Victory Gardens' Roz and Ray Credit: Liz Lauren

Beth in July Every now and then, when reality starts to crumble, a totem can come in handy as a tether to the earth. Jim and Beth, our fucked-up romantic leads, cling desperately to theirs: Jim (Antonio Brunetti) can see only with his trusty eye patch; Beth (Lauren Demerath) needs the reassuring press of an X-Acto knife against her stomach. Playwright R.J. Tsarov’s new play explores what happens when such measures aren’t enough to keep a fraying world intact—Brunetti’s performance in particular expands into something unstable. Warning: the actors don’t shy from self-mutilation.
—Isabel Ochoa Gold

Crazy for You, at Drury Lane OakbrookCredit: Brett Beiner

Crazy for You This radical update of George and Ira Gershwin’s 1930 hit musical Girl Crazy, a Tony Award winner back in 1992, is the Broadway equivalent of Chicken McNuggets. If you have a taste for Gershwin and can’t find anything better, it will do. The music is great, and it gives the cast many opportunities for extended dance sequences (nicely choreographed in this revival by Matt Crowle, who also directs), but Ken Ludwig’s book lets us down at every turn, numbing us with ancient jokes, stock characters, and formulaic plot twists. The show is peppered with strong performances—Clyde Alves is a lot of fun as the main character, a poor little rich boy determined to be a Broadway star—but one leaves the show wishing for the real thing. —Jack Helbig

Massenet’s Don Quichotte, at Lyric OperaCredit: Todd Rosenberg Photography

Don Quichotte It’s already a cliche to relate a classic piece of theater to the election of Donald Trump. So I won’t belabor the fact that Jules Massenet’s 1910 opera Don Quichotte, with its Cervantes-inspired story of the pursuit of a lost ideal, is especially resonant now. Instead, let’s move right on to say that this ravishing production, on loan from the San Diego Opera (with perfect lighting by Lyric’s Chris Maravich), looks like an Old Masters painting come to life; that bass Ferruccio Furlanetto totally inhabits the title role of the divinely foolish old knight; that he’s well served by baritone Nicola Alaimo as faithful sidekick and foil, Sancho; and that mezzo-soprano Clémentine Margaine, making her Lyric debut as Dulcinee, the object of Quichotte’s delusional affection, has that rarity: a powerful voice with a bell-like quality across its entire range. Sir Andrew Davis conducts the Lyric Opera Orchestra. —Deanna Isaacs

Red Tape Theatre’s A Hedda GablerCredit: Austin Oie

A Hedda Gabler An empty wicker birdcage hangs portentously from the rafters in A Hedda Gabler, a new adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s 1891 drama from Red Tape Theatre and local playwright Nigel O’Hearn. The cage is meant to be symbolic of Hedda’s entrapment, her “caged” subservience to men, the “imprisoning” role society demands she play as a woman. More than once, men stare into the cage, lit from above by a hot spotlight, and deliver lines as if Hedda were inside. There’s even a fluttering-wings sound cue for Hedda’s “liberation,” which consists of her shooting herself in the head at center stage. (In Ibsen’s play, she kills herself with a muffled shot, in a rear room, behind a drawn curtain). It’s all too much, a travesty of the original Hedda Gabler, whose protagonist’s lust for life, powers of manipulation, and indomitable will to charm drive the play in any version worth its salt. —Max Maller

ImprovOpoly, at Under the Gun TheaterCredit: Sam Keeler

ImprovOpoly Comedians often point out one of the trickiest ironies of their unconventional career paths: the hardest rooms they’ll ever play, the ones that require the thickest skin and most experience, are the ones faced earliest in their careers. With that in mind, God bless the gumption of this Under the Gun ensemble, which played an experimental premise at opening—house lights up—to a room of five or six folks. In front of a large game board, cast members interact with audience members to play out a game of Monopoly, then improvise scenes inspired by their landing spots. Does the format work? Dear lord, no, it’s a catastrophe, but the ensemble seem to be aware of it and ride it out with goodwill. It’s safe to assume the structure will be tweaked in the coming performances. —Dan Jakes

Taco Tuesdays’ Lip CervixCredit: Courtesy Public House Theatre

Lip Cervix Don’t go to Lip Cervix expecting anything less than the title promises—real ladies, real talk, potential embarassment. It’s a night of sketch comedy bits with a rotating all-female cast of five: Ali Carney, Emma Macmillan, McKenzie Morrell, Kate Nolan, and Tiffany Streng. Together they are Taco Tuesdays, a troupe dedicated to exploring things like whether it’s weird that your OBGYN keeps a picture of your uterus on his desk. There are some very funny moments and a lot of intentionally very awkward ones, and they come rapid-fire, so be ready. As I watched, I got the sense that what Taco Tuesdays is mostly about is Taco Tuesdays having a great time. But this intimate show is kind of like being at a party with the cast or sitting next to them in a restaurant while they all talk really loudly about their vaginas. —Max Maller

Mary Beth Fisher and James Vincent Meredith in Roz and RayCredit: Liz Lauren

Roz and Ray One of my most cherished Chicago theater memories is of Mary Beth Fisher as AIDS researcher Emma Brookner in TimeLine’s 2013 production of The Normal Heart—particularly her cathartic, profanity-laced second-act speech directed against the slow-moving medical establishment. In Karen Hartman’s new two-hander, Fisher plays a similar role, but on the opposite side of the righteousness equation. Once a hero to the father of two hemophiliac boys (James Vincent Meredith), Fisher’s Dr. Roz Kagan becomes the target of vitriol and ethical misgiving when an advanced blood product she promoted turns out to be a means of HIV transmission. While keeping the stakes grounded at the human level, Victory Gardens artistic director Chay Yew’s production sheds light on a tremendous historical dilemma in a fierce, thought-provoking 90 minutes. —Dan Jakes

Stomp, at Broadway PlayhouseCredit: Steve McNicholas

Stomp I first saw this now-institutionalized combo of percussion, movement, and comedy in the 90s, when it was part of a series of then-countercultural theatricals such as Blue Man Group and Savion Glover’s Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk, and like the latter especially, it retains the feel of the street. This current touring show seems especially inspired by tap, but as the dancers make use of found objects (brooms, match boxes, trash cans and lids, etc) the work evokes other traditional nonspoken theatrical forms as well, from commedia dell’arte to Japanese Noh theater. The audience for this virtuosic performance knows exactly what to expect—and gets exactly that. —Suzanne Scanlon

Nothing Without a Company and the Living Canvas’s [Trans]formationCredit: Pete Guither

[Trans]formation A coproduction of Nothing Without a Company and the Living Canvas, this 90-minute celebration of the diversity of the human body is devised and performed by transgender, genderqueer, intersex, and nonbinary artists. Naked save for a layer of imaginative projections, the performers tell stories as soloists and in groups, with dance interludes in between. The script, choreography, and music could all use some tightening, but at its core this piece’s intimate use of light, shadow, and movement is inspired—and inspiring. At the end of the show, audience members are invited to disrobe and join the performers; several did on the night I attended. As the cast reminds us, “It’s about access to space and personal dignity. Without that, we’re fucked.” —Marissa Oberlander

Redtwist Theatre’s TurtleCredit: Jan Ellen Graves

Turtle The title of Jake Jeppson’s 90-minute one-act, a world premiere from Redtwist Theatre, refers to a sea turtle that is rescued by the play’s protagonist, young stay-at-home mom Molly, after the creature has lost its way on its instinct-driven transatlantic odyssey to its ancestral spawning ground. The reptile is Jeppson’s metaphor for modern America. Molly (the engaging, expressive Emily Tate), her husband (Drew Johnson), his brother (Michael Sherwin), and the brother’s wife (Carolyn Kruse) are decent people having trouble connecting with each other and their own humanity, distracted by the relentless barrage of sound and images coming at them from their phones, Facebook, and sports and cable news TV shows. Set against the backdrop of the 2012 presidential campaign (Molly’s brother-in-law is a hard-right Republican angry at having lost his job in a corporate downsizing), Turtle is a slight but sensitively written character study, remarkably timely in light of the recent election. Beautifully acted under Damon Kiely’s direction, it features shimmeringly atmospheric lighting by Daniel Friedman. —Albert Williams