The Father, Writers’ Theatre Chicago. Though August Strindberg assumed his place in the theatrical pantheon long ago, history has smiled more favorably on his contemporaries. Strindberg may have lacked Chekhov’s ear for dialogue, Shaw’s talent for manipulating language, and Ibsen’s keen sense of drama, but he was every bit their equal when it came to social criticism and theatrical innovation. In fact the off-Loop style of agitated, down-and-dirty theater probably owes a great unacknowledged debt to Strindberg’s stripped-down naturalism.

Yet Strindberg’s works are rarely produced these days. And to be honest, nothing else he did displays the startling breadth of his 1888 magnum opus Miss Julie. Strindberg’s lesser works tend to be anchored too closely to 19th-century class and gender issues.

Kudos then to director Michael Halberstam for plucking Strindberg’s intense psychosexual drama The Father from its obscurity. A scheming wife convinces an entire household of her foppish husband’s insanity in order to gain control of their daughter’s education. And with its strict focus on character, the play is a paradise for actors. Led by Shannon Cochran as shrewd matriarch Laura, Halberstam’s crack cast give finely etched performances that evoke all the play’s nuances. And Halberstam’s self-conscious staging is right on: when treated as a historical document, The Father never rings false.

–Nick Green