Chicago is rapidly becoming a theater town for all seasons

Time was when summer -- and sometimes early fall -- really meant theatrical doldrums in Chicago, with nothing around and about but a leftover long-run touring musical at a downtown house.

Butnow the area bounds with drama, and it is of a more festive nature by far than the polls provide at City Hall.

This past season was not one of blockbusters such as a Robarts-Dewhurst-Quintero "Moon for the Misbegotten" or a John Guare premiere. Still, local theater outfits offered warm-weather fare of wealth and variety, both outdoors and in.

Meanwhile, these local production companies planned their new seasons. There's plenty to look forward to, including world premieres (Richard Nelson's "Rip van Winkle or The Works" at the Goodman); US premieres (Brian Friel's "Living Quarters" by Steppenwolf); and Midwest premieres (Dick Goldberg's "Family Business," by the North Light Repertory); and plays from the third world (Mustapha Matura's "play Mas" at the Goodman) and from home (David Mamet's "Reunion" and "Dark Pony" at the Wisdom Bridge Theater).

And Chicago theatergoers wonder as the new season begins what, if anything, will happen with a grand plan, part of the North Loop redevelopment, to convert three movie theaters into a not-for-profit center for drama, music, dance, and film. Some hard decisions are required son before leases run out and ownerships change, making a difficult plan for now an impossible one later on. A center as part of a row of theater-restaurant-specialty shops would give a shine to the Loop.

The highest accolades for recent productions were earned by the Court Theater at the University of Chicago, which turned its attention to classics, Shakespeare's "All's Well That Ends Well" and "Love's Labor Lost" and Goldoni's delightful "The Servant of Two Masters."

Delightful is an appropriate adjective. The Court's stock company, including some of Chicago's most versatile actors, turned tumblers and the applause was tumultuous as they revived this confection about love and avarice. Director Robert Skloot had each member of his cast contributing and blending, from Fredric Stone as the crafty servant to an ancient waiter (played by Richard Hill) so slow of movement as to recall one of Tim Conway's delectable TV characters.

The Goldoni circus was sandwiched between the two Shakespeare comedies, the better of which was "Love's Labor's Lost," fluid and fluent under James O'Reilly's direction.

Steppenwolf Theater premiered Edward Urcen's "Quiet Jeanie Green," 90 minutes of enchantment mixed with sludge. What was it about? Who knows, but it has a salesman, all glitter and silver, sliding down a slide, no less, from heaven to take care of a misfit he loved while on earth. Well, she has a daughter, Jeanie , who seems mute but isn't and who somehow can see the ghostly salesman. Jeanie gets taken care of, and all's well with this world and that by the time it's over. The plot turns convolutions after a charming start, but there are enough bits of green and gold, fine words, and loving ideas to earn one's attention. The cast was exemplary, and the production conjured up magic visions.

The St. Nicholas Theater brought Michael Pace, formerly of the song-dance-comedy trio Gotham, to fop and philander his way through a rollicking revival of "Celimare," by Eugene Labiche and Delacour. Total nonsense, all of it, with 60 confusions for every hour. But all involved seemed to be enjoying it, including those who paid for the tickets. It was forgetfulness fare, for sure.

Organic Theater's contribution for the warm season was "A Decent Life," a new play by a local writer, Pat Rahmann. The actors did their best with a plot about a straitlaced climber of a middle-class husband, his spacy wife, and a harmless schemer of a graduate student from Greece. The wife houses a dog, birds, goldfish, a pet spider, a goat in the basement, and roaches all over, to the predictable consternation of her mate. The student claims he can solve it, and on that premise the play unfolds, somewhat jerkily and uselessly, with too few laughs in the bargain.

Victory Gardens returned to its favorite playwright, Jeffrey Sweet, for a touching summer bill of "After the Fact" and "Porch." The first tells of an elderly man who complains to a newspaper reporter about the errors in the obituary of a friend and who in so doing reveals gobs about the generation gap and being remembered. "Porch" is a more substantial work, a journey into yesterday when family matters developed around the porch, the rocker, and the swing; it's beautifully crafted.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.