Ten Isn't Enough: Chicago Theater in 2015
It's the changing of another year, and that means retrospectives on the departing season—but how can anyone reduce our city's eight hundred-plus plays to a puny "top ten" list? When I think back on 2015, I recall several moments that don't fit the usual categories. Here, then, are my choices for recognition:
STEREOTYPE-FREE ZONE AWARDS - Productions: Cowboy vs. Samurai, A-Squared Theatre. Nice Indian Boy, Rasaka Theatre. Bad Jews, Theater Wit. R+J:The Vineyard, Red Theater. Art, Amazing Sammo. An Issue of Blood, Victory Gardens. Playwright Philip Dawkins and actor Derek Zellicoffer, Charm, Northlight Theatre. Actors: Rom Barkhorder, The Who and The What, Victory Gardens. Alena Aranas, Marie Antoinette, Steppenwolf. Michael Patrick Thornton, Title and Deed, Lookingglass Theatre Company. Don Bender, Keys of the Kingdom, Stage Left Theatre.
TOM STOPPARD MULTIPLE DIMENSIONS AND A DOZEN PLATES IN THE AIR AWARDS - Playwrights: Madeleine George, The Curious Case of the Watson Intelligence, Theater Wit. Alistair McDowell, Brilliant Adventures, Steep Theatre, and Aaron Posner, Stupid F**king Bird, Sideshow Theatre. Directors: Nick Sandys, Travesties, Remy Bumppo Theatre, and Aaron Posner, The Tempest, Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
EXPLORING THE DARK SIDE ACTING AWARDS - Kelvin Rosten Jr, Twisted Melodies, Congo Square Theatre. John Henry Roberts, The Hammer Trinity, House Theatre. Kate Arrington, East of Eden, Steppenwolf Matthew Payne, Men of Soul, Black Ensemble. Entire cast, The Jacksonian, Profiles Theatre.
AARP PIN-UP AWARD - Mike Nussbaum, The Price, Timeline Theatre. (This award's first recipient was a 66-year-old Howard Witt, who stripped down for a skinny-dip in the 1998 Goodman Theater premiere of Griller, but in 2015, at age 92, Nussbaum rocks, even with all his clothes on.)
MICHAEL SHANNON MATURITY IN YOUTH AWARD - Actor Curtis Edward Jackson, Brilliant Adventures, Steep Theatre and How The World Began, Rivendell Theatre.
SAVING THE SINKING SCRIPT ACTING AWARD - Debra Rodkin and Jean Marie, Batty Old Biddies, Siegal Productions. Chris Logan, The Boy From Oz, Pride Films and Plays. The entire casts of The Heir Apparent, Chicago Shakespeare and Sonia and Vanya and Masha and Spike, Goodman Theatre.
SPECIAL FIRST RESPONDER AWARD - Chris Mathews, House Theatre playwright/director, who walked script-in-hand through the role of Viking warrior Wilke Forsbrand for the whole six-hour Parts Two and Three of The Hammer Trinity when injuries sidelined actor JJ Philips in Part One of the opening all-day marathon.
SPECIAL COMING HOME AWARD - Chester Gregory, Two Trains Running, Goodman Theatre.
AUCTION IT OFF AND TAKE IT HOME DESIGN AWARDS - Decor: The Herd, Steppenwolf. After Miss Julie, Strawdog Theatre. Grand Concourse, Steppenwolf. Wardrobe: Marie Antoinette, Steppenwolf. Design For Living, Pride Films and Plays. Fallen Angels, Remy Bumppo. Lady Windermere's Fan, Dead Writers Collective.
SPECIAL BOAT-IN-THE-BOTTLE TECH AWARD - The White Road, Irish Theatre of Chicago. One Came Home, Lifeline Theatre. Accidentally Like A Martyr, Red Orchid Theatre. The Hammer Trinity, House Theatre. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Strawdog Theatre.
GONE FREELANCE AWARDS - Signal Ensemble, Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company, Fox Valley Rep and Red Moon. People can die—R.I.P. Russ Tutterow, Abena Joan Brown and PJ Paparelli—but not performing under the same banner isn't the end.
NEW WINE IN NEW CELLARS AWARDS - Timeline Theatre Company, Griffin Theatre Company, Factory Theater, Strawdog Theatre Company, Northlight Theatre. Some have been planning their migration for years, some were forcibly displaced, but all of these small operations anticipate moves to new quarters in a city where every empty space bigger than a bathroom eventually hosts a theater (smaller than a bathroom, you'll probably find a poetry reading).
THE MOST THEATER PER SQUARE FOOT - Belmont Avenue from Halsted Street to Southport Avenue. You've got The Playground, Annoyance, Comedy Sportz, Chicago Theatre Works, Stage 773 and Theater Wit—that's twelve stages in seven blocks—and they're even all on the same side of the street.
HOW MANY MAKE FOR A TREND AWARDS - The bosses at the Royal George and Metropolis multiplexes decided that the way to fill the empty rooms was to hire successful performers Hershey Felder and Michael Ingersoll, respectively, to scout for other performers. Grand Concourse and My Mañãna Comes depicted the plight of hungry people with actual food prepared on stage. Several companies presented lists of dry facts and carefully-selected witness accounts as if they were plays, with Hillel Levin's Assassination Theater going the farthest in taking the "drama" out of "docudrama."
Mary Shen Barnidge
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