#1. Gloria – Goodman Theater
With just six actors (each playing multiple roles), Gloria creates a panoramic of the modern workplace complete with winners, losers, and those stuck in between. Branden Jacob-Jenkins’s script ends the first act with the only scene of the year that literally left me shaking in my seat—so much so that I found myself purchasing the last ticket in the house for Gloria‘s last performance so I could take it all in a second time.
#2. The Hunter and the Bear – Writer’s Theater
The PigPen Theater Company scores Blue Grass music with a ghost story about a boy who has gone missing in the deep woods with a terrifying bear on hand. The theater company itself, a collaborative effort of seven 2007 Carnegie Mellon grads, is re-envisioning theater through their perfect mix of story, visuals and music.
#3. Destiny of Desire – Goodman Theater
This tribute to Spanish-language soap operas includes twins switched at birth, murders of passion, blinding sand storms, musical numbers, evil millionaires, and even a Nun with a case of amnesia—a play where the actors pure fun in their roles is contagious for the audience.
#4. Circle Mirror Transformation – Redtwist Theater
Five characters meet in an improvisational theater class, where each characters’ growth is prevalent in both his/her actions during breaks and while performing. Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Baker (who also wrote The Flick) is a master at creating flawed but empathetic characters who change in surprising ways through their interactions with others.
#5. Native Gardens – Victory Gardens
Two couples—very different in age, ethnicity, politics, and gardening preferences—fight over a patch of land that divides their small backyards. In addition to the comedy, the script by Karen Zacarías stands out for its unique interactions as the different characters pair up to find compromises but generally fail due to prejudices that are obvious to all except the characters themselves.
#6. United Flight 232 – House Theater
With an ensemble cast of nine talented actors and some chairs, the House Theater restaged its acclaimed dramatization of a 1989 plane crash. The characters’ stories highlight the tragedy as well as the inspiring risks taken by heroes, who struggled together to save the lives of 185 people on board.
#7. A Wrinkle in Time – Lifeline Theater
Jamie Cahill hit exactly the right notes as Meg Murray, a teen dominated by her anger and confusion since the disappearance of her father. Lifeline’s production was filled with imaginative elements suitable for children, and the presentation of planet Camazotz (where everyone and everything must be the same) was suitably spine-tingling for adults.
#8. Linda Vista – Steppenwolf Theater
Ian Barford is on stage for nearly the entire three hours as Wheeler, the recently divorced protagonist of Tracy Letts’s play. Wheeler’s missteps do not always create sympathy, but they do establish him as an engaging misanthrope with an inability to accept anything in his life that might lead to happiness.
#9. The Audience – Timeline Theater
The script by Peter Morgan wowed crowds in England but received mixed reviews from American critics, many of whom felt it lacked conflict. I found plenty of conflict and insight in this portrait of the complicated relationship between England’s royalty and its government. Janet Ulrich Brooks was exceptional as Queen Elizabeth and Director Nick Bowling puts his audience right into the action with an intimate, fly-on-the-wall staging.
#10. The Gin Game – Drury Lane
I was expecting a more uplifting play about senior citizens coming to terms with advanced age (think On Golden Pond). Turns out The Gin Game is a no-holds-barred, emotional war between two very lonely people. Seeing the legendary Chicago couple Paula Scrofano and John Reeger embody their characters (and attack each other) was a delight.
One thought on “Year in Review – 2017’s Best Non-Muscials”
Based on this list and brief descriptions, I wish that I had seen more of these plays than I did.