There are no small parts, only small actors. In Chicago, the
ancient adage applies to theaters as well as theater people. According to the League of Chicago Theatres, there are
more than 250 theater companies in the city hailed by London's The Guardian as "the theatre capital of
America." While many of these Chicago theater companies play on stages you could fit in your
kitchen, there's nothing little about the drama they unleash.
Here's a list of
10 Off-Loop theater wonders in Chicago.
Founder Joe Jahraus and long-time collaborator Darrell Cox are
known for dark, disturbing dramas done with relentless immediacy. If you are a
fan of twisted characters in volatile situations, you'll be endeared of
Profiles. The theater is playwright Neil LaBute's artistic home — he's debuted
more than a dozen new works at Profiles.
4139 N. Broadway (Main Stage) & 4147 N. Broadway (Alley Stage) in Uptown
Tip: Thai Aroma serves terrific peanut noodles
right across the street from the theater.
A triumph of storytelling over spectacle is the hallmark of
Theo (rhymes with Day-O) Ubique (oob-eh-kay). Artistic Director Fred Anzevino
takes big, Broadway musicals and strips
them down to their emotional essence. Expect to be part of the set, literally.
The actors sing and dance around cabaret tables where the audience is seated.
No Exit Café, 6970 N.
Glenwood in Rogers Park
Tip: Come early
for dinner, served by the cast.
Artistic Director Michael Weber snaps up the rights to
Broadway musicals after they've been around for a while and makes them
Chicago's own. The casts are usually anchored by a song ‘n dance vet,
surrounded by an ensemble of younger, emerging talent. The result is shows that
invariably knock the audience's collective socks right off.
In residence at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont in the Belmont Theater District of Lakeview
Tip: Check the
Cubs schedule before you buy tickets. Wrigley Field is less than six blocks
away and the traffic on home game days has the power to break you.
Over the past 25 years, I have never attended a BET show
where the audience wasn't on its feet dancing by the curtain call. Artistic
Director Jackie Taylor pens most of BET's juke-box biographies of legendary (or
undersung) African American composers and performers.
4450 N. Clark in
Tip: Wear shoes
you can move in. You will be dancing by the final number.
TimeLine's formidable power rests in its ensemble, a group
that can shape the most obscure slices of history into storytelling that is
vivid, urgent and resonant. TimeLine has
garnered awards for bring to life everything from 16th century
England to 21st century Iraq.
615 W. Wellington in the Belmont Theater District of Lakeview
early. TimeLine's lobby displays are
mini-museums where collages, video footage and historical photos and documents
provide context to the play at hand.
Guy Van Swearingen founded AROT in between fighting fires
(his day job is Lieutenant with the CFD) and with longtime collaborators
Michael Shannon and Kirstin Fitzgerald. Over the past two decades, the company
has made an indelible mark staging works that aren't necessarily well known,
but that suck you in with the force of a riptide.
1531 N. Wells in Old
Tip: If Shannon's
is in the cast, get your tickets early. Since he's a bonafide movie star, hordes
of people who wouldn't normally venture into a theater will be slamming the box
office in hopes of seeing General Zod (of Superman fame) in the flesh.
The Hypocrites take classics ranging from The Mikado to Endgame to Our Town, and
reimagine them in radically new ways that still remain utterly true to the
spirit of the originals.
usually at The Den Theatre, 1333 N.
Milwaukee in Wicker Park
Director Sean Graney always puts his personal email in the program. You can
tell him straightway exactly what you think of what you just saw.
Long an incubator of new works, Victory Gardens has some of
the most diverse programming in the city. Artistic Director Chay Yew
consistently bucks the dead-white-male dominance in contemporary theater, and slates
his seasons with a roster of playwrights that actually reflect the real world's
2433 N. Lincoln in
Tip: Take a
mini-ghost hunt to the fence approximately five feet west of the entrance. It
marks the exact spot where John Dillinger was shot.
There's a trio of 98-seat theaters inside Theater Wit,
making the place an ever-buzzing hive of artistry. Wit shows skew toward
innovative provocative, whipsmart contemporary works and Midwest premieres. The roster of shows (including reliably
excellent resident companies including Shattered
Globe and Stage Left) is laid out on a massive wall menu in the
1229 W. Belmont in the Belmont Theater District of
Tip: If you're in town for a week or more, get a
flex pass. You'll be able to see as many shows as you want at any performance
you want. Also, see "avoid Cubs games", under Porchlight Theatre.
Jefferson Park's only theater has been telling great stories
with honesty and simplicity for almost 20 years. Founded by Michael Patrick
Thornton, the space is home to new works and classics delivered with ferocity,
verve, and authenticity.
4802 N. Milwaukee in
Tip: The nearby Gale Street Inn has the best ribs in
Chicago. Have dinner there before or after the show.
— managed by the League of Chicago Theatres — to see what exciting productions are on stage while you're here. For the inside scoop on what's happening across the city, get
recommendations from our resident culture vultures at the Chicago Like a Local blog. Plus,
be sure to check Hot Tix for half-price theatre tickets
to many shows in Chicago.