Year in Review – 2017’s Best Non-Muscials

#1. Gloria – Goodman Theater

Gloria_best of
Jeanine Serralles and Ryan Spahn

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 Hunter and the Bear
Matt Nerrnberger, Dan Weschler, Alex Falberg, Ben Ferguson, Ryan Melia (with Elliot the puppet), Arya Shahi and Curtis Gillen

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

Destiny of Desires
Ruth Livier, Ricardo Gutierrez and Evelina Fernandez

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

Circle Mirror Transformation
Michael Sherwin, Emily Tate, Adam Bitterman, Lynda Shadrake and Talia Payomo

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

Native Gardens
Janet Ulrich Brooks, Patrick Clear, Gabriel Ruiz and Paloma Nozicka

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


United 232B
The full ensemble cast included Abu Ansari, Johnny Arena, Brenda Barrie, Alice Da Chuna, Elana Elyce, Dan Lin, Carolos Olmedo, Jessica Dean Turner and Joseph Sultani

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

A Wrinkle in TIme
Glenn Obrero (Calvin O’Keefe), Trent Davis (Charles Wallace) and Jamie Cahill (Meg) in front of co-scenic designers Alan Donahue and Andrew Hildner’s extraordinary set.

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

Linda Vista
Sally Murphy, Tim Hopper, Cora Vander Broek and Ian Barford

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 Audience
Janet Ulrich Brooks

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

The Gin Game
John Reeger and Paula Scrofano-Reeger. This real-life couple has acted together in 48 Equity productions.

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.

Year in Review – 2017’s Best Non-Muscials

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