Best plays of 2009

We’re already 11 days into the new year, but I’m still catching up on my “best of 2009” lists. I’m waiting a week or so before I do a list of the year’s best films, since I’m still seeing some 2009 movies. (And as always, some films from the previous year straggle into Chicago after Jan. 1, raising the question of whether they belong on last year’s list.) Here are my picks for the 12 best plays I saw in Chicago in 2009.

ROUW SIERT ELECTRA (MOURNING BECOMES ELECTRA) by Eugene O’Neill, directed by Ivo Van Hove, at the Goodman Theatre. (Photo by Jan Versweyveld.) Eugene O’Neill translated into Dutch with supertitles? Sounds esoteric, but the acting by the Toneelgroep Amsterdam troupe was so visceral it felt like a slap in the face.

AN APOLOGY FOR THE COURSE AND OUTCOME OF CERTAIN EVENTS DELIVERED BY DOCTOR JOHN FAUSTUS ON THIS HIS FINAL EVENING by Mickle Maher, Theater Oobleck at the Chopin Theatre. (Photo by Kristin Basta.) This existential black comedy made terrific use of a basement performance space, making audience members feel like they were part of some strange ritual.

THE ELABORATE ENTRANCE OF CHAD DEITY by Kristoffer Diaz, directed by Edward Torres, at Victory Gardens Theater. (Photo by Liz Lauren.) This was more fun than any show in 2009, even for someone like me who hates wrestling.

THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP by Charles Ludlam, directed by Sean Graney, at Court Theatre. (Photo by Michael Brosilow.) Another blast of fun, with lots of quick-change comedy by the marvelous Erik Hellman and Chris Sullivan.

THE OVERWHELMING by J.T. Rogers, directed by Kimberly Senior, at Next Theatre. This smart political drama set in Africa built to a climax with a hair-raising feeling of danger.

ANIMAL CRACKERS by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind, music and lyrics by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, adapted and directed by Henry Wishcamper, at the Goodman Theatre. (Photo by Eric Y. Exit.) Completely retro, and highly entertaining. The next best thing to seeing the actual Marx Brothers.

BLACKBIRD by David Harrower, directed by Dennis Zacek, at Victory Gardens Theater. (Photo by Liz Lauren.) A disturbing two-character drama starring two superb actors, Mattie Hawkinson and William L. Peterson, at their best.

DESIRE UNDER THE ELMS by Eugene O’Neill, directed by Robert Falls, at the Goodman Theatre. (Photo by Liz Lauren.) Epic in all the right ways. Part myth, part fever dream.

ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD by Tom Stoppard, directed by Michael Halberstam, at Writers’ Theatre. (Photo by Michael Brosilow.) An excellent production of Stoppard’s classic transformed existential despair into thought-provoking humor.

AMERICAN BUFFALO by David Mamet, directed by Amy Morton, at Steppenwolf Theatre. A strong production of one of Mamet’s best plays, with exciting acting from the entire cast.

OH, COWARD!, words and music by Noël Coward, devised by Roderick Cook, musical direction by Doug Peck, directed by Jim Corti, at Writers’ Theatre. (Photo by Michael Brosilow.) This delightful revue feels like a cocktail party in a ritzy penthouse, where three talented singers deliver a command performance of witty and wistful tunes.

THE ARABIAN NIGHTS written and directed by Mary Zimmerman, at Lookingglass Theatre. (Photo by Sean Williams.) Zimmerman once again brought a sense of wonder and humor to the world of ancient myths.

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