24 Chicago theater shows to see in January

Stay warm with a wide array of new plays to start off the new year
Photograph: Joe Mazza/Brave Lux
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As the calendar turns over and we’re all teaching ourselves to write “18” on our checks—and while we’re waiting to see what kind of real-world drama the new year will bring—there’s no shortage of high-quality actual theater on Chicago’s stages, from 20th-century classics to fresh historical dramas to angst-ridden musicals to new works by new voices. It’s gonna be cold out, so dress in layers, huddle up with an audience and beat back the winter doldrums with dozens of new plays opening across the city—here are 24 of the most promising to choose from.

January theater picks

Photograph: Michael Brosilow
Theater, Drama

Traitor

Playwright Brett Neveu, a resident of Evanston, recasts Henrik Ibsen’s 19th-century local-politics drama An Enemy of the People as a contemporary tale of the North Shore in his new loose adaptation. Neveu’s Red Orchid ensemblemate Michael Shannon directs.

The Humans
Photograph: courtesy The Humans
Theater, Drama

The Humans

Stephen Karam’s affecting family drama, in which modern-day anxieties loom large over a taut Thanksgiving dinner, premiered at Chicago’s American Theater Company in 2014 before going on to win the 2016 Tony Award for Best Play. It returns in a touring version of the Broadway production with a cast including Richard Thomas, Pamela Reed and Daisy Eagan.

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Theater, Drama

Blind Date

The title may sound like a rom-com, but Rogelio Martinez’s new play is something closer to Frost/Nixon: The playwright takes us behind the scenes at the 1985 Geneva Summit between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. The cast for Robert Falls’s production includes William Dick and Mary Beth Fisher as Gorbachev and his wife, Raisa, and Rob Riley and Tony Award winner Deanna Dunagan as Ron and Nancy.

TheaterWit.Venue.jpg
Photograph: Max Herman
Theater, Comedy

The Antelope Party

Theater Wit stages the premiere of Eric John Meyer’s comedy about a meetup group for adult My Little Pony fans (a.k.a. “bronies”). The hot-to-trot cast of equine enthusiasts includes Will Allan, Anu Bhatt, Mary Winn Heider, Evan Linder, Edward Mawere and Annie Munch.

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Jim DeSelm, Matt Crowle and Neala Barron
Photograph: Michael Courier
Theater, Musicals

Merrily We Roll Along

This 1981 musical by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth, which charts the (doomed) friendship and (mixed) careers of songwriters Franklin and Charley and novelist Mary in reverse chronological order, was a box-office bomb when it premiered on Broadway but has found a loyal fan base in the decades since. Jim DeSelm, Matt Crowle and Neala Barron lead Porchlight Music Theatre’s revival, helmed by Michael Weber.

Photograph: Joe Mazza/Brave Lux
Theater, Drama

All My Sons

Arthur Miller’s 1947 study of capitalist corruption and war profiteering, as embodied in one American family’s postwar tragedy, never seems to lose relevance. Court’s Charles Newell directs this latest revival, featuring John Judd and Kate Collins as Joe and Kate Keller and Timothy Edward Kane as son Chris.

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Theo Germaine
Photograph: courtesy TimeLine Theatre Company
Theater, Drama

Boy

Inspired by a real-life case, Anna Ziegler’s 2016 play probes questions of gender identity via the story of a boy whose parents, on the advice of a well-intentioned doctor, raise him for a time as a girl after a botched infant circumcision in the 1960s. Theo Germaine (pictured) leads director Damon Kiely’s cast at TimeLine.

Photograph: Joe Martinez Jr.
Theater, Drama

Five Mile Lake

Five young adults in small-town Pennsylvania navigate choices made and dreams deferred in this Chekhovesque 2014 work by East Coast playwright Rachel Bonds. Cody Estle directs the Chicago premiere for Shattered Globe.

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Athenaeum.Venue.jpg
Photograph: Mark Wright
Theater, Comedy

Insurrection: Holding History

Stage Left Theatre mounts the Chicago premiere of this fanciful but weighty comedy by Robert O’Hara (Bootycandy), in which a gay, black graduate student who’s writing his thesis on Nat Turner’s rebellion gets the opportunity to go back in time and meet Turner in person. Wardell Julius Clark directs.

Photograph: Christopher Semel
Theater, Comedy

Nice Girl

Melissa Ross’s 2015 play follows a woman in her late 30s in the early '80s, semi-resigned to caring for her elderly mother at the expense of finding a relationship of her own. Lucy Carapetyan is the titular nice girl in Raven Theatre’s Chicago premiere, directed by Lauren Shouse.

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Photograph: Johnny Knight
Theater, Drama

Rose

A breakout hit of the Greenhouse’s 2016 “Solo Celebration,” this one-woman play by Kennedy family biographer Laurence Leamer is a portrait of matriarch Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy. Linda Reiter reprises her Jeff Award–winning performance for this remount, again directed by Steve Scott.

Kai Ealy
Photograph: courtesy Jackalope Theatre Company
Theater, Drama

Franklinland

Jackalope Theatre Company premieres a new work by New York–based playwright Lloyd Suh about the relationship between Benjamin Franklin, icon of the American Revolution, and his son William (Kai Ealy, pictured), who sided with the crown. Chika Ike directs.

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Calamity West
Photograph: Andrew Nawrocki
Theater, Comedy

Hinter

Steep Theatre commissioned this new work from local playwright Calamity West, a “darkly comic thriller” involving mass murder and changing societal mores in a small Bavarian town in the wake of World War I. Steep company member Brad DeFabo Akin directs.

Theater, Comedy

We’re Gonna Be Okay

Two families work through national and neighborly fear as the Cuban Missile Crisis looms in this new comedy by Basil Kreimendahl, which comes to American Theater Company following its 2017 debut at the Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, Kentucky. ATC’s Will Davis directs.

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Chopin Theatre
Photograph: Katie Kullen
Theater, Musicals

Hatfield & McCoy

The House Theatre of Chicago remounts company member Shawn Pfautsch’s backwoods brawler with a touch of Romeo & Juliet, first produced in 2006. The revised production is infused with a new score of bluegrass-style songs by Pfautsch and Matt Kahler; the show’s original director, Matt Hawkins, returns to the helm for the new staging.

Photograph: Heath Hays
Theater, Drama

Pillars of the Community

Strawdog Theatre Company officially moves into its new North Center digs with another timely but lesser-seen Ibsen play about power and corruption, here in a 2005 adaptation by Samuel Adamson, in which a successful businessman’s standing is threatened when his long-lost brother turns up. Elly Green directs.

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Photograph: Alexus McLane
Theater, Drama

The Light

A surprise proposal leads down an unexpected path for Genesis (Tiffany Oglesby) and Rashad (Jeffery Owen Freelon Jr.) in this new two-hander by Loy Webb, staged by the New Colony. Toma Langston directs.

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Photograph: Salar Ardebili
Theater, Drama

For the Loyal

Lee Blessing’s 2015 drama, in which the wife of an assistant coach ends up taking on a college football program inclined to protect its own, was inspired by the Penn State sexual abuse coverup. Interrobang Theatre Project has the Chicago premiere, directed by co-artistic director James Yost.

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Debo Balogun
Photograph: Ian McLaren
Theater, Drama

Moon Man Walk

A young man named Monarch (Debo Balogun, pictured) journeys home following his mother’s death and makes some discoveries about himself along the way. Definition Theatre Company brings Philadelphia playwright James Ijames’s work to the Chicago stage for the first time, with direction by Tyla Abercrumbie.

Photograph: Paul Goyette
Theater, Musicals

Yank!

A charming gay love story set in the armed forces during World War II, this musical by the sibling songwriting team of David and Joseph Zellnik had a well-received Off Broadway production in 2010. Pride Films & Plays mounts the show’s Chicago premiere.

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Photograph: Wikimedia Commons
Theater, Drama

The Locketeer

Trap Door Theatre’s Catherine Sullivan directs this ensemble-devised adaptation of Bulgarian-born writer Elias Canetti’s 1956 play The Numbered, a dystopian fable in which the unnamed state puts arbitrary caps on its citizens’ lifespans.

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Photograph: Todd Taylor
Theater, Comedy

Flamingo & Decatur

Block St Theatre Co, a company that’s primarily based in Fayetteville, Arkansas but has Chicago ties, makes the trek north to premiere this new comedy about down-on-their-luck professional gamblers squatting in one of Las Vegas’s many foreclosed homes. Playwright Todd Taylor is himself a former professional poker player, which presumably lends some authenticity to the proceedings.

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