Chicago is an experimental theater city, from its regional houses all the way down to its storefront scene.
More often than not, the material produced on our stages does not fit neatly into the category of drama or comedy, linear narrative or episodic triptych. What draws audiences to our theater is the expectation that anything can happen, that genres are pliable and worth defying.
With that in mind, there are a variety of intriguing shows coming to the Chicago area this spring, and the following list touches on what promise to be the most intriguing. Shows are listed according to production dates.
All Childish Things: Fans go to extremes for the things they love. Star Wars fans prove to be no exception in this spin on the heist plot at First Folio. By combining the world of intense nerdery with an action plot, playwright Joseph Zettelmaier opens up the mind to a whole new galaxy of character possibilities. ( Jan. 23-Feb. 24; info/tickets: FirstFolio.org )
A Doll's House Pt 2: Lucas Hnath's upending of Henrik Ibsen's classic tragedy was a hit in New York, and it is sure to entertain here. By asking what happened to Nora after she left her husband Torvald, the playwright invites the audience to look at the woman's lifelong journey to enlightenment from a less grandiose height. Director Robin Witt will excel at combining the play's bitter humor and heartfelt conclusions, and the Steppenwolf Theatre ensemble led by Sandra Marquez will embrace the caustic nature of the piece. ( Jan. 31-March 17; info/tickets: Steppenwolf.org )
Girl in the Red Corner: Women are rarely allowed to be angry in public, let alone onstage. In the production, mixed martial arts lessons allow the play's heroine to express her aggression in full view of the audience. Broken Nose Theatre has often specialized in overlooked points of view, and this story looks to bring immediacy and liberation to physical exertion. ( Feb. 1-March 2; info/tickets: BrokenNoseTheatre.com )
The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes: Hell In A Handbag Productions celebrates the absurd in the cultural artifacts we love, and the company has been doing well by the titular Golden Girls for quite a while. Artistic director David Cerda brings the Theatre of the Ridiculous to the sitcom, and his emphasis on finding the silliness in every possible narrative trope is what makes this production noteworthy. ( Feb. 8-March 10; info/tickets: HandbagProductions.org )
The Soccer Player in the Closet: Nothing Without A Company often presents productions in unlikely spaces. For The Soccer Player in the Closet, Ryan Oliveira's new play, they head to Christy Weber Landscapes, which surely motivates them to break the fourth wall in some unusual way. The play also mixes Spanish and Portuguese into its dialogue, allowing for a richer experience and exploration of a soccer player who has refused to leave his room. ( Feb. 11-March 17; info/tickets: nothingwithoutacompany.org/soccerplayer )
Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde: This remount of Promethean Theatre Ensemble's 2016 production combines docudrama with bon mots in exploring Oscar Wilde's indecency trials. The characters are largely cast playing the opposite gender, and the clever spirit of the play is harnessed Jamie Bragg as Wilde. Mosies Kaufman's script allows for surprise after surprise, but Promethean's ensemble adds an additional element of interrogation to the mix. ( Feb. 15-March 23; info/tickets: PrometheanTheatre.org )
Mike Pence Sex Dream: The title might say it all, but in case the reader would like more information, this production comes from the courageous souls at First Floor Theater, who specialize in experimental and biting work. Taking topics of today to a nightmarish extremeincluding having one character fall in love with a pig while another is visited by a phantasmagorical Mike Pencemeans this experience will not be easily categorized. ( Feb. 15-March 16; info/tickets: FirstFloorTheater.com )
Getting Old Sucks: Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble tackles aging not through stereotype, but through experience, in this devised work what it means as our bodies change. Movement is one of the most notable aspects of our lives, and showcasing how we change as we age through dance puts a new spin on a subject humankind has been mulling over for generation. ( Feb. 22-March 3; Danztheatre.org ).
2 Unfortunate 2 Travel: Prop Thtr has been home to genre-defying work for years, and this piece proves no exception. Director Zach Weinberg, along with his ensemble, present a man's vacation as a variety show that hides darker truths. The range of art forms on display, from shadow puppetry to a live game show, will likely engage audiences and prepare them for profound change. ( March 8-April 15; info/tickets: Propthtr.org )
A Number: Caryl Churchill's stunner of a sci-fi play starts with a high concept and ends with an emotionally bruising, personal anguish. Writers Theater is wise to pick up a script that plays with identity and personality through recognition and performance. ( March 20-June 8; info/tickets: WritersTheater.org )