BY MARY HOULIHAN
For the Sun-Times
With the New Year comes the next half of the current theater season, and a closer look reveals a vibrant landscape of works. In the mix of musicals, comedy and drama — both classic and modern — there’s something for everyone: historical milestones of the new millennium, family dynamics, love in the Irish countryside, mind-bending rock ’n’ roll, a young girl’s dreams, and even Antarctica. Here is a sampling of what to expect in the winter/spring months:
“The Apple Family Plays” (Jan. 13-April 19): Lou Contey directs TimeLine Theatre’s staging of two of Richard Nelson’s four Apple Family Plays: “That Hopey Changey Thing” and “Sorry,” an exploration of politics, change and family dynamics set on dates of historical significance between 2010 and 2013. 615 W. Wellington; timelinetheatre.com.
“Rapture Blister Burn” (Jan. 17-Feb. 22): Gina Gionfriddo’s smart comedy-drama at the Goodman Theatre, directed by the busy Kimberly Senior, is about three generations of women who examine life’s choices, realities and expectations. A stellar cast (including Shannon Cochran, Mary Beth Fisher, Larry Yando, John Judd Dexter Zollicoffer) has been assembled for Lillian Hellman’s “The Little Foxes” (May 2-June 7). 170 N. Dearborn; goodmantheatre.org.
“Marie Antoinette” (Feb. 5-May 10): Steppenwolf Theatre stages David Adjmi’s contemporary take on the young queen of France with Alana Arenas in the title role. Robert O’Hara directs. “The Herd” (April 2-June 7) is Rory Kinnear’s story of an English family gathering for a birthday celebration that upsets their delicate ecosystem. Directed by Frank Galati; starring Francis Guinan, John Mahoney and Lois Smith. 1650 N. Halsted; steppenwolf.org.
“First Wives Club” (Feb. 17-March 29): There’s no denying the pedigree behind this new musical based on the 1996 movie: The book writer is Linda Bloodworth Thomason (“Designing Women”) and the music includes classics and originals by the Motown trio Holland-Dozier-Holland. But whether the mid-’90s story about divorce, revenge and self-discovery translates to today is the question hovering over this pre-Broadway run. Simon Phillips directs. Presented by Broadway in Chicago. Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph; broadwayinchicago.com.
“Tommy” (Jan. 14-Feb. 15): Paramount Theatre artistic director Jim Corti does like the classic musicals but occasionally he likes to mix it up. He does that here with the Who’s Tony Award-winning rock opera based on the 1969 album about a young boy who after a trauma can only communicate via pinball and some great rock songs. Devin DeSantis stars in the title role. 23 E. Galena, Aurora; paramountaurora.com.
“Dunsinane” (Feb. 26-March 22): Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s World’s Stage series presents David Greig’s sequel to “Macbeth,” a collaboration between Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre of Scotland that looks at the attempts to restore peace after Macbeth’s death. And Jane Austen fans will get their fix with the Dashwood sisters in Paul Gordon’s musical adaptation of “Sense and Sensibility” (April 18-June 7), directed by Barbara Gaines. 800 E. Grand; chicagoshakes.com.
“Outside Mullingar” (March 13-April 19): Northlight Theatre artistic director BJ Jones stages John Patrick Shanley’s comedy-drama about two introverted Irish misfits who lean toward love and happiness despite the possible land feud simmering between their families. 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie; northlight.org.
“The Diary of Anne Frank” (Feb. 24-May 31): While their new theater is under construction, Writers Theatre will produce in its intimate bookstore space at Books on Vernon. Thirteen actors bring to life Wendy Kesselman’s new adaptation of Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett’s portrait of a young girl as she comes of age during wartime. Kimberly Senior directs. 664 Vernon, Glencoe; writerstheatre.org.
“Title and Deed” (March 18-May 3): Michael Patrick Thornton stars in Lookingglass Theatre’s staging of Will Eno’s haunting and humorous one-man show about life, language, hope and the search for home. Marti Lyons directs. 821 N. Michigan; lookingglasstheatre.org.
“Big Fish” (May 7-June 7): After a pre-Broadway run in Chicago and a short stint on Broadway, Andrew Lippa and John August’s musical returns for a staging at Theatre at the Center. Based on Daniel Wallace’s novel, it’s the magical tale of Edward Bloom, his larger-than-life stories and the son who tries to get at the truth. 1040 Ridge, Munster, Ind.; theatreatthecenter.com.
“Waiting for Godot” (Jan. 15-Feb. 15): Ron OJ Parsons is best known for his stellar staging of works by August Wilson but in recent years has taken on interesting new challenges including this one: Court Theatre’s production of Samuel Beckett’s absurdist, always challenging classic. It’ll be interesting to see his interpretation of the two vagabonds and their search for the meaning of human existence. 5535 S. Ellis; courttheatre.org.
“Balm in Gilead” (March 14-April 19): Not many theaters stage Lanford Wilson’s challenging work, perhaps because of the large cast or because of its reputation as a seminal work in the early days of Steppenwolf Theatre. But adventurous Griffin Theatre and talented director Jonathan Berry are up to the task. It’s a colorful New York world filled with dealers, junkies, hustlers, prostitutes, dreamers and runaways. Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee; griffintheatre.com.
“A Wonder in My Soul” (April 3-May 3): Victory Gardens stages the world premiere of Marcus Gardley’s drama about the feuding members of a 1960s Chicago soul group who reunite after 35 years for a benefit performance. Chay Yew directs. 2433 N. Lincoln; victorygardens.org.
“The Life and Sort of Death of Eric Argyle” (Jan. 22-Feb. 28): Steep Theatre rarely goes wrong with its choice of plays by Irish and British playwrights. The Midwest premiere of Irish playwright Ross Dungan’s exploration of lives lived without regret easily fits into the company’s aesthetic. Jonathan Berry directs. 1115 W. Berwyn; steeptheatre.com.
“The Royal Society of Antarctica” (Feb. 26-April 26): The very intimate environs of Gift Theatre is the perfect setting for Mat Smart’s play set in the claustrophobic McMurdo Station in Antarctica where a woman goes to seek answers to her mother’s disappearance. Directed by John Gawlick. 4802 N. Milwaukee; thegifttheatre.org.
Mary Houlihan is a local freelance writer.