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Chicago Shakespeare Theater's Barbara Gaines to stage six-play history cycle in 2016

Written by
Kris Vire

Chicago Shakespeare Theater has announced the lineup for its 2015–16 season, to include the first half of a cycle of six history plays to be staged by artistic director Barbara Gaines. Under the umbrella title Tug of War, the cycle includes Edward III, Henry V and Henry VI, Part 1, to debut in May 2016, with the second installment, comprising Henry VI, Parts 2 and 3 and Richard III, to open the 2016–17 season in September.

Gaines conceived the undertaking in the spirit of next year's global celebrations of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death. CST staged Rose Rage, Edward Hall's five and a half hour condensation of the three Henry VI plays, over a decade ago in a production that transferred to New York. Gaines's willingness to go even bigger is perhaps emboldened by Chicago audiences' lately demonstrated appetite for marathon performances the likes of All Our Tragic and The Hammer Trinity.

Also on the upcoming slate is a new staging of The Tempest, to star Larry Yando as Prospero, opening the season in September. This particular Tempest, previously seen around the country including at American Repertory Theater in Massachusetts and South Coast Repertory in California, sports quite the eclectic pedigree: It's co-adapted and co-directed by Aaron Posner (Stupid Fucking Bird, My Name Is Asher Lev) and Teller, of Penn & Teller, who has also designed the show's magic; it also features songs by the husband-and-wife team of Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan, and choreography by the dance collective Pilobolus.

In the Upstairs Theatre this fall, Rachel Rockwell will stage a new musical developed at CST: Ride the Cyclone, by Jacob Richmond and Brooke Maxwell, is described as a quirky tale about six teenagers killed in a roller-coaster accident but given the chance to tell their stories in the fateful moment. Doug Peck provides musical direction.

In December, Chicago Shakes returns to playwright David Ives for another of his modern adaptations of 17th-century French verse comedy—this time, Jean-François Regnard's The Heir Apparent. John Rando directs the Chicago premiere. In February, Stratford Festival regular Dion Johnstone will play the title role in a new Othello, staged by Jonathan Munby. And in summer 2016, the Q Brothers will debut another of their "ad-rap-tations": Madsummer, based on A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Family programming newly announced for this July and August includes the Disney musical The Little Mermaid, also to be staged by Rockwell, and a Shakespeare in the Parks tour of Shakespeare's Greatest Hits, a theatrical mashup of scenes from the Bard's best-known plays and current popular music, as conceived by Gaines and directed by Geoff Button.

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