Favorite plays of 2008

1. GATZ, Elevator Repair Service at the Museum of Contemporary Art: An ingenious, transcendent and strangely mesmerizing six-hour marathon of a play: a worker in a drab office reading The Great Gatsby aloud – every single word. A testament to the transformative powers of art and storytelling.

2. OUR TOWN, The Hypocrites at the Chopin Theatre: Thornton Wilder’s classic play was not the least bit quaint or sentimental in this marvelous revival by director David Cromer. Coming very close to Wilder’s original intentions, this bare-bones, street-clothes staging moved us and made us think about our place in the universe.

3. DUBLN CAROL, Steppenwolf: It was a superb year for seeing Conor McPherson plays in Chicago, and three of his plays deserve mention here. Some critics ranked Dublin Carol third out of the three plays, but I found it the purest and most direct expression of McPherson’s spirit, with a top-notch performance by William Petersen.

4. AS YOU LIKE IT, Writers’ Theatre: Directed by William Brown, Shakespeare’s story was completely delightful. The play is not often mentioned as one of the Bard’s best, but the production made a compelling case for it.

5. A STEADY RAIN, by Chicago Dramatists at Royal George Theatre: This cop drama by Keith Huff made some critics’ lists for 2007; I did not see it until this year. It’s one of the best recent plays about Chicago, capturing the lively, vulgar repartee of the city’s finest.

6. PICNIC, Writers’ Theatre: The space at Writers’ Theatre was reconfigured to put the audience almost in the middle of the action, and director David Cromer surrounded us with believable human beings.

7. DRACULA, The Building Stage: The ending was flawed, but everything else about this adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel was amazing – a silent movie presented as a phantasmagoric tableau.

8. RUINED, Goodman Theatre: Lynn Nottage’s play is marked with searing pain and trauma, but there’s some joyful spirit, too – just enough to make it bearable.

9. THE SEAFARER, Steppenwolf: Another excellent Conor McPherson play, a devilish take on Christmas.

10. EURYDICE, Victory Gardens: Sarah Ruhl’s magic-realist take on the Orpheus myth flowed with the logic of a dream.

Runners-up: 9 Parts of Desire, MCA/Next Theatre; Shining City, Goodman; Superior Donuts, Steppenwolf; The Brothers Karamazov, Lookingglass; Gas For Less, Goodman; Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me, Piven Theatre; Around the World in 80 Days, Lookingglass; Million Dollar Quartet, Apollo Theatre; Boneyard Prayer, Redmoon Theatre; Dead Man’s Cell Phone, Steppenwolf; The Lion in Winter, Writers’ Theatre.

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