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51 Things to Do in Chicago in January

Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival, Ling Ma, a Cubs Convention, and more ways to stay busy this month

‘Isabella Rossellini: Link Link Circus’
Isabella Rossellini: Link Link Circus Photo: Brigitte Lacombe
Jan. 4–Feb. 17
Theater

Fuente Ovejuna

In 1476, the peasants of the title Spanish village rose up against a despot who had been raping and robbing the locals for years. Lope de Vega’s dramatization of the event hasn’t been produced in Chicago for at least a quarter century, and director Terry McCabe famously works with material in which history, art, and politics collide.

Details:Edgewater. Edgewater Presbyterian Church. $12–$32. citylit.org

Talib Kweli
Talib Kweli Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for WE
Jan. 5
Hip-Hop

Talib Kweli

The Brooklyn-born MC broke through to backpack-wearing underground hip-hop fanatics in the late ’90s, thanks to a breathless flow boasting verbal mastery and thoughtful maxims perfect for a high school yearbook. Twenty years in, Kweli is still unspooling airtight verses over straightforward sample-based beats — though one wonders how that will translate to a venue that emphasizes wine and dinner service.

Details:West Loop. City Winery. 7 and 10 p.m. $38–$52. citywinery.com

Jan. 10
Lecture

Labor: Unrest, Riots, and Taverns

Chicago for Chicagoans’s Speakeasy lectures cover the fascinating local history you wish you’d learned in school. This particular talk will feature historian Liz Garibay from the Chicago Brewseum, whose first beer-centric exhibition is currently on display at the Field Museum.

Details:Lake View. Old Chicago Inn. 7 p.m. Free. chicagoforchicagoans.org

Jan. 10–11
Theater

Isabella Rossellini: Link Link Circus

The actress presents a “theatricalized lecture” that uses her self-produced short films, home movies, and animation to explore Darwin’s theory of evolution. The live performance is a spin on Rossellini’s charming and educational Sundance TV series Green Porno, which looked at animal mating rituals.

Details:Lincoln Square. Old Town School of Folk Music. $45. oldtownschool.org

Bramwell Tovey (Elgar ‘Enigma Variations’
Bramwell Tovey (Elgar Enigma Variations) Photo: David Cooper
Jan. 10–12
Classical

Elgar Enigma Variations

Conductor Bramwell Tovey and baritone Thomas Hampson have prepared a Chicago Symphony Orchestra subscription program half-stocked with American pieces and songs by the likes of Charles Ives, Aaron Copland, and William Grant Still. The very British Enigma Variations by Edward Elgar occupies the other portion of the program. Why? It’s an enigma.

Details:Loop. Symphony Center. $31–$221. cso.org

Jan. 10–20
Comedy

Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival

The 18th annual event features eight days of sketch pieces from local and visiting troupes. Headlining this year is Parv and Pudi, a two-man show featuring Parvesh Cheena and Danny Pudi (Community). Local performers on the lineup include Rehner & Nixon, Off Off Broadway, and Patti Vasquez.

Details:Lake View. Stage 773. $15–$225. chicagosketchfest.com

Jan. 10–Feb. 16
Theater

Dada Woof Papa Hot

The seemingly nonsensical title of Peter Parnell’s domestic comedy refers to a young child’s first attempts at naming her two dads. Parenthood has been covered ad nauseam since the ancient Greeks, but for this production About Face has recruited a particularly talented cast, featuring Benjamin Sprunger, Lily Mojekwu, and Bruch Reed.

Details:Lake View. Theater Wit. $15–$38. aboutfacetheatre.com

Jan. 11
Classical

Trio Céleste

An up-and-coming piano trio programs a trifecta of trios devoted to tributes by Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, and the contemporary composer Pierre Jalbert. Rachmaninoff’s Trio Elégiaque No. 1 is inspired by Tchaikovsky. Tchaikovsky dedicated his Piano Trio in A Minor (his only piano trio) to the virtuoso pianist Nikolai Rubinstein. Jalbert dedicated a movement of his Piano Trio No. 1 to Mother Teresa, better known for her nonmusical endeavors.

Details:Hyde Park. Mandel Hall, University of Chicago. 7:30 p.m. $10–$38. chicagopresents.uchicago.edu

Jan. 11–12
Dance

Ragamala Dance Company

This Minneapolis-based South Indian dance troupe celebrates its 26th season at the Harris. Mother and daughter Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy spent four years creating Written in Water, a Bharatanatyam exploration of good and evil inspired by ancient Sufi texts.

Details:Loop. Harris Theater. 7:30 p.m. $35–$135. harristheaterchicago.org

Jan. 11–27
Classical

Winter Chamber Music Festival

In some barren weeks of the classical music calendar, Northwestern books ensembles of players few in number but great in stature for three straight Friday and Sunday nights. The cold-weather festival kicks off with one of Northwestern’s ensembles in residence, the superb Dover Quartet.

Details:Evanston. Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, Northwestern University. $10–$30. music.northwestern.edu

Jan. 11–Feb. 16
Theater

Evil Dead: The Musical

When Broadway in Chicago premiered the Evil Dead musical here in 2014, they got it wrong. The space (the Broadway Playhouse) was too big, shiny, and classy for a camptastic splatterfest. Black Button Eyes is taking the show where it belongs: into a black-box space ideal for grit and blood.

Details:Buena Park. Pride Arts Center. $30. blackbuttoneyes.com

Jan. 11–Feb. 23
Art

Andrew Norman Wilson: Kodak

During its height as a film-processing company, Kodak routinely hired blind people in its darkrooms because of their enhanced sense of touch. Wilson, a New York artist, conducted interviews with some of these former employees for this solo show, which pays homage to Kodak through video, prints, and other media. It reflects Wilson’s nostalgia for the glory days of photography, but also for his childhood — his father worked at Kodak for decades.

Details:West Town. Document. Free. documentspace.com

Jan. 11–Mar. 9
Theater

The Realistic Joneses

Shattered Globe’s staging of Will Eno’s melancholic comedy, which portrays new next-door neighbors meeting for the first time, has an ensemble of proven riches (longtime leading lady Linda Reiter) and promising new(er) talent (Cortney McKenna). Per usual with Eno (Middletown, Title and Deed), the dialogue lives in the middle ground between profundity and humor, with mortality and belly laughs existing side by side.

Details:Lake View. Theater Wit. $12–$74. sgtheatre.org

Jan. 12
Classical

Robert Chen

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s concertmaster takes the night off from the full ensemble to play a recital of violin solos and violin-piano duos. The program includes the gorgeous Three Romances by Clara Schumann (Robert Schumann’s piano virtuoso wife) and Richard Strauss’s only violin sonata. Take note: Last January’s Chen recital at Ravinia sold out.

Details:Highland Park. Ravinia. 8:30 p.m. $12. ravinia.org

Jan. 12–20
New Music

Unchained Melodies

Inspired by the puzzle-like dimension of crab canons and J.S. Bach’s The Art of Fugue, composer Dan Visconti wrote a piece with 1,023 different instrumentations and countless possible renditions. The new-music outreachers of Fifth House Ensemble premiere Unchained Melodies at this multiday event, playing it several times in different instantiations during the course of the concert.

Details:Various locations. Free–$18. fifth-house.com

Jan. 12–Feb. 8
Art

Daniel Miller: Ebb and Flow

As a robotics professor, Miller knows how machines can improve our lives, but as an artist, he questions technology’s lasting effects on our planet. In this solo exhibit, Miller’s mechanical sculptures mimic organisms disrupted by human intervention. Look out for the Ouroboros, a robot that digests and excretes plastic.

Details:Evanston. Evanston Art Center. Free. evanstonartcenter.org

Jan. 14
Classical

Beyond the Aria

Also going beyond the opera house, the Lyric’s cabaret/art-song series gets the divas and divos of its main-stage productions to let their wigs down and perform whatever they want — lieder, folk songs, four-handed piano pieces, tap dances — to an intimate audience seated on the Pritzker Pavilion stage and in the choral seats, with the shutters closed to the midwinter out in the park. Here, La Bohème’s starry-eyed Rodolfo (tenor Michael Fabiano) and Musetta (soprano Danielle de Niese) headline the show.

Details:Loop. Harris Theater. 7:30 p.m. $65. harristheaterchicago.org

Jan. 14–15
Country

Steve Earle

When he emerged in 1986 with his debut album Guitar Town, this singer-songwriter was defying Nashville clichés with a sound as indebted to Bruce Springsteen and the Replacements as to Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. Since then Earle has consistently generated snarling, smart country rock with songs that play out more like short stories, rich with humor, detail, and character. Speaking of characters, you might recognize Earle from the ones he played in David Simon’s TV shows The Wire (as Walon, an addiction counselor) and Treme (as street musician Harley Watt).

Details:West Loop. City Winery. $50–$65; $75 meet and greet. citywinery.com

Jan. 15
R&B

Meshell Ndegeocello

The word “subversive” tends to be overused when describing artists, but the term fits this bassist, singer, and songwriter. Ndegeocello’s playing can switch from soft to explosive in a matter of seconds, and her music covers funk, soul, rock, and numerous other styles without brandishing any of their trademarks or clichés. Brian Eno once called a performance of hers “probably the best show I ever saw.”

Details:Pilsen. Thalia Hall. 8 p.m. $28–$75. eventbrite.com

Jan. 16–20
Festival

Tomorrow Never Knows

January is locally recognized as the slowest month for avid concertgoers. But this annual music and comedy festival has brought the beginning of the year out of the doldrums with ace lineups. Among the musical highlights: Snail Mail (a.k.a. indie-rock singer-songwriter Lindsey Jordan); the local band Cave, with its steadily driving rhythms and spacy, distorted guitars; and Petal, a dreamy emo project headed by Kiley Lotz.

Details:Various locations. $100 five-day pass. tnkfest.com

Jan. 17
Comedy

Anthony Atamanuik

Alec Baldwin isn’t the only Donald Trump impersonator in show biz. Comedian Anthony Atamanuik plays our beleaguered leader on Comedy Central’s The President Show. For Trump Dump: American Tantrum Book Tour, Atamanuik, as Trump, gives a speech on the important issues affecting our nation, like where Rosie O’Donnell is hiding and his plan for a hair oil pipeline.

Details:Evanston. SPACE. 7:30 p.m. $20–$30. evanstonspace.com

Jan. 17
Literature

Ling Ma

A whip-smart writer with a professorship at the University of Chicago, Ma appears at a nearby bookstore for this Q&A and book signing. The work in question is Severance, her debut novel, a satirical and surreal look at contemporary life pre- and postcrisis, set in a postapocalyptic world ravaged by a deadly fever.

Details:Hyde Park. Seminary Co-op Bookstore. 6 p.m. Free. semcoop.com

Jan. 17–27
Theater

Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival

The main-stage event at the Dance Center this year features the French-Norwegian company Plexus Polaire, which will carry out a bonkers multimedia exploration of Valerie Solanas (infamous for trying to kill Andy Warhol) using anthropomorphic puppets, video projections, and intricate sound design.

Details:Various locations. $10–$30. chicagopuppetfest.org

Jan. 17–Feb. 17
Theater

Photograph 51

Director Vanessa Stalling has made a career of putting intricate, opinionated women onstage, whether en masse (The Wolves) or in pairs (A Shayna Maidel). With Anna Ziegler’s drama, she zeroes in on Rosalind Franklin (Chaon Cross), whose work made it possible for Watson and Crick’s discovery of DNA’s double helix. Like Stalling, Cross has a history of playing complex women — as a mathematician in Court’s The Hard Problem, she turned numbers into poetry.

Details:Hyde Park. Court Theatre. $38–$74. courttheatre.org

Jan. 17–Mar. 17
Theater

Cardboard Piano

When it premiered in 2016 at the Humana Festival of New Plays in Louisville, Hansol Jung’s Uganda-set drama stunned audiences with its exploration of truth, reconciliation, and the limits of forgiveness. Director Mechelle Moe helms the Chicago premiere, and be advised: Arrive early to check out the lobby, filled with interactive multimedia displays that provide historical and cultural context for the events of the play.

Details:Lake View. TimeLine Theatre. $20–$54. timelinetheatre.com

Jan. 17–Mar. 31
Art

Betsy Odom: Butchcraft

Odom coined the term “butchcraft” to suggest that conventionally masculine crafts like woodworking, carving, and leather tooling can be “queered” to express nonconforming gender identities such as butch lesbianism. The local artist’s sculptures of sporting goods and fashion — a baseball helmet made of leather and painted a garish pink, for example — play with expectations of so-called good taste.

Details:Lincoln Park. DePaul Art Museum. Free. museums.depaul.edu

Jan. 18–20
Convention

Cubs Convention

For the past 34 years, the self-hating cult known as diehard Cubs fans has congregated in a downtown hotel every January to celebrate the longtime lovable losers. Now the Cubs are just kind-of-lovable winners, but current and past players and coaches still appear for autograph signings and panels, while management gives its annual rundown of what people can expect in the forthcoming season.

Details:Streeterville. Sheraton Grand Chicago. $125. mlb.com/cubs

Jan. 18–Feb. 2
Literature

Fillet of Solo

Dozens of groups and individuals take the stage during this two-week festival celebrating the city’s local live-lit and solo-performance scenes. This year’s lineup features the comedy collective the Kates, the LGBTQ storytelling team OutSpoken!, and the Stoop, a series hosted by Moth GrandSlam champion Lily Be.

Details:Rogers Park. Lifeline Theatre. $10; $50 festival pass. lifelinetheatre.com

Jan. 18–Apr. 13
Art

Rebuilding the Present

Celebrated film director David Lynch is also an international leader in the transcendental meditation movement, and his namesake foundation is partnering with Weinberg/Newton, a local gallery dedicated to human rights and justice issues, for an exhibit focused on area artists whose work channels trancelike states. Notable participants include Leslie Baum, Cameron Harvey, and Rhonda Wheatley.

Details:River North. Weinberg/Newton Gallery. Free. weinbergnewtongallery.com

Kate Berlant
Kate Berlant Photo: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Sundance
Jan. 19
Comedy

Kate Berlant

You might recognize Kate Berlant from last year’s dystopian comedy movie Sorry to Bother You or her recurring role on the TBS show Search Party. But she’s at her best onstage performing absurdist standup that skates the line between an exercise in exaggerated character work and the innermost thoughts of a genuine, delightful weirdo.

Details:West Town. Hideout. 8 and 10 p.m. $20. hideoutchicago.com

Jan. 19–20
Gospel

Too Hot to Handel: The Jazz-Gospel Messiah

Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. with this annual gospel version of Handel’s Messiah, one of the Auditorium’s most popular programs, this year featuring soloists Rodrick Dixon, Alfreda Burke, and Karen Marie Richardson, plus more than 100 musicians and singers from across the metropolitan area.

Details:Loop. Auditorium Theatre. $29–$68. auditoriumtheatre.org

Jan. 19–Feb. 24
Theater

How to Catch Creation

A father released from prison after serving a quarter-century sentence for a crime he did not commit, a tech genius, a painter, and a novelist: They’re all at a crossroads in Christina Anderson’s drama, which had a riveting stage reading at the Goodman in 2017 and was named to the Kilroys List (an annual roster of the best local plays by women). The plot spans 40 years, during which four artistic souls keep on creating despite the fact that the world often seems designed to destroy them.

Details:Loop. Goodman Theatre. $25–$70. goodmantheatre.org

Jan. 20
Dance

Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema

Thanks to simulcasting, American audiences can witness the Moscow performances of this legendary Russian dance organization. See the classic story ballet La Bayadère performed by the Bolshoi, one of the world’s premier ballet companies, from the comfort of your local movie theater in Lincoln Park, Logan Square, or Evanston.

Details:Various locations. Noon. $20. bolshoiballetincinema.com

Jan. 20–21
Classical

MLK Tribute Concert

Chicago Sinfonietta, which plausibly bills itself as the most diverse orchestra in the country, has celebrated the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. in each of its 31 seasons with often-exuberant programs that mirror that diversity stylistically. This year’s tribute includes Beethoven’s Egmont overture, five choral settings of spirituals by the 20th-century British composer Michael Tippett, spoken-word performance of King’s speeches, and a gospel- and jazz-inflected choral-orchestral closer by James Lee III.

Details:Jan. 20: Naperville. Wentz Concert Hall, North Central College. Jan. 21: Loop. Symphony Center. $10–$75. chicagosinfonietta.org

Jan. 22
Experimental

Anika

British-German singer Annika Henderson bears many of the attributes of stylish and eccentric pop singers from the 1960s (Nico’s spooky contralto, Marianne Faithfull’s phrasing), but she’s filtered them through later musical phases, such as dub, postpunk, and early industrial. On her 2010 self-titled solo debut as Anika, produced by Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, and with her new trio Exploded View, she crafts sinister and swinging tracks suffused with alluringly ominous basslines, clanging electronic effects, and cavernous sound design.

Details:Ukrainian Village. Empty Bottle. 8:30 p.m. $15. eventbrite.com

Jan. 23
Rock

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks

This group has been making music for almost 20 years, but none of its releases have been quite as resonant as any of the material its frontman recorded with his ’90s indie-rock band Pavement. Still, the Jicks have built up an impressive catalog, a jammy brand of rickety rock that suitably undergirds Malkmus’s whimsical, enigmatic lyrics.

Details:Wrigleyville. Metro. 8 p.m. $25. etix.com

Jan. 23–Apr. 27
Art

Thessia Machado: Toward the Unsound

The title Brazilian composer is known for her interactive electronic artworks that integrate light, mechanics, and sound. Machado’s handmade, room-size instruments — one of which she described as an “architectural jukebox” — use motors and electromagnetic interference to engage visitors, whose nearby presence often activates the machines to make mellifluous sounds.

Details:Streeterville. Arts Club of Chicago. Free. artsclubchicago.org

Jan. 24
Literature

Pink Boots and a Machete

For the National Geographic Live tour dedicated to inspirational women, former NFL cheerleader and current primatologist Mireya Mayor takes the stage to share stories of her discoveries (she was part of a team that found the world’s smallest primate) and relive her time as a wildlife correspondent for the National Geographic Channel.

Details:Loop. Auditorium Theatre. 7 p.m. $42–$54. auditoriumtheatre.org

Jan. 24
Rock

The Soft Moon, Hide

The headlining act has drawn a devoted audience to its darkly sexy and sexily dark goth music, but arrive early to check out local duo Hide. Heather Gabel and Seth Sher make pummeling, warped industrial sounds fit for horror movies and destroying heavy machinery.

Details:Pilsen. Thalia Hall. 8:30 p.m. $16. eventbrite.com

Jan. 24–Mar. 2
Theater

Nina Simone: Four Women

A powerful quartet of actress-singers (Melanie Brezill, Deanna Reed-Foster, Ariel Richardson, and Sydney Charles as Simone) star in Christina Ham’s musical tribute to the four girls murdered in the 1963 bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church. Simone’s songs of protest — “Mississippi Goddam” and “Four Women,” the latter of which provides the show with its title — are threaded through Ham’s demanding script.

Details:Skokie. Northlight Theatre. $31–$73. northlight.org

Jan. 24–Mar. 2
Theater

Red Rex

On the heels of the Victory Gardens show Rightlynd and shortly before the Goodman premieres Lottery Day, Steep stages another of Ike Holter’s plays set in the fictional Chicago neighborhood Rightlynd. This one centers on a tiny theater company with a troublesome artistic director whose ambition causes him to appropriate a story that isn’t his to tell.

Details:Edgewater. Steep Theatre. $10–$38. steeptheatre.com

Jan. 24–Mar. 31
Art

Stateless: Views of Global Migration

The United Nations estimates that more than 68 million people were displaced in 2018, worsening a global crisis of refugees seeking asylum and resettlement. This exhibition highlights the work of eight photographers who address this international concern (such as Omar Imam’s portraits of Syrian refugees playing soccer in migrant camps).

Details:South Loop. Museum of Contemporary Photography. Free. mocp.org

Jan. 25–Feb. 7
Food

Chicago Restaurant Week

For the 12th year, restaurants across the city offer affordable prix fixe menus (starting at $24 per meal) for two weeks. Nearly 400 restaurants are participating in the 2019 celebration.

Details:Various locations and prices. choosechicago.com

Jan. 26–27
Classical

Hewitt Plays Mozart

Pianist Angela Hewitt is best known for how she plays Bach. Music of the Baroque specializes in, well, baroque music. Both travel a few steps outside of their comfort zones to perform the music of the classical era’s biggest rock star.

Details:Jan. 26: Loop. Harris Theater. Jan. 27: Skokie. North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. $10–$78. baroque.org

Jan. 26–Jul. 21
Art

Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, Culture, and Exchange Across Medieval Saharan Africa

Mention the Middle Ages and most people think of the knights and castles of Europe, but this exhibit aims to reframe this fertile period through the countries of West Africa, where a robust culture produced exquisite gold filigree carvings, coins, tapestries, and sculptures. More than 100 artworks and artifacts from the medieval African empires of Mali, Morocco, and Nigeria have never been on display in the United States, so see them up close before the show travels to the Smithsonian.

Details:Evanston. Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University. Free. blockmuseum.northwestern.edu

‘Prisoner of Love’
Prisoner of Love Photo: MCA Chicago
Jan. 26–Oct. 27
Art

Prisoner of Love

At the heart of this group exhibition about contemporary life in America (mostly consisting of items from the MCA’s collection) is the Mississippi-born video artist Arthur Jafa’s 2016 seven-minute masterwork, Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death, a moving portrayal of contemporary African American life that incorporates clips from Beyoncé Knowles, Barack Obama, and Martin Luther King Jr.

Details:Streeterville. Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. $8–$15. mcachicago.org

Jan. 27
Classical

Leif Ove Andsnes

The fastidious Norwegian pianist has appeared in Chicago in recent seasons performing chamber music, including a four-hand recital with Marc-André Hamelin two years ago. This time, it’s all Andsnes, with interesting, off-the-beaten-path Janacek and Bartok shoehorned between Schumann works.

Details:Loop. Symphony Center. 3 p.m. $29–$97. cso.org

Jan. 29–May 19
Art

Solidary & Solitary

This expansive, groundbreaking exhibition acknowledges the many black avant-garde artists from the 1940s and onward whose work was as challenging to the status quo as more commonplace Black Power imagery. The material features paintings full of color, tension, and beauty, comparable to those by white counterparts such as Jackson Pollock.

Details:Hyde Park. Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago. Free. smartmuseum.uchicago.edu

Jan. 31
Country

Kacey Musgraves

With radically progressive lyrics (at least for the country genre) promoting LGBTQ equality, LSD, and female empowerment, Musgraves gained early attention from traditionally noncountry outlets like Fader and Pitchfork. She continues her experimental streak on tracks like “High Horse,” a sharp ditty that sounds more like late-era Rilo Kiley than contemporary country radio.

Details:Loop. Chicago Theatre. 8 p.m. $103–$450. ticketmaster.com

Jan. 31–Feb. 2
Dance

Spectrum Dance Theater

It’s been nearly a quarter century since the decorated choreographer Donald Byrne came to Chicago with his contemporary dance company. They’ll be performing Rambunctious Iteration No. 3: The Immigrants, a timely collection of abstract pieces set to music by composers who immigrated to America from non-European countries, including Cuba and Iran.

Details:South Loop. Dance Center, Columbia College Chicago. $10–$30. dance.colum.edu

Jan. 31–Mar. 17
Theater

A Doll’s House, Part 2

Love and marriage are two completely different things. At least that’s what Nora — the woman who famously slammed the door on a stifling marriage in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House — tells her engaged daughter, Emmy, in Lucas Hnath’s sequel, set 15 years after Ibsen left off. Historically, most sequels don’t live up to the original, but Steppenwolf’s casting — Sandra Marquez and Celeste M. Cooper star as Nora and Emmy — would argue otherwise.

Details:Lincoln Park. Steppenwolf Theatre. $15–$99. steppenwolf.org

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