Hey, look around! It's summer in Chicago: the trees are leafy and green, the flowers are in bloom and its forty degrees and foggy. OK, the weather has been a bit strange this year, but nonetheless the warm season is upon us and that means theater under the stars as comedy, drama and music move to the Great Outdoors throughout our region. Here are a few of our perennial favorites.
American Players Theatre, Spring GreenIn recent years, American Players Theatre (APT) has vigorously marketed itself to Chicagoans and employed several well-known local directors such as William Brown, James Bohnen and Kate Buckley, all three of whom return to APT this season. The June 4-Oct. 2 outdoor season in the 1,148-seat (comfy seats) Up-the-Hill amphitheatre includes works by Shakespeare, Coward, Steinbeck and Sheridan playing in repertory, while the indoor season in the new, smaller Touchstone Theatre offers Williams, Dostoyevsky and Sophocles. In addition to APT, Spring Green (50 miles west of Madison) offers boating and fishing on the Wisconsin River, Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin, country B&Bs, antiques and good local restaurants. Tickets are at www.americanplayers.org; $40-$65. NOTE: It's 20 percent off all single tickets purchased by June 3.
American Folklore Theatre, Fish CreekThe famous Door County peninsula north of Green Bay has been a summer haven for years and offers a hat-trick of outdoor playhouses. Situated within Peninsula State Park just outside Fish Creek, American Folklore Theatre offers 90- minute, family-friendly, original musicals based on Wisconsin and American history. They describe themselves as "humble yet polished, hopeful yet not sentimental, historical yet hysterical." The June 15-Aug. 27 outdoor season offers Bing! The Cherry Musical, Guys and Does and Lumberjacks in Love, all of which sound sexual to me but aren't. Tickets: www.folkoretheatre.com, $19 (adult general admission, sharply discounted for kids and teens)
Peninsula Players, Fish CreekJust down the road apiece from the Folklore folks is the legendary mother of all summer-stock theaters, the Peninsula Players now in its 76th year. Still under the direction of long-time Chicago favorite Greg Vinkler, Peninsula Players (PP) this year offers a June 14-Oct. 16 five show season with A Few Good Men, Yazmina Reza's God of Carnage and The Importance of Being Earnest ( with Vinkler as Lady Bracknell) among the titles. With its new, comfortable and weather-sheltered pavilion, its garden campus directly on the Lake Michigan shore and the nightly post-show bonfire, Peninsula Players remains a Door County must-do. Tickets: www.peninsulaplayers.com, $32-$38
Door Shakespeare, Baileys HarborAcross the Door Peninsula on the quieter Eastern Shore, Door Shakespeare offers Twelfth Night and Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice for its 12th season, July 8-Aug. 21. The company location is a beautiful, 400-acre private estate called Bjorklunden which makes a perfect garden setting for Door Shakes. Tickets: www.doorshakespeare.com, $25 (adults, sharply discounted for teens and kids)
We're loyal to you, Illinois
Illinois Shakespeare Festival, Bloomington-NormalFor 31 years, Illinois Shakespeare Festival (ISF) has presented The Bard on the grounds of Ewing Manor, a beautiful private estate with pseudo-Tudor buildings and splendid gardens. For the last decade, performances have been in a handsome, purpose-built 250-seat outdoor theater. This year's June 23-Aug. 7 season offers Romeo and Juliet, The Winter's Tale and The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged), a comic romp through 37 plays in 97 minutes. Bloomington-Normal is heaven for those who love luxury B&Bs, antiquing and Victorian architecture. Tickets: www.thefestival.org, $27-$47
First Folio Theatre, OakbrookThe summer offering for 2011 is Romeo and Juliet, July 6-Aug. 7, directed by Nick Sandys (who would have played Romeo just a coupla' years ago). He's also an esteemed fight director so the swordplay should dazzle. First Folio is in the bucolic setting of the Peabody Estate, Mayslake Forest Preserve, with beautiful gardens and even a charming little chapel. Bring your own blanket or folding chair (or rent one), come early to picnic and relax. The official prohibition of alcohol is not too strictly enforced. Tickets: www.firstfolio.org, $29-$35
Oak Park Festival Theatre, Oak ParkSomething has happened to the firefliesthere aren't nearly as many as there used to bein woodsy Austin Gardens in the Oak Park Historic District. Instead, you can watch the many rabbits cavort as the sun goes down and the stage lights come up between two mighty oak trees. For its 37th season, June 9-Aug. 20, the Oak Park Festival offers The History of Henry IV (Shakespeare's Parts I and II combined) and Henry V. There are bleacher seats, or bring your own blanket and/or chair. Austin Gardens is an easy drive with easy street parking, and also just a short walk from the Blue Line terminus at Harlem. Tickets: www.oakparkfestival.com, $25.
Theater on the Lake, ChicagoThe red brick pavilion on the lakefront at the foot of Fullerton has played host to summer theater since 1942. For some years now, it's offered a summer showcase of hit Off-Loop productions from the regular season and this year is no different. Theater on the Lake will present one-week runs of eight shows, June 15-Aug. 7, among them hits from Theo Ubique, Infamous Commonwealth, Eclipse and Collaboraction ranging from Ibsen's A Doll's House to Big River and the songs of Harold Arlen. Although your head is covered, the walls are open to the elements and the chill off-the-lake breezes do sometimes blow, so we've included this venue in our outdoor category. Tickets: www.chicagoparkdistrict.com, $17.50
As with all outdoor venues, especially those beyond the city limits, bring a sweatshirt or jackets against the chill night air, and bring insect repellent. Mosquitoes like summer theater, too, and they like summer theater audiences even more!