A new play, a new musical and a new one-man show. This fall, Chicago stages have become quite the showcase for world premieres and Chicago premieres, and the following trio of very different “Highly Recommended” productions are worthy of attention:

“A LIFE EXTRA ORDINARY” (Runs through Nov. 20 at The Gift Theatre, 4802 N. Milwaukee. For tickets, $35, visit www.thegifttheatre.org. Runs 2 hours and 5 minutes with one intermission.)

As a TED talk presenter recently observed: “Life is short, it’s finite and it plays for keeps.” And hearing that I thought: There could be no more perfect summary for Melissa Ross’ gripping, heartbreaking new play, which has been beautifully directed by John Gawlik.

Ross spins the story of Annabel Anderson McCafferty (Cyd Blakewell), a horticulturalist in a small Ohio college town who is eight months pregnant when she vanishes on Christmas eve of 2004, leaving behind her car; her husband, Jeff (Jay Worthington); her adored father, Tom (Paul D’Addario); her tempestuous mother, Grace (Lynda Newton); a veteran police detective, Bill (John Kelly Connolly), who loved her mother; Bill’s young assistant, Sam (Rudy Galvan), who was Annabel’s high school sweetheart (and the guy she should have married); and Polly (Darci Nalepa), a tough-as-nails young mother with a past connection to Jeff.

Was Annabel a suicide? Was she murdered by her husband, or by a hitchhiker? The story is told by Annabel herself (and Blakewell is superb, as is everyone in the cast). And while it might sound like a murder mystery, Ross’ play is really a deeply poetic meditation on love, desire, memory and the choices we make. A real gem.

“WICKED CITY” (Runs through Oct. 30 at Edge Theatre, 5451 N. Broadway. For tickets, $40-$42, visit www.chicagotheatreworkshop.org. Runs 1 hour and 40 minutes with no intermission.)

The Chicago premiere of this clever, funny musical satire by Chad Beguelin (book and lyrics) and Matthew Sklar (music) also marks the inaugural season of Chicago Theatre Workshop, an incubator for new work that is off to an auspicious start. Like one of my favorite shows, the immensely clever Broadway musical, “City of Angels,” this is a send-up of classic noir detective films, but with a distinctly Oedipal twist. (It unfolds, tellingly, “at the corner of Delphi and Vine.”)

At its center is Jo Van Cleave (Lauren Roesner), a sexy, opportunistic blonde of a certain age, who jumps to her death at the start of the story. Discovering just why she did this is the subject of the musical which involves her sordid marriage to a sleazy politician (Jason Richards); her passionate affair with a gifted young private detective, Eddie Cain (Javier Ferreira); Eddie’s wildly protective single mother, Mira (Dana Tretta); and Madame Theresa (Rashada Dawan), a blind, streetwise phrophetess. Director-choreographer Christopher Pazdernik (backed by music director Dustin L. Struhill and his band), has collaborated with his fine design team to capture this menacing, moody, fate-filled tale with panache (and just enough campy wink-and-nod). Sophocles-meets-Sam Spade: Who could have guessed it?

Lauren Roesner plays Jo and Javier Ferreira plays Eddie in "Wicked City." (Photo: Jay Kennedy)

Lauren Roesner plays Jo and Javier Ferreira plays Eddie in “Wicked City.”
(Photo: Jay Kennedy)

“THE HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH” (Through Oct. 30 at The Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln. For tickets, $34-$48, visit www.greenhousetheater.org. Runs 95 minutes with no intermission.)

Philip Dawkins (author of the beguiling “Charm”) is a wonderful playwright, a piercingly keen observer of human behavior and a hugely engaging, whippet-smart actor. In this Sideshow Theatre production, directed by Jonathan L. Green (as part of the Greenhouse’s “Solo Celebration!” series), Dawkins interweaves the story of three generations of his matriarchal-centered, Albuquerque-based family with a caustic but touching anthropological study of Disneyland, that “magical kingdom” that opened in California in 1955, and has been supplying very different illusions to parents and children ever since. In the process, Dawkins cagily conjures a fascinating portrait of himself, and of America, with all its unsettling mix of dark denial and sweet nostalgia. And he does so with a winning sense of childlike innocence and the wistfully knowing, if not entirely jaded edge of an adult.

Philip Dawkins in his one-man show, "The Happiest Place on Earth." (Photo: Jonathan L. Green)

Philip Dawkins in his one-man show, “The Happiest Place on Earth.” (Photo: Jonathan L. Green)