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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With book, music and lyrics by Canadian playwright Jonathan Christenson, this chamber musical fancifully recounts the life of macabre author Poe. The Chicago premiere is presented by Black Button Eyes Productions.
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.