The cast of Steppenwolf's "Three Sisters"

For various life-related reasons, I've pretty much checked out of the theatre loop for the past several weeks. So, when I started looking at what shows were out there and where to get back into the game, I was completely blown away by the volume and diversity of productions playing across the city. And I thought: if this is how I -- a Chicago theatre addict who just checked out of the scene for a month -- feels, imagine how a normal, or even casual, theatre goer feels. Where to start?

Well, like most people, I turned to some of my friends to get a sense of what's worth seeing over the next month. And with that, I present the four shows that I'm making a point to catch, and perhaps you should, too.

1) Three Sisters, Steppenwolf Theatre. June 28 -- August 26, 2012

It seems like every season a major theatre company produces this turn-of-the-century Anton Chekhov chestnut, er, I mean classic. Now it's Steppenwolf's turn, and this time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tracy Letts has adapted this play, about sisters who struggle with their crumbling social status, and given it his own, unique take. From what I've heard, it's a grittier and more relatable experience that packs an emotional wallop.

2) A Steady Rain, Chicago Dramatists, Through August 12, 2012

This play, which premiered in Chicago and went on to Broadway starring the likes of Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig, makes its return engagement to the windy city as a commercial production at Chicago Dramatists. And, while we don't get Craig and Jackman in this iteration, from what I gather, the punches are hit hard in this explosive cop drama.

3) A Little Night Music, Writers' Theatre, May 1 - August 12, 2012

Ok - this one I've actually seen. Simply put, there’s something magical happening up in Glencoe, Ill. It’s a sparkling and intimate new production of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s 1973 musical, A Little Night Music — a sophisticated, romantic comedy set in 20th century Sweden about mismatched pairs who, through a mix of fate peppered with manipulation, waltz into the arms of their ideal lovers. Don't miss it.

4) The Glass Menagerie, Redtwist Theatre, July 25 - September 2, 2012

I haven't yet heard word on this production, but Redtwist has earned a reputation as a force to be reckoned with in our storefront theatre space. And with the irreplaceable Jacqueline Grandt playing the wistful and obsessive mother in this Tennessee Williams classic, it's sure to be stellar.