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FALL THEATER PREVIEW And now for something you've never seen!
by Jonathan Abarbanel, Windy City Times

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Since the early days of off-Loop Theater, Chicago audiences have preferred the new over the same-old same-old.

Today, Chicago theaters present in excess of 800 productions every year, according to the League of Chicago Theatres, and nearly half of them are world premieres while many more are American or local premieres. Of course, it's impossible to predict whether the new stuff will be thumbs up or thumbs down. Pundits such as me can make educated guesses at best, and here are mine for the next three months.

Sylvester, Lifeline Theatre, now playing through Oct. 29—A romantic novel set in Regency England, penned by the prolific and masterful Georgette Heyer in 1957, adapted for the stage by Christine Calvit and directed by Dorothy Milne. This trio has created utterly delightful Lifeline amusements on previous occasions, so we can only hope they score another hit with this world premiere. A hint to the story may lie in its full title, Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle. .

The Rembrandt, Steppenwolf Theatre, now playing through Nov. 5—Jessica Dickey's contemporary play concerns an art museum guard who feels compelled to run his hands over a Rembrandt painting he protects, resulting in—well—apparently a journey in time and space. This Chicago premiere features the outstanding acting talents of Francis Guinan and John Mahoney, which make it a must-see ... and the premise is intriguing as well. Details: .

Goodman New Stages Festival, Sept. 20-Oct. 8—Three workshop productions of new plays and five more readings of new works still in-process. The line-up of authors—David Cale, Rebecca Gilman and Ike Holter among them—suggests a new works fest that will be a cut above most. Chicago-based Holter is especially hot-button just now as co-founder of an artists' group attempting to coerce theater critics into political correctness as defined by Holter & cohorts. He's a fine playwright of proven worth and talent; he should let his plays speak for him. Details: .

Quixote: On the Conquest of Self, Writers Theatre ( Glencoe ), Sept. 27-Dec. 17—This production is not part of the Latino Theater Festival ( see below ) but it probably should be. Mexican author/director Claudio Valdes Kuri and co-author Monica Hoth use Miguel de Cervantes' classic about a noble dreamer to leap meditatively into the present. Valdes Kuri, founder of several performing arts companies in Mexico, will direct an English translation by Georgina Escobar. Leading Chicago actor and director Henry Godinez will star. .

Chicago International Latino Theater Festival—Sept. 29-Oct. 29—Cuba's Ludi Teatro, Puerto Rico's Arte Boricua, Mexico's Teatro Linea de Sombra and Columbia's Vueltas Bravas Producciones will join Chicago companies Aguijon Theater, Teatro Luna, Teatro Vista, Urban Theater and Water People Theater in an inaugural international festival with a number of U.S. and regional premieres. Venues include the Chicago Shakespeare, Steppenwolf and Victory Gardens theaters and the National Museum of Mexican Art. The Festival is a project of the Chicago Latino Theater Alliance ( CLATA ). .

The Man-Beast, First Folio Theatre ( Oakbrook ), Oct. 4-Nov. 5—A very clever playwright, Joseph Zettelmaier, has penned this world premiere as the final part of a horror trilogy. It concerns a "loup-garou"—a werewolf—in 18th-century France and is based on a traditional French legend. The lead performers—Elizabeth Laidlaw and Aaron Christensen—are gifted veterans, skilled at stage combat and well acquainted with horror theater. It will be performed in the Peabody Mansion at the Mayslake Forest Preserve. .

The Invisible Hand, Steep Theatre, Oct. 5-Nov. 11—A Chicago premiere by Ayad Akhtar, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Pakistani-American author of Disgraced. His new play concerns an American banker held hostage in Pakistan and his gambit to stay alive by trading his global financial expertise for his life. Steep Theatre has a justifiable reputation for the power of its productions and, often, their pertinence to current affairs. .

Marie Christine, BoHo Theatre at Theater Wit, Oct. 21-Dec. 10—Composer/lyricist Michael John LaChiusa borrowed elements of Medea and voodoo queen Marie Laveau in this passionate tale of a Creole beauty who turns from love to vengeance in late-1800s New Orleans and Chicago. This tragic, operatic story is a perfect fit for LaChiusa's wide-ranging, sweeping and forceful musical talents. It's a Chicago premiere. .

Newsies, Marriott Theatre ( Lincolnshire ), Oct. 25-Dec. 31—Although already seen in Chicago in the Broadway national tour, this is the locally-produced premiere of this musical ( from the 1992 Disney movie ) about the New York newsboys' strike of 1899. The stage adaptation is by Harvey Fierstein with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Jack Feldman. The Marriott is one of the nation's finest regional music theaters, consistently offering top talent and excellent musical values.

Significant Other, Theater Wit, Nov. 2-Dec. 10—Ah, to be young, gay, footloose and fancy-free in glamorous New York City! But, oh, what to do when all your best gal pals get married and leave you friendless. This comedy by Joshua Harmon, which opened/closed on Broadway just last winter/spring, will feature one of Chicago's very best young actors, Alex Weisman, in his farewell role before heading to the Big Apple where he will be in Harry Potter and the Curse Child, opening next spring. .

Fade, Victory Gardens Theater, Nov. 4-Dec. 23—Tanya Saracho, the gifted writer and performer who co-founded Teatro Luna, went Hollywood several years ago, finding great success writing for films/TV. This regional premiere goes behind the scenes of a TV series to focus on a young Latina writer and the unexpected man who becomes her muse. Note: Fade also will be seen Oct. 26-29 as part of the International Latino Theatre Festival. ( See above. ) .

The Book of Will, Northlight Theatre, Nov. 9-Dec 17—Will Shakespeare is dead, and his surviving Globe Theatre colleagues want to publish his plays. They must become literary sleuths to do it, and find the money for it, too. Award-winning young writer Laura Gunderson takes us to 1623 London for the backstory of the justly-famous First Folio. Astute veteran Jessica Thebus directs this regional premiere of Gunderson's brand-new play. .

The Minutes, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Nov. 9-Dec. 31. A Tracy Letts world premiere at his home theater company is a must-see. This new play from Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner Letts ( August: Osage County ) is described as a "scathing new comedy about small-town politics and real-world power" and "what we would do to keep from becoming history's losers." It's going directly from Steppenwolf to Broadway with a cast featuring William Petersen, Francis Guinan, John Vincent Meredith and Kevin Anderson among others, with Steppenwolf's artistic director, Anna D. Shapiro, directing. .

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