Top 5 overlooked shows of 2010

December 29, 2010

With the burgeoning number of theater blogs, Chicago productions are rarely overlooked completely. But a few that I saw in 2010 weren’t given the props they deserved. When creative productions go unnoticed, that’s bad news for both the industry and the theatergoing public. 

1) Tellin’ Tales Theatre’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dreamers” ran just two weekends in June, but it was a find. This evening of four monologues on the subject of insomnia, curated by Tekki Lomnicki, was often hilarious and/or disconcertingly up-front and true. I don’t know why this particular, highly personal brand of performance—a cross between stand-up and autobiographical confession—seems to have gone out of style.

2) Despite its attention-grabbing title, “Six Dead Queens and an Inflatable Henry!” was neglected by both the Trib and TimeOut in April. Piccolo Theatre’s freewheeling take on Foursight Theatre’s 1999 show had a manic charm from the get-go, when all six of Henry’s dead wives roiled beneath the covers of a giant raked bed. Heavily caricatured yet poignant, the queens bickered jealously over their standing with the king—never mind that he’d had them all murdered. Ultimately they formed an odd, likable little community of losers.

3) In June, newcomer Bootstraps Comedy Theatre joined forces with the Silent Theatre Company in “The Better Doctor,” a wordless spoof of/homage to silent film. In a loopy way, writer-director Matt Lyle lavished attention on his very funny show, which included a live two-man band and humorous projected titles. Bootstraps’ impressive debut, which looked at health care reform through the lens of a more innocent era, made me wish for more from them, especially spot-on physical comedian Samuel Zelitch. So far the company hasn’t resurfaced.

4) Ka-Tet Theatre’s “In the Jungle of Cities” wasn’t exactly neglected when it opened in late October. But it didn’t get the respect it deserved, including from me. Bertolt Brecht’s early play raises plenty of barriers to appreciation, including but not limited to an inexplicable plot and unsympathetic, inexplicable characters. But under the direction of Max Truax, Ka-Tet not only remained true to Brecht’s difficult vision but expanded on it. One made-up character—the Barker, played by Rory Jobst—recited the same boxing anecdote into a wall several times. And made it funny. Tracy Otwell’s brilliant set transformed Red Tape’s ancient, pedestrian church gym/theater into a surreal hell. 

5) Chicago Tap Theatre does tap-dance, but artistic director Mark Yonally also has a gift for theater—including tap-danced narratives. His endearing, satirical wordless comedy about online dating, “LoveTaps,” played two weekends in March at Stage 773, but did anyone but dance fans go? In a genius ploy, audiences got to vote on who’d hook up with whom in Act 2. And in June, Yonally’s shamelessly theatrical “Queen Suite” closed the “Tap Out Loud” showcase with a choir, an opera singer, a marching band, and dozens of tap professionals and students of all ages coming up onstage (and spilling off it…) to freely interpret six songs by Queen.

(Photo credit: The Better Doctor, featuring Kim Lyle and Samuel Zelitch)