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Windy City Playhouse’s second season taps top directors for three plays

Directors David H. Bell, Carl Menninger and Ron OJ Parson will helm the three productions slated for Windy City Playhouse’s second season as Chicago’s newest Equity newest professional theater. The company, located at 3014 W. Irving Park, will present the Chicago premiere of Nell Benjamin’s slapstick farce, “The Explorers Club” directed by Bell; Melissa James Gibson’s “This,” “an unromantic comedy,” directed by Menninger, and the Chicago premiere of Jeff Daniels’ gentle romance, “Apartment 3A,” directed by Parson.

Here is a closer look:

+ “THE EXPLORERS CLUB” (begins Jan. 27, 2016), Nell Benjamin’s play, directed by Bell (familiar from his work on many musicals here, including the current English-language version of “La Révolution Française”). Benjamin homes in on the Victorian era scientific gentleman’s club of the title where one member has lost nearly all his guinea pigs, another can’t seem to locate the East Pole, the bartender is missing and, on top of all that, a woman wants to join. Before the British Empire crumbles under the weight, these good old boys must grapple with the approach of modernity, save the world from an international war and, for God’s sake, find a new bartender — but not until after brandy and cigars. The antics of The Explorers Club are propelled by a woman who believes the blue-skinned aboriginal she’s liberated from his native tribe and brought to London will be her ticket to becoming the club’s first female member. Benjamin, the Tony Award-nominated co-composer and lyricist of Broadway’s “Legally Blonde,” has penned a madcap physical comedy, animated by lightning-quick dialogue, daredevil stunts, precision acrobatics and onstage snakes and guinea pigs.

+ “THIS” (begins June 15, 2016): Melissa James Gibson’s play, directed by Menninger (Windy City’s artistic associate, who is  returning home from Washington, D.C. to direct the Chicago premiere of this off-Broadway hit), finds Jane and her college pals on the cusp of leaving their thirties and entering full-on middle age. They could use some laughs. Bu through conversations that bring warm moments and reminiscences, secrets creep in, too. In between camaraderie and support comes adultery, and mashed up against friendship comes betrayal. Jane must come to terms with friends she thought she knew and the woman she thought she was in order to become whole again. Dubbed  “a melanchomedy,” the play looks at four educated, artistically inclined New Yorkers in this 2002 Obie award-winning play that was developed by Steppenwolf Theatre as part of its New Plays Lab in 1997 and produced at Chicago’s Roadworks Theatre in 2000.

+ “APARTMENT 3A” (begins Oct. 5, 2016): Actor-musician-playwright Jeff Daniels’ play, directed by Parson (now at work on the Court Theatre production of “Gem of the Ocean”), unfolds in what “might be the nicest apartment in the building, though it can’t possibly be enough to make up for the day Annie Wilson has just had.” After catching her boyfriend in an acrobatic act of infidelity, spirited young idealist Annie has a televised melt-down at the local PBS station and moves into a shabby apartment. This may turn out to be the most magical move she’s ever made as a simple visit from an enigmatic new neighbor starts to change things for the better and Annie has to ask: Is it fate, luck, or… divine intervention? “Apartment 3A” premiered regionally at Daniels’ Purple Rose Theatre Company, in Chelsea, Michigan.

For single tickets ($35-$55) call (773) or visit windycityplayhouse.com. Flexible subscription packages are available for the 2016 season.