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The 36 Best Shows in Chicago Theatre This Month

Here are the critics’ picks for the comedies, dramas, and musicals hitting the city’s stages in April.

Venus in Fur   Photo: Christopher Duggan

Comedies


Chapatti

Through 4/13 A pair of magnificent actors—John Mahoney and Penny Slusher—team up for Christian O’Reilly’s Dublin-set romance between a man, a woman, 19 cats, and the titular beast: a dog. $15–$75. Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie, Skokie. northlight.org

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Through 5/3 Beware of faeries bearing love-in-idleness! The mischief-making herb can make you fall in love with an ass. So it goes in the enchanted woods of King Oberon and Queen Titania, where imps make fools of mortals as mismatched lovers frolic in folly. $10–$25. Piccolo Theatre at the Main Street Metra Station, 600 Main, Evanston. piccolotheatre.com

Dramas


The Dance of Death

Through 7/20 Long before Edward Albee wrote Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, August Strindberg penned this story of a long-married couple seemingly intent on eviscerating each other right down to their very bone marrow. The weapons of choice in this venomous masterpiece? Words. And here those words come from an adaptation by Conor McPherson (Shining City, Dublin Carol), an Irish playwright who knows a thing or two about the linguistically whirling humor that informs Strindberg’s portrait of a marriage on the brink of an abyss. $60. Writers Theatre, 664 Vernon, writerstheatre.org

Darlin’

Through 4/13 A woman on the run provokes suspicion from a cleaning lady, a former high school jock, and a local drug dealer in this play written by Joshua Rollins. $17–$30. Step Up Productions at the Athenaeum Studio Theatre, 2936 N Southport. stepupproductions.org

God’s Work

4/4–19 It’s been roughly eight years since the Albany Park Theatre Project premiered this harrowing tale of child abuse based on the experiences of a young Theatre Project thespian. The narrative centers on Rachel, one of 16 children in a Romanian family ruled with tyrannical cruelty by a religious fundamentalist father. A story of secrets, brutality, and—ultimately—redemption plays out in this compelling piece, produced in association with the Goodman. $10–$25. Albany Park Theatre Project at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N Dearborn. goodmantheatre.org, aptpchicago.org

Good Boys and True

Through 5/3 A seemingly upstanding young prep school student gets ensnared in a scandal. Cody Estle directs Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s disquieting drama about privilege, power, and exploitation. $15–$36. Raven Theatre, 6157 N Clark. raventheatre.com

The Great God Pan

4/3–5/11 Amy Herzog draws the title of her play from an Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem about a powerful god who plucks a lushly growing reed from a river, hollows it out, and begins playing it like a flute. This becomes a chilling metaphor in the context of Herzog’s story of a successful young man whose world is upended when he learns he might have been the victim of an incestuous sexual assault that he doesn’t remember. Director Kimberly Senior confronts the audience with the mysteries of memory and how the past—even a supposedly forgotten past—can irrevocably shape the future. $7–$40. Next Theatre, 927 Noyes, Evanston. nexttheatre.org

Henry V

4/29–6/15 British director Christopher Luscombe makes his Chicago debut with Shakespeare’s gorgeous adventure of a rowdy, hard-drinking, immature young rogue who finds his way out of the pub and onto the battlefield with one of the most moving monologues in the English language. $48–$78. Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 E Grand. chicagoshakes.com

The How and the Why

Through 4/6 Sarah Treem’s brainy take on genes, destiny, and the scientific mysteries surrounding menstruation and menopause centers on two brilliant biologists trying to figure out the evolutionary reasons for these two processes. Do not under any circumstances dismiss this as the stage equivalent of chick lit. $35–$48. TimeLine Theatre, 615 W Wellington. timelinetheatre.com

In the Garden: A Darwinian Love Story

4/26– 6/15 Before he changed the world with The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin had an unlikely liaison with Emma Wedgwood, a deeply devout Christian tormented by the belief that her beloved would be denied salvation. Chicago playwright Sara Gmitter delves into the love story between two fiercely independent, ideologically opposed individuals. Jessica Thebus directs. $30–$70. Lookingglass Theatre, 821 N Michigan. lookingglasstheatre.org

Lay Me Down Softly

4/23–5/25 Assorted freaks, fortune tellers, boxers, trainers, fixers, and ringmasters compose the scruffy traveling road show at the big bruised heart of Billy Roche’s evocative tale of rural Ireland in the 1960s. $12–$26. Seanachai Theatre at the Den Theatre, 1333 N Milwaukee. seanachai.org

Man and Superman

4/26–5/19 Now in its 20th year, Shaw Chicago keeps the hits coming, this time with a staged reading of the playwright’s subversive retelling of the Don Juan legend. In this version, a bevy of women relentlessly chase the legendary playboy. Director Robert Scogin has pared the piece down a bit (at full length, Man and Superman runs over five hours), but abridgement or not, expect sharp wit and plenty of thought-provoking passages. $15–$30. Shaw Chicago at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N Dearborn. shawchicago.org

Mill Fire

4/24–6/7 Veteran director Sandy Shinner immerses the audience in 1978 Birmingham, where a Greek chorus of widows provides the sorrowful bedrock to Chicago native Sally Nemeth’s meditation on a workplace tragedy. Stepping backward and forward in time, Nemeth explores whether fully moving on is ever possible in the face of great, irreplaceable loss. $20$30. Shattered Globe Theatre at Theater Wit, 1229 W Belmont. sgtheatre.org

Pinkolandia

4/3–10 Set in Reagan-era Wisconsin, Andrea Thome’s tale of two sisters exiled from their South American homeland of Chile and trying to forge a place for themselves in the United States is grounded in both reality and fantasy. Ann Filmer directs the Chicago segment of a “rolling premiere,” intent on exploring what happens to two sisters, 8 and 12, as they create imaginary worlds—which include talking bears, majestic glaciers, ghostly Nazis, and the amazing puppetry of Stephanie Diaz—in an attempt to find their way through a transcontinental tapestry of cultures and languages. $18. 16th Street Theater, 6420 16th, Berwyn. 16thstreettheater.org

The Playboy of the Western World

Through 4/5 When John M. Synge’s troubling, poetic thriller premiered in 1907, audiences threw eggs at the stage and journalists condemned the play. Today’s critics consider this story of a handsome stranger whose arrival in rural County Mayo sets village tongues wagging an indisputable classic. Michael Menendian directs a near-perfect merger of eloquent language and enthralling plot. $15–$36. Raven Theatre, 6157 N Clark. raventheatre.com

Ruined

4/17–5/25 Eclipse begins its season of works by Lynn Nottage with the mesmerizing story of a brothel in the Congo and the fiercely protective woman who keeps a fragile peace between rebel and government soldiers. Aaron Todd Douglas directs the riveting 2009 Pulitzer winner. $20–$28. Eclipse Theatre at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N Southport. eclipsetheatre.com

Russian Transport

Through 5/11 Break out the celebratory Stoli! Bulgarian-born Steppenwolf ensemble member Yasen Peyankov, an actor of no small talent, makes his debut as a director with playwright Erika Sheffer’s dark, twisting comedy about a Russian American family in Brooklyn whose lives are upended by a human-trafficking uncle. $20–$78. Steppenwolf Upstairs Theatre, 1650 N Halsted. steppenwolf.org

Salvage

Through 4/27 Salvation seems at hand when a woman bearing a rare bit of sports memorabilia steps into a collectibles shop in Detroit. But windfalls come at a price, and this one just might be far costlier than it initially appears. Alison C. Vesely directs Joseph Zettelmaier’s darkly comic two-person mystery. $22–$37. First Folio Theatre at the Mayslake Peabody Estate, 1717 W 31st, Oak Brook. firstfolio.org

Sandalwood

Through 4/20 The Side Project joins forces with Tympanic Theatre Company for playwright Dan Caffrey’s “psycho-Western,” in which a father follows a trail of blood through the ghost towns of the American West in an attempt to understand the savagery of his murderous son. $10–$20. Side Project and Tympanic Theatres at the Side Project, 1439 W Jarvis. thesideproject.net

Saviour?

Through 5/11 Esther Armah uncorks a powder keg of race, class, and gender issues in her tale of a liberal white community activist who files a reverse discrimination suit alleging he was passed over for promotion in favor of a black woman. $30. Eta Creative Arts Foundation, 7558 S South Chicago. etacreativearts.org

Steppenwolf Garage Repertory Program

Through 4/20 ReWILDing Genius. New Colony ensemble members Andrew Hobgood and Megan Johns join forces to tell the story of an Uptown Chicago loft that becomes a breeding ground for self-identified geniuses, cyber-vigilantes, hacktivists, and anarchists, all intent on changing the world.
Saturday Night/Sunday Morning. With Katori Hall’s new drama, Prologue Theatre heads for Miss Mary’s beauty parlor, Memphis circa 1945. As the women primp and tell stories of their men overseas, the end of the war looms and questions about just what the future will hold take center stage.
The Wild. Created by a consortium of nine artists, Walkabout Theater Company’s piece explores the effects of distant realities and events on people’s daily lives.
Steppenwolf Garage Theatre, 1624 N Halsted. steppenwolf.org

A Tale of Two Cities

Through 4/6 Lifeline stages another sweeping epic with Christopher M. Walsh’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’s tome. The complex dual-city saga follows soldiers, servants, aristocrats, and rebels in love and war as the Reign of Terror engulfs late-18th-century Paris and social upheaval roars through London. If anyone in Chicago can pull off this kind of massive literary endeavor, it’s Lifeline. $20–$40. Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N Glenwood. lifelinetheatre.com

Tristan and Yseult

Through 4/13 From Cornwall, England, comes Kneehigh Theatre’s idiosyncratic and passionate telling of love, war, betrayal, and tragic misapprehensions. Think Shakespeare sprinkled with acrobatics, a live orchestra, and a liberal dose of storytelling alchemy and you might have an inkling of the wonders in store here. $60–$70. Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 E Grand. chicagoshakes.com

Venus in Fur

Through 4/13 Given that playwright David Ives’s inspiration was Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s seminal novel Venus in Furs, one can assume that the Goodman’s latest will be kinky. And so it is, as Vanda, a mysterious actress, and Thomas, a snarling director, go head to head during an audition for a show the actress dismisses as “basically . . . porn.” Chicagoan Joanie Schultz, an increasingly high-profile director, helms a tale of seduction and stagecraft. $25–$86. Goodman Albert Theatre, 170 N Dearborn. goodmantheatre.org

A View from the Bridge

4/11–5/18 Veteran actor (and Jeff committee member) Ricardo Gutierrez helms an all-Latino cast, featuring Sandra Marquez and Christina Nieves, in Arthur Miller’s all-American tragedy of immigration, loyalty, romance, and lust. $25. Teatro Vista at Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N Halsted. victorygardens.org

Water by the Spoonful

Through 4/6 Quiara Alegría Hudes won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for this play, the second installment in her trilogy following the fate of a fictitious Iraqi war vet named Elliot Ortiz. Henry Godinez directs a narrative of multiple layers, as Elliot’s struggles with civilian life are juxtaposed with the struggles of four recovering crack addicts. $35–$65. Court Theatre, 5535 S Ellis. courttheatre.org

The Way West

4/3–6/8 Here’s reason for celebration: Steppenwolf ensemble member Amy Morton is back in the director’s chair for the first time since Clybourne Park, helming a cast that includes her boss—the formidable Steppenwolf artistic director Martha Lavey. Morton takes on Mona Mansour’s saga about a pair of squabbling sisters and their bankrupt mother living in a run-down California town. Interspersing her work with original songs, Mansour explores what makes enterprising Americans tick and what their responsibilities are when it comes to matters of manifest destiny. $44–$68. Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N Halsted. steppenwolf.org

Musicals


Dessa Rose

Through 4/5 Based on the marvelous novel by Sherley Anne Williams, this musical by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty delves into the unlikely alliance forged between Dessa Rose, a runaway slave, and Ruth Sutton, a white woman abandoned and struggling to survive on a backwater Alabama farm. $15–$40. Bailiwick Chicago at the Victory Gardens Richard Christiansen Theater, 2433 N Lincoln. bailiwickchicago.com

Hair

4/25–6/29 Hippies, activists, freaks, and beatniks gather in Greenwich Village in this rock musical about the raucous counterculture of the late 1960s, by James Rado and Gerome Ragni (book and lyrics) and composer Galt MacDermot. $48–$53. American Theater Company, 1909 W Byron. atcweb.org

Hang Your Hat at Mr K’s

4/23–5/17 Jarrin Davis’s new musical revue turns the microphone on Chicago’s old-school jazz scene as seen and heard through the eyes and ears of a bellhop and a cook working at Mister Kelly’s, a well-known Rush Street jazz club (sadly, now the site of a steak house) from 1957 through 1975. Listen for selections from the club’s heyday, when Ella Fitzgerald, Barbra Streisand, Muddy Waters, Sarah Vaughan, and many others made Mr. K’s the place to hang your hat. $20–$25. Three Cat Productions at the Berger Park Coach House, 6205 N Sheridan. threecatproductions.com

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

4/26–6/1 Rob Lindley directs the workplace fable of J. Pierrepont Finch, the quintessential corporate go-getter who rises from window washer to power player. Office politics, sex, greed, and general shenanigans make for terrific comedy and, thanks to the tunes of composer Frank Loesser, they sound absolutely terrific. $30–$43.50. Porchlight Music Theatre Chicago at Stage 773, 1225 W Belmont. porchlightmusictheatre.org

Motown: The Musical

4/22–7/13 As jukebox musicals go, this one’s a hoot, stuffed with tunes by Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson, and myriad other artists who got their starts in the Motor City under the savvy hand of former featherweight boxer Berry Gordy. You’ll be humming before the overture’s finished and long after the final curtain drops. $27–$125. Broadway in Chicago at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W Randolph. broadwayinchicago.com

Peter and the Starcatcher

4/2–13 The adventures of Peter Pan before he became, well, Peter Pan, features pirates, lost boys, and cross-dressing mermaids. How did Captain Hook lose that hand? What’s the real deal with the ticking crocodile? Swashbuckling to the hilt and laden with original music, flying, and ingenious stunt work, odds are this Peter won’t get panned. $45–$82. Broadway in Chicago at the Bank of America Theatre, 18 W Monroe. broadwayinchicago.com

Rent

Through 4/6 Love, art, AIDS, and the most adorable cross-dresser to ever table-dance in Lucite heels take center stage in Jonathan Larson’s hypermoving story of stone-broke bohemians living a carpe diem life. Imagine La Bohème transplanted to New York’s Alphabet City, filtered through a hard-rocking score, and featuring a diverse cast and you get the idea. $36.90–$49.90. Paramount Theatre, 23 E Galena, Aurora. paramountaurora.com

Road Show

Through 5/4 Previously known as Bounce (and Wise Guys and Gold), Stephen Sondheim’s episodic musical saga spans four decades and thousands of miles as it follows brothers Addison and Wilson Mizner, whose get-rich schemes range from the Alaskan gold rush of the 1890s to the Florida real-estate boom of the 1930s. The pedigree here is impeccable: Director Gary Griffin is (arguably) the country’s foremost Sondheim interpreter, and Sondheim is, well, Sondheim. Whether those bona fides will translate to a comparably extraordinary production is the cliffhanger: Road Show has failed—so far—to gain much box office traction elsewhere. $40–$68. Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 E Grand. chicagoshakes.com

The Wizard of Oz

4/30–5/11 The iconic musical based on L. Frank Baum’s children’s stories travels from a Tornado-swept Kansas farmhouse to somewhere over the rainbow, where witches will stop at nothing to obtain a certain pair of ruby slippers as a fantastic foursome of farm girl, talking scarecrow, scaredy-cat lion, and tin man follow the yellow brick road to their dreams. $15–$82. Broadway in Chicago at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W Randolph. broadwayinchicago.com

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