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Kleiman: Ten best Chicago plays of 2000-2009

SHARE Kleiman: Ten best Chicago plays of 2000-2009

Here’s the thing:‚ if it doesn’t have a name, it’s not really a decade.‚ Still, it’s reasonable to reflect on the best shows of the past 10 years.‚ What follows is far from definitive on that subject, but these are certainly the most memorable shows.‚ How do I know? Because I remembered them without prompting, and in this order. august_osage_county

1. August Osage County at Steppenwolf, 2007 Thrilling?‚ Check.‚ Pultizer-winning?‚ Check.‚ A palpable hit in New York and London?‚ Check.‚ But Osage was more: it was literally the show of the decade, a “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” for our generation.‚ It’s fair to say that Tracy Letts owned the 2000’s, which began with Red Orchid’s production of his slashing white-trash satire “Bug” and ended with his edgy star turn in Steppenwolf’s revival of “American Buffalo.” 2. Vintage Red and the Dust of the Road, 2003 at Visions and Voices Another contemporary family drama, this fine work by Chicago Dramatists’ Robert Koon demonstrates that the genre can be overpowering even without shrieks and curses.‚ It also demonstrates that the 2009 Broadway hit “A Steady Rain” by Chicago Dramatists’ Keith Huff was no fluke.‚ See also Lydia Diamond’s astonishing “Voyeurs de Venus,” 2007, at Chicago Dramatists’ itself. 3. The Adding Machine, 2007 at Next Theatre Directed by David Cromer, who went on to take New York by storm with his production of “Our Town,” and co-written by Artistic Director Jason Loewith, this operatic adaptation of an early 20th Century howl against capitalism was incredibly fresh and powerful in the early 21st Century.‚ Ditto for the Hypocrites’ fine Expressionistic production of Sophie Treadwell’s “Machinal” in 2003; you can’t think of one without the other. 4. Similarly, a pair of Twelfth Nights at Chicago Shakespeare An “original practices" work by Shakespeare’s Globe in 2001-2 and a Russian version with supertitles in 2007 -- come to mind simultaneously.‚ Together and separately they demonstrate that, while ChiShakes Artistic Director Barbara Gaines isn’t the city’s strongest director, she’s nonpareil as a producer, bringing Shakespeare and the world to Navy Pier. 5. Death of a Salesman at Raven, 2009 It’s easy to over-represent the most recent work one has seen, but this flawless revival turned a chestnut back into a classic.‚ Likewise this year’s “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at Circle Theatre. 6. Hamlet at the Building Stage, 2005 This bare-stage, clean-lined “Hamlet,” opening in darkness to the sound of swords scraping and beginning with the final scene, scrubbed every last barnacle off the piece and displayed it in its full naked glory. 7. We All Went Down to Amsterdam at Steppenwolf, 2003 This Bruce Norris piece about life and death in a nursing home, directed by Amy Morton, took a movie of the week subject and turned it into an unforgettable portrait of father-son dynamics.‚ Morton, too, has owned the past ten years, whether directing David Mamet (“Glengarry Glen Ross,” 2001-2; the current “American Buffalo”) and Conor McPherson (“The Weir,” 2000-1; “Dublin Carol,” 2008-9) or anchoring the Chicago, New York and London productions of “August Osage County. " Oh, and I hear she’s in a movie.‚ Morton enhances everything she touches. 8. Under the Lintel, Noble Fool at Pheasant Run, 2004 What could be less likely than for a one-man shaggy dog story about the Wandering Jew and the meaning of history and forgiveness to appear at a suburban resort and knock everyone’s socks off?‚ (Equally existential, though in an utterly different fashion: Theatre Oobleck’s 2007 “The Strangerer,” which transcended political parody to investigate the intersection of murderous angst and governmental power in the person of George W. Bush, channeled by the extraordinary Guy Massey.) 9. And speaking of murderous governmental power: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Steep Theatre, 2007 Yosh Hayashi made Brecht’s incipient dictator so seductive that someone should stage a “Faust” just to have him play the devil.‚ When an actor you can’t take your eyes off recites the final couplet -- “Do not rejoice in his defeat, you men. For the bitch who bore him is in heat again" -- it’s time to hit the barricades. 10. Crime and Punishment at Writers Theatre, 2007 How could three people possibly present Dostoevsky’s epic masterpiece in a space the size of your living room?‚ Curt Columbus’s brilliant adaptation made the impossible look easy and the profound seem comprehensible, without in any way trivializing the work or its difficulties.‚ ‚ The evening required stamina from the audience as well as the actors: it’s exhausting holding your breath in awe for 90 minutes straight.‚ Writers’ 2000 production of “Nixon’s Nixon” anticipated the Dostoevsky, as two people (Nixon and Kissinger) made epic decisions with profound consequences.‚ Intellectual strength makes for powerful theater. 2007 seems to be overrepresented on this list.‚ Did it take us that long to recover from 2001?‚ Or were we just seeing the light at the end of the Bush tunnel?‚ Or is that just the portion of RAM my aged brain still retains? I welcome comments and corrections, and apologize to the many fine works I couldn’t manage to squeeze in.

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