by Jason Berger
2017 was an insane year for everyone, and the Chicago theatre community responded in varying ways. From a surprise horror hit to a gut-wrenching revival, here are my five favorite productions from one of my least favorite years.
The Audience (TimeLine)
While TimeLine's production of The Audience may not have appealed to those uninterested in British history, Janet Ulrich Brook's performance as The Queen was, no doubt, the best performance on any Chicago stage this year. She was entirely transformative, completely embodying Her Majesty over several decades, and the supporting cast was equally formidable. Watching this cast on stage was like taking a masterclass in performance.
The Infinite Wrench (The Neo-Futurists)
After some well-publicised drama with the creator of Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, The Neo-Futurists in Chicago, NYC and LA grouped together to create something new - but would this replacement production fill the massive shoes of the original? The answer is a resounding 'YES!' Current issues are addressed with honesty and urgency, and the talented and diverse ensemble has created a truly collective experience.
Machinal (Greenhouse Theater Center)
The Greenhouse Theater Center burst onto the scene with an explosive revival of "The American Classic Play," and director Jacob Harvey and movement director Elizabeth Margolius created something truly breathtaking, led by incredible performances from Heather Chrisler, Sean Gallagher, Carin Silkaitis, and a phenomenal ensemble.
Native Gardens (Victory Gardens)
Playwright Karen Zacarias' zippy 90 minute play moves like an avalanche, and Marti Lyons directed Janet Ulrich Brooks and Gabriel Ruiz masterfully in this hilarious battle of the backyards. I can't recall laughing so hard at the theatre, and the production acknowledged the issues of today while remaining accessible to those on either side of the drama. The production also featured a phenomenal set by William Boles.
Put Your House in Order (The Roustabouts)
The inaugural production from The Roustabouts was announced out of nowhere, and audiences hungry for Ike Holter's new work showed up in droves. Gus Menary directed what felt like a forgotten 80's horror comedy, and Janice O'Neill's wicked supporting turn was unforgettable. Put Your House in Order is proof that fantastic theatre can be created with even the lightest resources.
Broken Nose Theatre's At the Table featured excellent ensemble work and stellar direction from Spenser Davis; Teatro Vista's La Havana Madrid enjoyed a long run from Steppenwolf to The Miracle Center to The Goodman Theatre to The Yard, Other Theatre's Threesome, directed by Jason Gerace, showcased a talented ensemble and excellent scenic design from Lizzie Bracken, and The House Theatre's United Flight 232 returned as the best production anywhere this year - listed as an honoroble mention due to its status as a remount from 2016.