Generally in this space I write of interesting connections (interesting to me, anyway), upcoming attractions, notable careers, powerful performances, sad-or-sweet news, money, art and other salient issues. I had such a column in mind for this week, but after seeing "Sunday in the Park with George," I ripped it up in honor of more pressing matters.
There are three shows in Chicago at present that are, I hereby contend, as good as anything you can currently see anywhere in America (not that I have seen everything on offer across these United States, but this is the Windy City, darn it). I further contend that this trio stacks up pretty darn well against the attractions of any other fall that I have been writing reviews, and there have been very many of those falls. The shows would be the Steppenwolf Theatre Company production of "Good People," the Lookingglass Theatre Company production of "Metamorphoses," and Chicago Shakespeare Theater's production of "Sunday in the Park with George." If you are one of the several readers who've been e-mailing to express the sad predicament of being only able to afford one of this triangle of excellence and looking for further delineation, "Sunday" is your show. But even as I type that answer, I feel the surge of doubt. Maybe it's "Good People." Maybe it's "Metamorphoses." Maybe you just have to save up, or skip a week of lunches and live on the sustenance of art.
One wishes Chicago Shakespeare, Lookingglass and Steppenwolf would come up with one of those special three-show discount deals — they could call it the Really Great Show Where Everything Finally Worked Just Beautifully and You Cannot Help but Be Deeply Moved Triple Promotion, and do their city's arts lovers a favor. But don't sit around waiting for that to happen.
Sometimes one can like a show and simultaneously see the argument against some aspect of it; I felt that way at the Goodman Theatre's "Sweet Bird of Youth," which would be a standout attraction in any other fall and that contains some profoundly beautiful ideas and several top-drawer performances. But in the case of "Sunday," "Metamorphoses" and "Good People," I don't just disagree with any such argument, I really don't see how you could make it. "Good People" is an excellent play that received a very fine Broadway production; director K. Todd Freeman's Steppenwolf production is just a notch better. "Metamorphoses" is an excellent play that received very fine local and Broadway productions about a decade ago; Mary Zimmerman's new production (now extended through Dec. 16) is just a notch better. "Sunday in the Park" is an excellent musical that received a very fine London-to-Broadway revival in 2008; director Gary Griffin's new production (now extended through Nov. 11) is just a notch better.
What do all three of these shows have in common? Primarily, acting of extraordinary emotional depth. Simple as that.
If you can sit through any of them without a tear in the eye, you're tougher than me. I would further be amazed if you did not recognize their mutual ability to tap into great truths about this life as we curerently live it.
What is in the Chicago water this fall? No idea whatsoever. Perhaps it's about certain directors who've reached certain points in their careers and yet remained here (after Griffin's "Follies," word was very much out around the country about his Sondheims at Chicago Shakes). Then again, Freeman is yet without much profile as a director at all (I suspect that will change). Perhaps it's further confirmation of how Chicago now has reached a new critical mass of artistry. Perhaps attention and national talent is flowing our way due to a relatively weak season in New York so far. Most likely, it's most coincidence or some weird alchemy of the time, place and moment. A collection of top-tier talent guarantees nothing.
But I will guarantee you this. See all three of these pieces, and you'll be ready to change some of the ways you go about your business.
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