows in the Chicago Latino Theater Alliance’s Destinos festival. Sones de México Ensemble perform live in the production. 9/18-10/24, goodmantheatre.org.

The Tragedy of Othello

Court Theatre welcomes back audiences with Shakespeare’s tragedy, codirected by artistic director Charles Newell and Gabrielle Randle-Bent and with Kelvin Roston Jr. in the title role. For the Delta-hesitant, there will also be a digital version to stream on demand. Seating is limited to 80 patrons per show, spaced in the auditorium or actually onstage. 10/8-11/21, courttheatre.org.

What the Constitution Means to Me

This touring version of Heidi Schreck’s play was also a victim of the COVID shutdown. But it’s back as part of Broadway in Chicago’s season at the Broadway Playhouse, with Cassie Beck taking on the role of “Heidi” in what Reader critic Kelly Kleiman called “a tightly woven narrative masquerading as a casual patchwork of personal reminiscences, civics lessons, and feminist observations.” 10/26-11/21, broadwayinchicago.com.

The Last Pair of Earlies

Raven Theatre opens up with the world premiere of Joshua Allen’s play about Wayland and Della Rose Early, a Black couple from Mississippi who embark on the Great Migration to Chicago and find themselves decades later wondering about the choices they’ve made. Wardell Julius Clark directs. 10/27-12/12, raventheatre.com.

Her Honor Jane Byrne

J. Nicole Brooks’s portrait of the first woman mayor of Chicago and her much-publicized (and much-criticized) sojourn living at Cabrini-Green in 1981 was another COVID casualty, but Lookingglass gives us a second chance to see it. I praised the first production as “a rich, riotous, and soul-searching world premiere” back in March 2020. 11/11-12/19, lookingglasstheatre.org.

A.I.M. by Kyle Abraham reopens the Dance Center of Columbia College with An Untitled Love. Courtesy the Dance Center

DANCE (Irene Hsiao)

A.I.M. by Kyle Abraham, An Untitled Love

The Dance Center of Columbia College reopens its stage to live performance with the world premiere of Kyle Abraham’s evening-length work on self-love and Black love to a mixtape of hits by R&B musician D’Angelo, with a post-performance discussion between Abraham and Princess Mhoon of Chicago Black Dance Legacy Project on opening night. 9/16-9/18, Dance Center Columbia College Chicago, dance.colum.edu.

Moon Festival Chicago

Celebrate unity, harmony, the harvest, and the brightest moon of the year with mooncakes, games, a lantern festival, and cultural performances by Yin He Dance and others in Chinatown Square—free and family friendly. 9/17, moonfestchicago.com.

When Day Comes 

Winifred Haun & Dancers develops a second new work inspired by poet Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb” in When Day Comes, which takes as its subject the incessant pursuit of an impossible ideal. The evening also features WHD classic Bento in new costumes and guest performances by Banks Performance Project. 10/1-10/2, Ruth Page Center for the Arts, winifredhaun.org.

Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival 

Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival resumes for its 11th season with a largely homegrown selection of artists, including return performances by Aerial Dance Chicago, RE|dance group, Joel Hall Dancers, and Giordano II, and HCCDF debuts by Christopher Knowlton and MusicDance En-sem’-ble. 10/8-10/9, in-person at Ruth Page Center for the Arts and livestreamed, hccdf.com.

Inception: ETHOS episode II 

For Indigenous Peoples’ Day, witness an epic free outdoor performance and land acknowledgment at South Shore Cultural Center, replete with wind, water, poetry, dance, and meditative reflection on being and breath by Ayako Kato and collaborators including musicians Michael Zerang and Mabel Kwan. 10/11, South Shore Cultural Center, ayakokatodance.com.

GRASS 

Carrie Hanson, playwright Seth Bockley, and the Seldoms consider the grass on your lawn and the grass in your bong—and how these weeds weave their way into citizenship, morality, environment, and the law—in a premiere performance featuring text, dance, animation, and historical imagery. 10/14-10/16, Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago, theseldoms.org.

OPERA (Deanna Isaacs)

Carmen 

You didn’t think always-innovative Chicago Opera Theater was going to present the Bizet war horse straight up, did you? This semi-staged concert performance of the familiar tragic love story has mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton (who famously waved the rainbow flag while singing “Rule Britannia” at the 2019 British Proms) making her role debut as the femme fatale, and another rock-star mezzo, Stephanie Blythe (in tenor alter-ego), as Carmen’s dumped and dangerous lover, Don Jose. COT music director Lidiya Yankovskaya, who will conduct, says “this will be a very different perspective on an operatic classic.” One intermission; no chorus.  9/16 and 9/18, Harris Theater; cot.org/carmen.

Florencia en el Amazonas  

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s four-opera fall slate includes the first Spanish-language opera to make it into the mainstage season. Mexican composer Daniel Catán and librettist Marcelo Fuentes-Berain were inspired by the magical realism of Gabriel García Márquez when they created this lushly scored tale of a boat making its way down the Amazon with passengers who include a famous singer traveling incognito in search of a long-lost former lover. Directed by Francesca Zambello and conducted by Jordan de Souza, it features Lyric favorite Ana María Martínez as the diva, Florencia; a cast of travelers, each with their own evolving story; and English subtitles. 11/13-11/28, lyricopera.org.       

Maria Bamford performs at the Den in October. Credit: Robyn Von Swank

COMEDY (Kerry Reid)

Den Theatre

The Den, the busy Wicker Park hive of theaters and bars (as opposed to scum and villainy!), is buzzing with comedians this season, including Nick Kroll (9/27-9/28), Cameron Esposito (10/2), Maria Bamford (10/14-10/17), Sam Morril (10/21-10/23), and Jacqueline Novak (11/4-11/7). See complete schedule at thedentheatre.com.

Hitch*Cocktails

Whether you’re being abstemious or not, Annoyance’s long-running improvised mystery show with mandatory booze (for the actors, that is) offers a chance to see characters get killed while the performers get blotto. If you’ve got moral objections to drinking as part of the job description, that’s fair; on the other hand, the times I’ve seen the show, the actors pulled it off without a, well, hitch. It’s one of many offerings at the Belmont Avenue comedy clubhouse, which also kept virtual content chugging along during the shutdown. Open run; check out complete performanc calendar at theannoyance.com.

The Lincoln Lodge

In the optimistic Before Times of early March 2020, the Reader had an entire special issue devoted to comedy. And one of the venues singled out for praise was the Lincoln Lodge; as Reader contributor Meggie Gates described it, “The space is run by comedians in the scene, artists who have taken it upon themselves to create environments that let ‘far-from-the-norm’ comedy thrive.” The joint is hopping again with a wide array of performers (and you can also check out their podcast). See complete schedule at thelincolnlodge.com.

LIT AND LECTURES (Salem Collo-Julin)

Chicago Humanities Festival

Since its inception in 1990 as a one-day symposium held at the Art Institute and Orchestra Hall, the Chicago Humanities Festival (CHF) has delivered annual programming that celebrates ideas, the arts, and the Chicago people who dedicate their lives to making our city a haven for creativity. This year continues the recent tradition of year-round events hosted by CHF, and the fall slate provides some highlights. At the end of September, UIC professor Rachel Havrelock kicks off her Deep Dive: Great Lakes series with “Who Owns the Waters of the Upper Midwest?” It’s a panel discussion about the competing needs of tribal, local, and federal governments as well as private companies (9/25 at Columbia College Chicago). A two-part event in October revisits the Wall of Respect, the iconic mural created in 1967 on the south side that depicted Black leaders in music, literature, politics, and sports. The day starts with a panel discussion led by SAIC professor Romi Crawford and continues with a screening of the documentary BAM!, which focuses on Chicago’s role in the Black Arts Movement (10/2 at Blanc Gallery). See complete schedule at chicagohumanities.org.

Poetry Foundation 

The longtime publisher of Poetry magazine and independent literary organization hosts several events celebrating poets and writers this fall, including an online reading and interactive activity with celebrated writer Marilyn Nelson (9/25, in honor of Young People’s Poetry Day); “Strangers in a Strange Land,” a series of concerts and performances arranged by the Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago that explore themes of immigration (10/7-10/9); and the 2021 Pegasus Awards ceremony, an annual which celebrates the accomplishments of several writers and critics and culminates in the awarding of the foundation’s Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize (10/21). The celebration is scheduled as a virtual event this year, hosted on the foundation’s website. See complete schedule at poetryfoundation.org/events.