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Blowing hot and cold: Theater for a Chicago winter
by Mary Shen Barnidge

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What a winter this is turning out to be! Can there be any excuse for not going out see a play?

The start of 2012 features several of the never-before-seen-here productions for which Chicago is famous: among those addressing topical subjects are Enron (corporate rapacity), opening Jan. 27 at Timeline Theatre; Disgraced (obstacles to assimilation), opening Jan. 30 at American Theater Company; Time Stands Still (wartime trauma), opening Jan. 21 at Steppenwolf, Megacosm (the menace of technology), currently running through Feb. 26 at Red Orchid; and The Fishermen (disgruntlement in the labor sector), opening Feb. 25 at Stage Left.

In addition, there are the Invisible Man (social alienation), opening Jan. 21 at Court Theatre; Punk Rock (Brit-school teen angst), opening Jan. 22 at Griffin; The Legend of Buster Neal (drugs, violence and the need for male mentors), currently running through Feb. 29 at eta Square; and Race, Windy City icon David Mamet's diatribe on the eternal racial dialogue, opening at the Goodman Theatre.

Ripped from the local headlines are Jon Steinhagen's Blizzard '67, currently running through Feb. 12 at Chicago Dramatists, and the upcoming Dating Walter Dante, opening Feb. 12 at Raven Theatre. Home-grown playwright Ronan Marra's football-themed Motion opens Jan. 28 at Signal Ensemble. It's not all grim and solemn, however—the romantic comedy Ten Chimneys, set in the Lake Geneva summer home of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine during a visit by a youthful Uta Hagen, opens at Northlight March 16.

This doesn't mean that those seeking classics from the repertoire should go into hibernation until the vernal equinox. On the equity circuit is the Gary Griffin-directed Midsummer Night's Dream, opening at Chicago Shakespeare Feb. 15. Off-Loop, The Petrified Forest, Robert E. Sherwood's hostage drama, opens Feb. 26 at Strawdog Theatre.

The recently resurrected Shattered Globe Theatre presents Tennessee Williams' expressionistic Orpheus Descending Feb. 10, while Raven Theatre also offers Arthur Miller's The Price (opening March 4), and the Artistic Home invites controversy with its production of Robert Anderson's 1953 shocker, Tea and Sympathy starting March 18. A pair of Eugene O'Neill plays celebrate St. Patrick's Day with Eclipse Theatre's Beyond the Horizon, opening March 18 and Seanachaí Theatre's Moon For The Misbegotten, opening March 15.

A trend begun last year involved plays previously seen in the big venues being staged in small spaces—e.g., the Ka-Tet Theatre Company's intimate Side Man, or Redtwist's Bug and Man From Nebraska. Continuing the roster of what music-radio deejays call "Not the Original Version" revivals are Tracy Letts' Superior Donuts, currently running through March 25 in Mary-Arrchie Theatre's cozy loft; Michael Healey's The Drawer Boy, opening for the Filament Theatre Ensemble at the Den Jan. 19; and Craig Lucas and Adam Guettel's The Light In The Piazza, as fitted to Theo Ubique's pocket-sized room at the No Exit Café, opening March 11.

Moving in the opposite direction, Ed Schmidt's Mr. Rickey Calls A Meeting—a hidden gem for the Chicago Theatre Company in 1991—finds new audiences at Lookingglass' Water Works (currently running through Feb. 19), along with Nathan Allen's Death and Harry Houdini, with Dennis Watkins performing his persona's dangerous water torture escape in the round (!) for House Theatre, opening Jan. 29.

Expanding their budgets, if not their physical dimensions, are Jason Wells' The North Plan, a hit at Steppenwolf's 2010 First Look, opening at Theater Wit Feb. 26; Eric Pfeffinger's Accidental Rapture, moving to the suburbs, where it runs through Feb. 18 at Berwyn's 16th Street Theater; and Randall Colburn's Hesperia, transferring from the Right Brain Project's cinder-block cell in the Ravenswood corridor to open in the more sumptuous quarters of Glencoe's Writers Theatre Feb. 2.

Add to this already impressive roster imports like Victory Gardens' slam-infused Ameriville, opening Feb. 6; Collaboraction's virtual-world Dark Plays or Stories For Boys, currently running through Feb. 26; and Lookingglass' Rick Bayless in Cascabel—featuring the title chef himself in a star vehicle lending new meaning to the term "dinner theater"—opening March 27. Now whether we end up enjoying the sunshine or battling cabin fever in the next three months, don't you feel like taking in a show?

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