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Lighting The Way To 2021: Online Plays For The Holidays


Holiday Plays In ChicagoBack in March, many artists were gloomily predicting the end of theater in Chicago, but YOU weren't one of them—were you? After all, if London playhouses could survive being closed for eighteen years (1642-1660), why should we complain after only ten months? Hasn't art always found a way to thrive in even the most adverse conditions?

This—uh, unusual holiday season of 2020 is no exception. Ushering out a year perplexed by natural elements in rebellion are a veritable cornucopia of plays—some streaming, some zooming, even a few employing twentieth-century "wireless" technology, as well as some pre-recorded, some performed live in real time, some as standalone events and some as segments in series—all of them designed to acknowledge our uneasiness, but also invoke the promise of recovery on the horizon.

CHRISTMAS (and one Hannukah) IN THE TITLE:

A Christmas Carol—An Audio Play, Goodman Theatre, running through December 31. Marley is still dead, but the Goodman couldn't let 2020 go by without a "God bless us, every one" to refute the year's overload of humbugging Scroogery. Audiostreaming at www.GoodmanTheatre.org as well as on Vocalo 91.1 FM December 24 and WBEZ 91.5 FM radio December 24-25.

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, Strawdog Theatre, through December 20. Audiences unable to brave the snows of 2019 in Ravenswood alley can now rejoice in Eric Kimmel's Caldecott award-winning tale of how the legendary trickster of Ostropol saved the Festival of Lights from the predations of disgruntled demons. Videostreaming at www.strawdog.org

A Christmas Carol In the Dark, Theatre in the Dark, December 10-24. The theater proclaiming its specialty to be whispers-in-the-night follow up their all-audio War of the Worlds with this real-time adaptation of the Dickens classic, scored for a quartet of characters named Scrooge, Brain, Legs and Heart. Zooming at www.theatreinthedark.com

Eleanor's Very Merry Christmas Wish-The Musical, an Eleanor Management Production, through December 27. The heroine of Denise McGowan Tracy's book may be a humble rag doll, content in her happy North Pole home, but like all brave toys, she longs to see the world. Videostreaming at www.eleanorswish.com

Manual Cinema's Christmas Carol, Manual Cinema, through December 20. Shadow puppets unite to bring comfort to an embittered widow, tasked with providing entertainment for the yuletide family conference-call, in this 60-minute world premiere adaptation of the ageless tale of redemption and resurrection streaming in real-time on Marquee TV. Information at www.manualcinema.com

The Black Ensemble Virtual Holiday Extravaganza, Black Ensemble Theater, December 18-25. What would a holiday season be without a cluster-round-the-piano sing-along—especially when the warblers are the stars of Jackie Taylor's praiseworthy Chicago musical troupe, all safely distanced to ensure that nothing fills the air but joyful noises. Videostreaming at www.blackensemble.org

One-Man A Christmas Carol, Writers Theater, through January 3. Michael Halberstam's solo-show adaptation of the ageless Victorian parable disappeared in 2008, but the Nottingham native is back this year, preserved on film. (Discount on tickets when purchased in conjunction with Manual Cinema's Christmas Carol. More information at www.writerstheatre.org/two-scrooges)

COINCIDENTALLY CHRISTMAS:

Burning Bluebeard,
The Ruffians and Porchlight Music Theatre, through January 3. The children had gathered for the holiday panto Mister Bluebeard at Chicago's Iroquois Theater on that fatal afternoon in 1903, when a disaster changing the history of theater safety measures in America to this day, doomed its perpetrators to recount their sorry tale to us for eternity. Videostreaming at www.porchlightmusictheatre.org/

Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, through December 24. Scrooge may be its protagonist, but the deceased Marley and his spectral henchfolk are what propels the action of the story, and author Tom Mula gives the ghostly noodge his well-deserved due in this sci-fi fantasy yarn. Videostreaming at www.milwaukeerep.com

The Chimes, Remy Bumppo Theatre, December 7-January 3. Decades before Longfellow heard the bells on Christmas Day, or Scrooge awoke after his ghostly Christmas Eve ramble, or George Bailey accepted his worthy fate, Charles Dickens recounted the parable of a New Year's epiphany, adapted and performed as a solo show in 2013 by Nick Sandys. Videostreaming at www.remybumppo.org

Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, December 19-January 1. This 75-minute adaptation of James Barrie's Victorian fantasy tale brimming with vivid colors, bright lights and dazzling stage magic was originally taped at the Courtyard auditorium at Navy Pier in 2018. Videostreaming at www.chicagoshakes.com

It's a Wonderful Life, American Blues Theater, through January 2. After nearly twenty years of dressing up storefront stages to replicate an old-timey radio-broadcast of Frank Capra's all-American heartwarmer, this venerable Chicago company brings us the authentic experience. Zooming at www.americanbluestheater.com.

The Steadfast Tin Soldier, Lookingglass Theatre, through December 27. The inventive imaginations of Mary Zimmerman and her athletic troupers fuel this "silent theater" mime-and-music homage to our valiant soldiers, based on Hans Christian Andersen's fairy-fancy of a toy G.I. on guard duty under the tree. Videostreaming at www.lookingglasstheatre.org

Visions: A Nutcracker Experience, Ruth Page Center for the Arts, running through December 20. Playing annually since its premiere at the Arie Crown in 1965, Chicago's oldest Nutcracker isn't going to let a measly virus spoil Christmas for generations of ballet fans who can now watch in safety from their homes. Videostreaming at www.ruthpage.org

Wally World, Steppenwolf Theatre, December 16-August 2021. It's Christmas Eve in El Paso, Texas, and the employees of Isaac Gomez's not-a-Walmart emporium are on the verge of meltdown in this second of Steppenwolf's NOW series package deal videostreaming at www.steppenwolf.org/now [see entry for What Is Left, Burns]

It's a Wonderful Life,
Oil Lamp Theater, December 18-27. The theater that inaugurated the summertime parking-lot drive-in virtual date-night now transports Glenview audiences to the New England village of Bedford Falls. Streaming on December 18-19, then running December 20-27 at On Demand. Information at www.oillamptheater.org

The Rip Nelson Holiday Quarantine Special,
Hell In a Handbag Productions, through January 9. The merry dragsters regale us with the midnight ride, not of Santa Claus, but a television host striving to arrive at the studio before his understudy steals the spotlight (filmed at the RedBox Workshop). Videostreaming at www.handbagproductions.org

Christmas Bingo: It's a Ho-Ho-Holy Night, Nuns4Fun Productions, through December 27. Vicki Quade portrays Mrs. Mary Margaret O'Brien, bingo caller extraordinaire, for this family-friendly reenactment of a parish-hall benefit celebration in support of the real-life Benedictine Sisters of Chicago, filmed at the Royal George Theatre in 2013. Videostreaming at www.nuns4fun.com

The Buttcracker: A Nutcracker Burlesque,
(Sub)version Productions, December 25-January 6. Even while isolating, revelers can greet the New Year with Jaq Siefert's adults-only parody of the familiar confectionary pageant. Zooming December 24, then videostreaming to January 6 at www.subversionproductions.com

ANY OLD TIME OF YEAR:

Being Earnest, Skylight Music Theatre, through December 31. A musical version of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest is welcome anytime, but this one is set in the "Swinging London" era of the early 1960s, replete with Beatles-bands, go-go-dancing and white vinyl boots. Videostreaming at www.skylightmusictheatre.org

Decomposed Theatre, or The Human Trashcan, Trap Door Theatre, through February 4. The folks who brought you the enigmatic Alas present eight more episodes of Matei Visniec's instructions for reassembling the shards of a society shattered like a broken mirror. Videostreaming at www.trapdoortheatre.com

What Is Left, Burns, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, through August 31 2021. James Ijames' intimate twenty-minute small-screen play about lovers reuniting over the phone during the pandemic shutdown—and did I mention they're played by Jon Michael Hill and K. Todd Freeman?-is the first of six world premiere plays in Steppenwolf's NOW series. Videostreaming at www.steppenwolf.org/now

For a complete list of the holiday shows in Chicago go to our Holiday Plays In Chicago page.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Contributing Writer

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