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WINTER THEATER SPECIAL Genre-defying works dot theater landscape
by Sean Margaret Wagner

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There's a lot to be excited about on Chicago's upcoming theater slate. Winter promises dozens of shows premiering with weird, powerful and hilarious stories, and featuring fantastic casts. Get ready to put on your snow boots, because these performances will lure you out of the house on the coldest night.

—Pipeline, Victory Gardens Theatre ( debuting Feb. 1 ): A mother and her teen son face the fallout and question the events that got the young man expelled from his private school. Dominique Morisseau's powerful play about the outsized consequences of your actions when you are young, Black and angry in a mostly White environment can't help but resonate with Chicago in this moment ( and unfortunately, many moments ). As we deal with the legal repercussions of the death of Laquan McDonald, this production will likely remind us of the blind eyes we turn to persisting injustice.

—On Clover Road, American Blues Theater ( Feb. 1 ): In a seedy motel, a tense meeting is arranged between a cult deprogrammer and a mother who expects to meet her teen daughter, a former cult member who is now fully deprogrammed. But, of course, nothing is ever that simple. This Steven Dietz script is purportedly *spoilers* exceedingly tense, and filled with *spoilers* twists and turns that audiences are expressly asked to keep secret. Color me intrigued.

—Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Writers Theatre ( Feb.9 ): Tensions come to a boil when members of Ma Rainey's band succumb to infighting and vie for the attention of their fickle music producers. Set against a backdrop of the 1920s blues scene, this August Wilson production from returning director Ron OJ Parsons is all but guaranteed to be a sweeping, gorgeous and haunting experience. Though there is nearly a century separating us from the setting of this play, so much about it still resonates today.

—The Abuelas, Teatro Vista ( Feb. 9 ): It's billed as a follow-up production to Stephanie Alison Walker's The Madres ( produced last year as part of the Teatro Vista 2018 season ), and I love the concept of a theatrical sequel. The Madres explored activist Argentinian women confronting military genocide and imprisonment of dissenting civilians in 1979. This follow-up takes place 37 years later, and follows wealthy and established Gabriela, who is freshly exposed to her family's secrets. The Abuelas explores the effects of Argentina's Dirty War on the next generation.

—Fulfillment Center, Red Orchid Theatre ( Feb. 10 ): Get ready for a massive dose of ennui by following four lost characters who have found themselves living in limbo from the lives they've put on hold, and working in and around the remote fulfillment center of a gigantic Amazon-like internet giant. Abe Koogler's Fulfillment Center promises to evoke both laughter and heartbreak, and be both poetic and mundane as a former folk singer, a drifter, a manager at the center and his bored girlfriend try to carve out a future for themselves.

—The Man Who Was Thursday, Lifeline Theatre ( Feb. 15 ): Lifeline has repeatedly proven that it can make quick work of impossibly British literary dreamscapes. In this Edwardian adventure, a Scotland Yard detective infiltrates a society of anarchists only to discover this web is weirder and wider than he ever conceived. Exploring a network of spies and secret societies, the company's take on G. K. Chesterton's 1908 London satire sounds like a thrilling addition to its sci-fi wheelhouse, with something to say about the anarchy of today's politics.

—We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as South West Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915, Steppenwolf Theatre ( March 1 ): It sounds daunting, no? This production is billed as a documentary-style lecture on an obscure subject that goes a bit awry as the performers get increasingly inspired to go off-script when the true story gets too real. By spending time in the shoes of both the Herero people, who were wiped from existence, and the German colonizers who brought about their brutal genocide, the performers begin to lose the capacity to remain detached and removed from their subject.

—Remember the Alamo, The NeoFuturists ( March 4 ): The NeoFuturists and creator Nick Hart are not kidding around, folks. No one is leaving the theater, until you, the whole audience, the ensemble of course, and the technical and managing staff ( why not? ) can completely re-create the battle of the Alamo. Get ready to get your hands dirty in this world premiere devised piece; who knows what sort of heavy lifting you might be asked to do?

—The Ridiculous Darkness, Sideshow Theatre ( March 24 ): Translated from a German radio drama by Wolfram Lotz, which satirizes both Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and the film it inspired, Apocalypse Now, the Ridiculous Darkness brings us a comedic retread of the hell of war and colonization with some new twists. In the spirit of timely updates, this production promises to visit Afghanistan, Somalian pirate boats and more. Plan for hilarity, get surprised by the emotional depth, and listen closely through the inevitable mumbly Brando impression. ( This technically begins in the spring, but it sounds incredibly intriguing. )

—Small World, The New Colony ( March 27 ): In Jillian Leff and Joe Lima's new play, the pocalypse has happened—or not ( and, yes, this technically begins in the spring as well ). There's really no way for the characters in Small World to know, they are Disney park employees trapped in the still-functioning "It's a Small World" ride, unable to escape, with casualties already mounting, and sanity ( I assume ) pushed to its breaking point. Still, if it truly is the apocalypse, what's waiting for them outside may not be better than everyone's favorite Disney song on repeat.

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