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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Did You Miss These?
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2005-12-28

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This was the season that an African-American company took the top Jeff awards. It was the season that Steppenwolf subscribers, almost recovered from the unpretentious nudity in Time To Burn, found themselves confronted by a stageful of strapping young men wearing nothing but shower-spray. That three fight choreographers were presented with Jeffs, while another one was nominated and passed over, fair and square ( an even more progressive sign of this skill finally receiving recognition ) . And that Japanese characters, speaking without a trace of an accent, drank single-malt scotch ( C'mon—you expected saki, didn't you? ) .

It was also the season that the whole notion of early-morning press conferences to announce the impending arrivals of touring shows was exposed for the egotistical charade it always was. And that the phrase 'too much money' was invoked to describe brave little scripts staggering under the weight of expensive and overblown staging, making us appreciate the regional productions that make up in talent what they lack in funding. And that two theater companies with long and commendable careers picked the plays that would sink them forever.

Some of the year's best shows, you can still see: Nathan The Wise plays at the Theatre Building until Dec. 31. After The Quake, upstairs at Steppenwolf until Feb. 19. Buried Child at Mary-Arrchie, until Jan. 29. Salt In The Wound at ETA, until Jan. 22. But there are others you missed, and you can only blame your own negligence while you wait for the revivals:

The Story ( Goodman Theatre ) . We're not talking Brother Rabbit in the Briar Patch any more. African-Americans wield sufficient power nowadays to endanger us all with its misuse.

As It Is In Heaven ( New Leaf ) . What had we here? A gender-segregated religious commune revealed to be the very MODEL of tolerance and enlightenment. 'Tis a gift to be simple, indeed.

Buicks ( Precious Mettle ) . Rarely will you ever see a group of artists so obviously ENJOYING what they're doing than those who worked on this smart little send-up of midlife-crisis sudsers.

Take Me Out ( About Face ) . Baseball embodies all the best of the American character in Richard Greenberg's prize-winning play—even the blunderer who ruins it for everybody is too innocent to know what he does.

7 Guitars ( Congo Square ) . They heard the music in August Wilson's words and refused to drown it in actorly posturing. It won them Jeffs for Outstanding Ensemble and Outstanding Production. And about time, too.

Pride And Prejudice ( Northlight ) and The Talisman Ring ( Lifeline ) . Romance fans lamenting last year's absence of 19th-century literary adaptations were rewarded with an abundance of sparkling and hypercivilized repartee.

The Vow ( Stage Left ) and Nathan The Wise ( Chicago Festival of the Arts ) . It's been nearly nine centuries since West met Middle East, and playwrights are only now starting to look at interfaith conflicts without the name-calling. Let's encourage them.

Woman From The Town, Louie and Ophelia and Salt In The Wound ( ETA ) . Community values still dominate in regards to subject matter, but this south side theater's productions are now sleek and savvy enough to take anywhere.

Lost Land ( Steppenwolf ) . Stephen Jeffreys' follow-up to The Libertine was a hefty chunk of history, but John Malkovich, Yasen Peyankov and Martha Lavey had the muscle to make it step lively.

AND SOME OTHER

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENTS

WE WON'T FORGET:

The intelligent texts for Permanent Collection ( Northlight ) , Intimate Apparel ( Goodman ) and Stage Directions ( Chicago Theatre Company ) .

The deft direction in The Years ( Appetite ) , Red Herring ( Northlight ) , Mariela In The Desert ( Goodman ) , Dancing At Lughnasa ( Raven ) , Carnival ( Light Opera Works ) , Anna Karenina ( Vitalist ) , Grand Hotel ( Drury Lane Water Tower Place ) , The Glass Menagerie ( The Hypocrites ) and The House of Bernarda Alba ( Greasy Joan ) .

The impressive ensemble playing in Gagarin Way ( Red Orchid ) , Incident At Vichy ( Steep Theatre ) , Dancing At Lughnasa ( Raven ) , The Five Lotus Blossoms ( Tireswing ) , The Kentucky Cycle ( Infamous Commonwealth ) and Slaughter City ( GroundUp ) .

Memorable performances from John Harrell ( Of Mice And Men ) , David Blatt and Caroline Dodge Latta ( Vincent In Brixton ) , Gregory Isaac ( Vincent In Brixton ) and Sean Neely ( Incident At Vichy ) . Oh, and the Special AARP pin-up award goes to Vincent Lonergan ( The Balcony ) .

The exotic ambiance of Mariela In The Desert ( Goodman ) , Silk ( Goodman ) , The Madwoman Of Chaillot ( Artistic Home ) and Hortensia And The Museum Of Dreams ( Victory Gardens ) .

The ghostly forest in The Thimbleberry Gallows ( GrayZelda ) , and the lush gardens in Humble Boy ( Remy Bumppo ) and Impossible Marriage ( Strawdog ) .

The ingenious props and costumes in The Sirens of Titan ( Lifeline ) and The Birds ( T.U.T.A. )

The huge worlds packed into tiny spaces in Band Geeks ( Single Box Turn ) , Kentucky Cycle ( Infamous Commonwealth ) and Galileo ( Side Studio ) .

Fred Anzevino's cozy little Bertolt Brecht and Jacques Brel revues in the cozy little No Exit café, and House Productions' dionysic abandon in Curse Of The Crying Heart at the coloseum-sized Viaduct

_____

Have you learned your lesson yet? When you make your resolutions this new year, resolve to see more plays—say, Valentine Victorious, the third and final installment of Nathan Allen's heroic action-adventure trilogy at House Productions. Or The Sea Horse, starring Guy Van Swearingen and Kirsten Fitzgerald at Red Orchid. Or Kiss of the Spider Woman at Bailiwick. Or gamble on an unknown show that just MIGHT turn out to be tomorrow's international classic.


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