Patrick Du Laney, a perfect Zero Credit: Matthew Gregory Hollis

[Recommended] Adding Machine Elmer Rice’s 1923 play is a marvelous anomaly: an expressionist satire that makes Marxist points by seeming to scorn the masses. Its central shlub, Mr. Zero, is a clerk with a horrific wife who’s spent his entire adult life adding columns of figures for a big company. Fired after 25 years, he goes berserk, kills the boss, gets executed, and moves on somehow to heaven, where he’s even more lost. The tale has undergone all kinds of mutations over the years; in 2007 Jason Loewith and Joshua Schmidt premiered their musical version of it at Evanston’s now-defunct Next Theatre. Directed by David Cromer, it was great. But this Hypocrites revival may be even better: lighter and deeper, less sentimental and more cruel. Well cast, and featuring near-perfect musical direction by Matt Deitchman, Geoff Button’s staging uses comic repetition to get at the abject horror of Zero’s life. What’s more—and I mean this in the nicest possible way—Patrick Du Laney is a perfect Zero. –Tony Adler

Halcyon Theatre's <i>Dreams of the Penny Gods</i>
Halcyon Theatre’s Dreams of the Penny GodsCredit: Tom McGrath

[Recommended] Dreams of the Penny Gods This is the kind of off-Loop theater that put Chicago on the map: low-budget, superbly acted, performed on a tiny but well-designed set (here by Michael Chancellor) in an awkward, cramped space (in this case the third floor of an Albany Park church). The play, by Callie Kimball, about a 13-year old girl trying to break free from an abusive grandmother, her legal guardian, is full of wit and fire, and this Halcyon Theatre ensemble, directed by Jennifer Adams, finds the heart in Kimball’s words. In particular, there’s a creepy chemistry between the protagonist (played to the hilt by Caity-Shea Violette) and her sleazy ex-con father (Ted James). The result is an evening of intense, satisfying live drama. —Jack Helbig

<i>The Great Love Debate</i>
The Great Love DebateCredit: Courtey Brian Howie

[Recommended] The Great Love Debate This “unique, interactive, Town Hall-style event” is better suited to groups of single guys or gals than to couples, as the assembled panel of local dating experts (authors, therapists, matchmakers, etc) and heavy audience participation provide a satisfying, and often hilarious, form of group therapy—and possibly even some coping skills for dating in the modern age. Technology isn’t the cause of our discontents with digital romance, says creator and host Brian Howie (“America’s #1 Dating Enthusiast”), but rather certain persistent gender dynamics: women want to be approached (but not by creeps), men don’t want to seem creepy, and in that chasm lie such perils of online dating as “ghosting” when feelings fizzle. (Or, in one woman’s case on the night I attended, being “holy spirited” after a seemingly successful date at a church fish fry.) While the advice dished out to both ladies and gentlemen can feel old-fashioned, reactions and input from the audience reveal that many of the hoariest cliches remain all too true (“Who wants to buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?”). —Marissa Oberlander

American Theater Company's <i>Kill Floor</i>
American Theater Company’s Kill FloorCredit: Michael Brosilow

Kill Floor Andy, the troubled mom of Abe Koogler’s 90-minute play, works on the killing floor of a slaughterhouse in her “shithole” of a hometown. She sees some awful things there. She also suffers, and provokes some awfulness in her spare time. But if Koogler is trying to build a thematic connection between the abattoir and Andy’s struggles, I don’t see it. There’s just no comparison between cows getting skinned alive and Andy and her traumatized teen son trying to put their lives back together after Andy’s five-year stint in prison. Which is why I’m glad that director Jonathan Berry works past the metaphors, delivering a modest but strong drama in which there are neither villains nor victims—just a bunch of people in pain trying to feel better. The whole cast is excellent, but Sol Patches is exceptional as B, the teenage son. —Tony Adler

Factory Theater inaugurates its new space with <i>The Last Big Mistake</i>.
Factory Theater inaugurates its new space with The Last Big Mistake.Credit: MIchael Courier

[Recommended] The Last Big Mistake Factory Theater christens its scrappy/lovely new Rogers Park home with Ernie Deak’s scrappy/lovely new play about a pair of brassy former lady wrestlers sinking eyeballs deep into an overblown two-bit mobster misadventure. In typical Factory fashion, Deak’s story is steeped in trashiness and cliche, expertly complemented by fight choreographer Anthony Tournis’s cheeseball wrestling moves and costume designer Rachel Sypniewski’s jaw-droppingly awful (and all too accurate) late-70s duds. But Deak’s trashiness is never cheap; his intricate, compelling story is populated by ingeniously idiosyncratic stereotypes and has a subtle, powerful feminist streak. Director Manny Tamayo maintains a brisk pace throughout the 75 minutes of sparkling mayhem, but the show still has a few empty patches, and Deak’s ending is singularly disappointing. It’s the cast’s ferocious precision that ultimately carries the evening. —Justin Hayford

Remy Bumppo's <i>The Life of Galileo</i>
Remy Bumppo’s The Life of GalileoCredit: Johnny Knight

The Life of Galileo It’s been nearly 400 years since the Inquisition forced Galileo to recant his heretical belief that the earth revolves around the sun. But the issues raised by that event—dogma vs. truth, control vs. freedom—have never stopped being timely. In the 1940s, when Bertolt Brecht wrote and revised his play about the Italian astronomer, the contemporary parallels were totalitarianism and Cold War paranoia. Nick Sandys’s production for Remy Bumppo Theatre Company also calls to mind the 20th century, particularly in Rachel Lambert’s postwar-era costumes. Playing Galileo and his fellow scientists as well as their religious adversaries, an enthusiastic cast capture the intelligence and righteous outrage in Brecht’s script, though we don’t see much of the anguish and fear they claim to be feeling. —Zac Thompson

Piccolo Theatre's <i>The Misanthrope</i>
Piccolo Theatre’s The MisanthropeCredit: Robert Erving Potter III

[Recommended] The Misanthrope British playwright Martin Crimp penned this 1996 adaptation of Molière’s 1666 comedy about a self-righteous moralist—a man who rails at the shallowness and hypocrisy of the world in which he lives—hopelessly in love with a fickle woman who embodies everything her lover despises. In Crimp’s version, set in present-day London, the title misanthrope, Alceste, is a playwright, and his beloved, Jennifer, is a Hollywood actress surrounded by a campy, coke-snorting, selfie-shooting entourage of two-faced sycophants. Crimp’s dialogue—written in Molière-style rhymed couplets but also laced with very contemporary profanity—is quite clever, with its updated allusions to Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard, the BBC, “unprotected sex,” and Molière himself. The cast of this diverting, intimate production handle the witty text with impressive verbal dexterity, and there are plenty of laughs here. But new artistic director Michael D. Graham’s staging never probes the dark subtext of Alceste’s extreme contempt for the failings not only of society but of human nature itself. —Albert Williams

Jeremy Menekseoglu and company bid adieu  with <i>Olive and the Mouse Spider King</i>.
Jeremy Menekseoglu and company bid adieu with Olive and the Mouse Spider King.Credit: Courtesy Dream Theatre

Olive and the Mouse Spider King On her 16th birthday, a girl’s morbid curiosity gets the better of her when she devises her own punishment on behalf of her wicked parents: marrying the cruel, eyeball-snatching ruler of the dark tunnels below the crawl space of their home. Dream Theatre founders Anna and Jeremy Menekseoglu bid farewell (for now, at least) with this macabre fairy tale written and produced in the distinctive episodic style the company has embraced over 13 years in Chicago. There’s rich mythology to be mined in each of the fantastical characters, puppets and human alike. And though the production lags by the end, the poignant visuals and stirring speeches create enchanting moments throughout–especially in the case of Anna’s resilient Blue-Haired Girl, for whom empathy is an unpredictable, divine, and dangerous tool. —Dan Jakes

Adventure Stage Chicago's <i>Sight Unseen</i>
Adventure Stage Chicago’s Sight UnseenCredit: Johnny Knight

Sight Unseen In some urban dystopia where resources are scarce, the rich and powerful inhabit something called the Tower, while everybody else tries to scratch out an existence in the Shambles, a sprawling shantytown built from garbage. It’s the same world created by Tom Arvetis for Spark, his 2014 play for middle-schoolers. In this prequel, a spunky teen named Janice flees the Tower and teams up with Shambles-dwelling brothers Kegan and Zeph to search for Janice’s mother, who’s joined a rebel group. As you’d expect from a prologue, many things are left unresolved, but Arvetis’s script is inventive and full of good lessons on bravery and compassion. Rives Collins and the cast of his Adventure Stage Chicago production put it over with pluck and scurrying energy. —Zac Thompson

The Plagiarists' <i>Ulysses</i>—clever, very
The Plagiarists’ Ulysses—clever, very

Ulysses The great virtue of this Plagiarists production is its recognition that James Joyce’s immense novel boils down to a single, simple, affecting intention: to chronicle a day in the life of Dublin advertising salesman Leopold Bloom, who’s only pretended to live since the death of his infant son, Rudy. All the literary provocations that have made the book so celebrated and daunting hang on nothing more than that. The great weakness of the production is its lack of a real strategy for confronting those provocations and folding them into the narrative. As directed by Aileen McGroddy, who wrote the adaptation with Jessica Wright Buha, the show has some resonant moments—thanks especially to David Fink’s hangdog performance as Bloom. But it too often comes across as confused, approximate, and unappealingly casual. —Tony Adler