Almost everybody’s doing it, and Victory Gardens Theater is no exception. The push for the 2016-2017 season at most of Chicago’s larger theaters is for an increased number of offerings both on the mainstage and (if there is one) on the studio stage.
Included among the lineup on Victory Gardens’ 259-seat mainstage will be the Chicago premieres of “Hand to God,” Robert Askins’s 2015 Broadway hit (“an irreverent puppet comedy about a possessed Christian-ministry puppet”), to be directed by Gary Griffin, and “Native Gardens,” Karen Zacarias’ darkly comic look at a real estate “property line” dispute between neighbors, directed by Marti Lyons.
There also will be three world premieres: Karen Hartman’s “Roz and Ray,” directed by Victory Gardens’ artistic director, Chay Yew; ensemble playwright Marcus Gardley’s “A Wonder in My Soul,” also directed by Yew, and Madhuri Shekar’s “Queen,” directed by artistic associate Joanie Schultz.
The theater’s “Bonus Series” (in the 109-seat upstairs studio) will feature three one-person shows: The Chicago premieres of “Wrestling Jerusalem,” written and performed by Aaron Davidman and directed by Michael John Garcés; “St. Jude,” written and performed by ensemble playwright Luis Alfaro, and “A Little Bit Not Normal,” written and performed by Arlene Malinowski.
In a prepared statement, Yew noted: “These new dramas and comedies will entertain as well as create essential dialogue with our Chicago audiences on our nation’s most pressing issues of faith, environment, race and citizenship.”
Here is a closer look at all the shows to be presented:
• “Hand to God” (Sept. 16-Oct. 16): Askins’ Tony-nominated play homes in on the God-fearing children of Cypress, Texas, who spend their after-school hours practicing Christian Puppet Ministry at the local church. When one devout young boy discovers that his hand puppet, Tyrone, has a life of its own, all hell breaks loose.
• “Roz and Ray” (Nov. 11-Dec. 11): In its co-world premiere with Seattle Repertory Theatre, this play is set in 1976, as Ray, a newly single parent of twin hemophiliac boys, has only one goal: to keep them alive. His days are filled with endless trips to the hospital, rigorous testing and frequent blood transfusions. This all changes when Ray meets Roz, an optimistic and caring doctor with a miracle drug that turns into a nightmare.
• “A Wonder in My Soul” (Feb. 10-March 12): Gardley’s play, told through music, poetry and dance, explores the Great Migration from the Deep South to Chicago in the early 1900s. Set on a frigid winter’s night — as the title character, a 90-year-old woman, is admitted to an ICU in Bronzeville — it captures her final hours as she teaches those around her lasting lessons of history, from the Jim Crow South to Chicago’s nightclub scene.
• “Queen” (April 14-May 14, 2017): Shekar’s world premiere play spins around Ph.D candidates Sanam and Ariel, who have spent the better part of a decade exhaustively researching vanishing bee populations across the globe. But just as these close friends are about to publish a career-defining paper, Sanam stumbles upon a miscalculation. And what appears to be a small error could cause catastrophic damage to their reputations, careers and friendship.
• “Native Gardens” (June 2-July 2, 2017): The Chicago premiere of Zacarias’ play finds a high-powered lawyer and his pregnant wife as they believe they’ve hit the jackpot with their new home. But when the couple decides to upgrade the eyesore chain link fence in their backyard, their neighbors begin to think they are taking more than they deserve as a property line disagreement quickly spirals into a war of taste, class and entitlement.
The “Bonus Series” (with dates still to be announced):
• “Wrestling Jerusalem”: Written and performed by Aaron Davidman, the work is set in America, Israel and Palestine, and follows one man’s journey to understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Davidman gives voice to more than a dozen characters in a personal story that grapples with the complexities of an entrenched conflict.
• “St. Jude”: Written and performed by Luis Alfaro (“Mojada,” “Oedipus el Rey”), the piece takes audiences on a journey that begins as the author learns of his father’s stroke and is summoned home to the California Central Valley of his childhood. As his family gathers, Alfaro conjures memories of his youth, from picking grapes to gospel-infused big tent revivals, family celebrations and running away from home.
• “A Little Bit Not Normal”: Written and performed by Arlene Malinowski, this also is an autobiographical solo turn and revolves around a family secret kept silent for more than six decades. Malinowski confronts her personal demon — depression — and explores the shame and secrecy that comes from mental illness and the stigma attached to it.
Victory Gardens Theater is located at 2433 N. Lincoln. Five-show mainstage subscriptions are now on sale. Call (773) 871-3000 or visit www.victorygardens.org. Tickets for the Bonus Series will go on sale June 1.