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Best of Chicago 2010: Theatre

Last season’s standouts

Standouts in Chicago theatre
From left: Kirsten Fitzgerald of A Red Orchid Theatre, Rachel Rockwell, Larry Adams, Tanya Saracho, Francis Guinan, Mary Beth Fisher. For more photos of these Chicago theatre standouts, launch the gallery »

 

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Here, our standouts from last season in local theatre. PLUS: Tell us in the comments below, who are your favorites in Chicago theatre?

THEATRE COMPANY A RED ORCHID THEATRE There are other ferociously loyal ensembles in town, but only A Red Orchid has the ability to rip open the emotional jugular at point-blank range. Even with an Emmy nominee (Craig Wright), an Oscar nominee (Michael Shannon), and a fireman/artist (Guy Van Swearingen), the company operates on a stage the size of a walk-in closet. When Shannon had a five-alarm meltdown in Wright’s Mistakes Were Made, it seemed like the place would explode. (Which, by the way, it has. In Blasted, a bomb blew up the entire set four times a week.) When Kirsten Fitzgerald started pouring cocktails in Abigail’s Party, we shrank in our seats, praying she wouldn’t offer us one.

DIRECTOR RACHEL ROCKWELL To paraphrase a bit of theatrical wisdom: Tragedy is hard, comedy is harder, musicals are all but impossible. Seriously, how believable can a story be when everyone stops talking to break into song? Rockwell makes the transition from talk to tune as seamless as conversation. And in a genre of spectacle, she cuts through a haze of helicopters (Miss Saigon) or full-size working Model Ts (Ragtime) to ensure that the raw heart of the story shines through.

SINGER LARRY ADAMS Tenors get the money notes; baritones plug along on backup. Which makes Larry Adams all the more noticeable—he’s got a baritone to swoon over, smooth as chocolate, strong as whiskey. As an actor, he’s got the chops to match the sonorous pipes: priggish preacher in Theatre at the Center’s Footloose, St. Tropez party animal in La Cage aux Folles, metaphorically tone-deaf patriarch in Ragtime. At 55, he’s at the height of his powers, going from show to show as easily as he changes keys.

NEW PLAYWRIGHT TANYA SARACHO Tanya Saracho’s productivity—impressive as it is—gets second billing to the consistent quality and depth of her work. The twice-remounted, consistently sold-out Our Lady of the Underpass illuminates two quintessential Saracho traits: a reporter’s ear for quotes and a poet’s ability to make words resonate. That combo enriches her plays with instantly recognizable characters, both sympathetic (the girls of Mango) and not (the cheating tools of Jarred). In the works: El Nogalar, inspired by Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard.

ACTOR FRANCIS GUINAN Francis Guinan, 58, is no leading man. He stands out from a field overcrowded with them. Guinan can act his way out of a garbage can—which he did in Endgame. The Steppenwolf member brings heroism to losers (American Buffalo, The Seafarer) and nobility to the broken­hearted (Fake). He can serve in a seamless ensemble and deliver a brilliant monologue (Art). As for August: Osage County, his henpecked husband was ultimately a triumph for belittled spouses everywhere. Guinan will never play Superman. He’s better than that, playing an indelible Everyman.

ACTRESS MARY BETH FISHER Ingénues, divas, femmes fatales—of the beauteous hordes of Chicago leading ladies, none radiate the intelligent firepower of Mary Beth Fisher. Wielding words like switchblades, Fisher owns Stoppard (Rock ’n’ Roll) and makes Joan Didion (The Year of Magical Thinking) truly magical. Many said fie to her in Neil LaBute’s take on The Taming of the Shrew, to which we retort, emphatically, “Finally”—as in, finally that irredeemably misogynistic and preposterous play made sense and gave us a hero to cheer for.

NEW LITERARY EVENT THE MOTH STORYSLAM Since 1997, The Moth, a group dedicated to the literary art form, has produced live monthly storytelling events in which noted authors and celebrities read for ten minutes on a theme. In 2001, The Moth spun off a competition for amateurs called StorySLAM—and this past September Chicago joined in. At 8 p.m. on the last Tuesday of every moth at Martyrs’ Restaurant & Pub in Lincoln Square, you can pay a $7 cover and drop your name into a tote bag for a chance at the open mic. Or you can just watch the fun—but arrive early if you want a shot at a barstool. The next slam is scheduled for August 31st. MARTYRS’, 3855 N. LINCOLN AVE.; 773-404-9494, MARTYRSLIVE.COM

 

Photograph: Lisa Predko  Assistant/Retoucher: Sarah Crump  Interns: Alex Barnard and Dustin McKibben  Stylist: Courtney Rust  Hair & Makeup: Karen Brody  Reclaimed Wood Blocks: Bladon Conner/courtesy of Post 27

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