Sullivan in Irma Vep

Chris Sullivan in The Hairy Ape, The Mystery of Irma Vep, and The Illusion

Chris Sullivan first performed for Chicago audiences in Defending the Caveman—Rob Becker’s warhorse one-man comedy about the backward American male—and when the gig ended in 2007, he may have felt the need to prove that his range extended beyond playing fratboy neanderthals. If so, he’s succeeded stunningly.

In February 2009 Sullivan showed us what a real brute looks like with his depiction of Yank, the doomed stoker in The Hairy Ape, directed by Sean Graney for the Goodman Theatre’s Eugene O’Neill festival. Then, in November, the burly actor slid to the opposite end of the spectrum, switching among three roles—most notably that of the alluring Lady Enid—in a revival of Charles Ludlam’s camp quick-change farce The Mystery of Irma Vep, also directed by Graney, this time for Court Theatre. This spring Sullivan returned to Court as Alcandre, a powerful, cruel, wise magician, in Tony Kushner’s adaptation of Pierre Corneille’s The Illusion. Taken together, the three appearances constitute a tour of tours de force.