Undoing of Prudencia Hart, The
Upstairs at Chicago Shakespeare

The National Theatre of Scotland has no fixed playhouse of its own. The peripatetic troupe usually plays in pubs and other social venues, and it’s been successful at the Edinburgh Festival. So it’s natural that Chicago Shakespeare Theatre’s Global Theatre Exchange would bring it, along with the Black Watch that scored a previous CST hit, to its Upstairs space converted to a pub.

A well-stocked bar with its busy tenders beckon. Five actor-musicians at the front playing strings and tooting with vigor before tables to be shared set the play to come.

Marie J. Kilker
Mark Taper Forum

Just in time for Election Day, Center Theater Group has mounted David Mamet's wicked political satire, November. First produced in 2008, just before Barack Obama was voted into office, the play gleefully pokes fun at a fictional president of the United States, Charles Smith (Ed Begley, Jr.). Smith, we learn quickly, has been a bust as president, a do-nothing dimwit who has only one goal in life: to be re-elected for another four years.

Willard Manus
Enemy of the People, An
Samuel J. Friedman Theater

Henrik Ibsen's 1882 play, An Enemy of the People,is particularly timely in 2012. This fiery Manhattan Theater Club revival by Rebecca Lenkiewicz at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater sharply articulates the wishes of the majority faced with the inconvenient corruption of environmental threats. What seems like hands-down common sense and the common good is threatened when the dirty word, “tax,” steps in and muddles the meaning of who is actually the “enemy.”

Elizabeth Ahlfors
King of Hearts is Off Again, The
Odyssey Theater

In a rare visit to L.A., Studium Teatrine, the Warsaw-based theater company, has brought its Holocaust drama, The King of Hearts is off Again, to the Odyssey Theater Ensemble for a two-week run.

Willard Manus
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Cook Theater

With its uncomplicated, fast-moving plot and theme (an ambitious desire for power and a killing obsession with keeping it), Macbethlends itself to a much-truncated version of the kind shown here. Still, it’s a potent drama, not lacking characterization, and well adapted to tour, especially to middle and higher schools in session.

In each of two troupes of six final year Acting Conservatory students (also new members of Asolo Rep Co.), all smoothly double, except the two couples playing, in turn, Macbeth and his Lady. The leads’ common trait is murderous brutality.

Marie J. Kilker
Sweet Bird of Youth
Goodman Theater - Mainstage

The first time I saw Sweet Bird of Youthwas up-close in Chicago’s rather small Studebaker Theater. The opening scene in a cramped bedroom dominated the entire drama, with the feeling of characters hemmed in by their pasts and just as trapped by their hopes (that I didn’t feel they’d realize) for the future.

Marie J. Kilker
Nightmare Room, The
Tenth Street Theater

Milwaukee’s In Tandem Theater presents the U.S. premiere of John Goodrun’s psychological thriller, The Nightmare Room. The play is based on a story by Sherlock Holmes’ creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, so one enters the theater expecting plenty of plot twists and turns. The play does not disappoint.

Anne Siegel
Broken and Entered
Broadway Theater Center - Studio Theater

Milwaukee Chamber Theater presents the world premiere of Wisconsin playwright Kurt McGinnis Brown’s Broken and Entered. The show is staged in a small, black box-type theatre. “Black” is the operative word here: a few of the play’s scenes are conducted entirely in the dark, with only two flashlights providing illumination. The play itself can also be pegged as a dark comedy, as it involves a massive number of residential break-ins, all conducted by a pair of adult brothers searching to erase their past.

Anne Siegel
Mountaintop, The
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Stiemke Studio Theater

The Mountaintopis an amazing glimpse into the life of one of the 20th Century’s most important figures, Dr. Martin Luther King. King is undoubtedly the person most associated with the 1960s civil rights movement, which he led until his assassination in 1968. Playwright Katori Hall exposes the personal side of this powerful leader.

Anne Siegel
By the Way, Vera Stark
Geffen Playhouse

Hollywood's condescending and racist attitude toward black performers gets a comical pie in the face from Lynn Nottage, the 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winner for Ruined. By the Way, Meet Vera Stark, opens in 1933, when "America's Little Sweetie Pie," Gloria Mitchell (the captivating Amanda Detmar), a blonde, ditzy Southern belle, is getting ready to star in a sudsy tale set on a Louisiana plantation in slavery times.

Willard Manus
If There Is I Haven't Found It
Laura Pels Theater

The title is baffling, but what’s clear about the Roundabout’s If There is I Haven't Found it Yetis the focus. It is water, and lots of it. Before the play even starts, rain pours steadily into a moat at the edge of the stage. Interestingly, rain itself never plays a part in the play, but the soggy theme is omnipresent, a symbolic threat of drowning both the planet and one dysfunctional family.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Solitude of Self, The
Blackfriars Theater

There are actors who, though every bit as good as any others, do not want to travel away from their home life and employment. So we see them in regional theaters or on film and television made in their home areas.

Herbert M. Simpson
Avenue Q
Broadway Theater Center - Cabot Theater

First there was TV’s “Sesame Street,” that crazy, diverse neighborhood where everyone managed to get along. Some characters, such as Big Bird, didn’t have a beef about anything. Other characters, such as Oscar the Grouch, wanted the whole world to go away and leave him alone. All in all, “Sesame Street” was a comforting place where children could feel safe and special.

Anne Siegel
Mary Broome
Mint Theater

Once again Jonathan Bank’s Mint Theater Company has found an interesting antique play. This one, beautifully produced and tastefully directed by Bank, is the hundred year old Mary Broomeby Allan Monkhouse.

The central character is a good-looking upper crust rake (Roderick Hill). He’s a charming bounder, who, raised without ambition to achieve anything, is now unfit for work of any kind and gets along as a high-class schnorrer (moocher). He has seduced Mary, the maid (Janie Brookshire), and she’s pregnant. That’s the setup.

Richmond Shepard
Red Dog Howls
New York Theater Workshop

Alexander Dinelaris has a powerful axe to grind: the genocidal slaughter of Armenians by the Turks in 1915. His fascinating, intricate play about a man’s search for his past, Red Dog Howlsis deeply funny and profoundly moving as the man (Alfredo Narciso) finds his 91-year-old grandmother (Kathleen Chalfant) living in New York and secrets are gradually revealed.

Richmond Shepard
Life X 3
Boulevard Theater

Anyone who has sat through a nightmarish dinner party can relate to the circumstances portrayed in Life X 3by noted playwright Yasmina Reza. In this case, the dinner party guests are not even old friends but an arrogant boss and his wife (Hubert and Inez). Worse, they arrive on the wrong night, causing confusion and embarrassment to the hosts, Henry and Sonia.

Anne Siegel
You Can't Take it with You
Geva Theater - Mainstage

To celebrate its 40th anniversary season, Geva Theater Center opened with a rich production of a beloved American play which will celebrate its 76th anniversary in December, Kaufman and Hart’s You Can’t Take It With You.An elaborate catered party for longtime faithful patrons before and after the opening night performance, beautifully detailed designs and appealing music, and a reunion cast of favorite actors who have appeared at Geva many times before – all emphasized the festive occasion.

Herbert M. Simpson
The Players

Written shortly after September 11, 2001, following Linda MacCluggage’s first visit to ruins of the Twin Towers, nine/eleven,her self-described “play for voices” conjures visions beyond the limits of traditional staging.

Marie J. Kilker
Bring it On
St. James Theater

For someone who loves physical action, dance, gymnastics and high-flying acrobatics (like me), the cheerleader musical Bring it On(libretto by Jeff Whitty, music by Tom Kitt and Lin-Manuel Miranda, lyrics by Amanda Green and Lin-Manuel Miranda, based on the movie by Jessica Bendinginder), is a joy and a thrill.

Richmond Shepard
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Quadracci Powerhouse Theater

The dark and haunting Stephen Sondheim musical, Assassins, opens the fall season at the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre. Assassinsis far from being your average crowd-pleaser, and artistic director Mark Clements is to be commended for mounting this big-budget musical.

Anne Siegel
Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Rd.
Pacific Resident Theater

Actor/writer Keith Stevenson has tapped into his West Virginia background in his hillbilly comedy, Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Rd. now playing in its six month at Pacific Resident Theater. The one-act play is a prime example of Southern Gothic humor: all five of its characters are caricatured outrageously as they live their lives out in a setting of extreme squalor and ignorance (a ramshackle motel out in the boonies).

Willard Manus
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Stackner Cabaret

As an unusually warm Milwaukee summer slides into cooler fall nights, the hottest show in town these days is Gutenberg! The Musical! A tag line in the show’s press release says it all: “They (don’t) have a cast, an orchestra or a clue.” What it does have are two naive, would-be musical creators, Bud and Doug, who believe they have created the greatest musical comedy of all time. They are staging a backer’s audition to find money to finance the show’s Broadway debut.

Anne Siegel
The Bible: Complete Word of God (Abridged)
Next Act Theater

Is this show the “blasphemous” production that religious conservatives managed to boot from its desired facility in a state park? Hardly. The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged) is more of a gentle satire than a full-fledged attack on sacred texts. Certainly, liberties are taken with the text. But who wouldn’t want to hear Moses recite the “Ten Rejected Commandments?” (“Sorry, adultery is still in there,” he notes).

Anne Siegel
Mark Thomas: Bravo Figaro!
Traverse Theater

Mark Thomas is a well-known British comedian, but his new one-person show, Mark Thomas: Bravo Figaro!, now in its world premiere at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, offers a lot more than just a string of one-liners. Instead, the charismatic Thomas delivers a monologue about his late father, a working-class bloke packed with enough contradictions to give Sigmund Freud fits.

Willard Manus
Traverse Theater

One of the best things about the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is the chance it affords to see the work of young playwrights, actors and directors from around the world. Among the many neophyte theater companies appearing at the 2012 Fringe was the Lyric Youth Company (which is attached to the Lyric Hammersmith in W. London)

Willard Manus
Static, The

The Static, the well-titled play by the young Scottish writer Davey Anderson, is bristling with noisy, crackling energy. Performed by the adventurous Thickskin Theatre company, the play takes the familiar subject of disaffected youth and gives it a fresh gloss.

Mavis Manus
Gulliver's Travels
King's Theater

The Radu Stanca National Theatre of Sibu, Romania, had a big hit at the 2009 Edinburgh International Festival with its production of Faust. Now the state-subsidized company has returned to the Edinburgh International Festival with a new production, Gulliver’s Travels – After Jonathan Swift.

Mavis Manus
Perfect Wedding
Florida Studio Theater - Gompertz

Bill, a Brit, wakes up in an English country hotel bridal suite on the morning of his wedding with a hangover, a woman he doesn’t recognize in his bed, and a short time until his fiancée arrives with her mother to dress for the ceremony a few hours away. Also due is best man Tom -- whom Bill hopes will help him get out of his jam.

Marie J. Kilker
Harrison, TX
59E59 Theaters

Harrison, TX: Three Plays by Horton Foote– what a theatrical treat!

Richmond Shepard
Closer Than Ever
York Theater at St. Peter's Church

Closer than Ever, lyrics and direction by Richard Maltby Jr. and music by David Shire, is a musical revue without a through line of specific characters. The theme is: the foibles of romance. Songs about love -- finding it, losing it, missing it, are full of ironic comments on marriage and the tribulations of relationships.

Richmond Shepard
Last Smoker in America, The
Westside Theater

The Last Smoker in Americawith book and lyrics by Bill Russell and music by Peter Melnick, is a broadly-played cartoon taking anti-smoking to its absurdist limit. It’s a totally imaginative trip to a bizarre future performed by four top-level singer/actors in stylized, sometimes sparkling, costumes by Michael McDonald. He gives us a surreal trip to a fantasy world on a brilliant flexible set by Charlie Corcoran full of innovations and surprises, with lighting by Jeff Croiter and Grant Yeager that enlivens everything. The writing is sharp and funny, the music lively and catchy.

Richmond Shepard
Harrison, TX
59E59 Theaters

There is a quirky gentility about Horton Foote’s characters that builds and develops into universal truths. In Primary Stages’ production at 59E59 Theaters, Harrison,TX: Three Plays by Horton Foote: Blind Date, The One-Armed Man, and The Midnight Caller,each dramatically addresses the need for community, interaction, and understanding. Each play is set in Foote’s fictional community of Harrison, based on Wharton, TX, the town where he was born.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Stratford Festival - Tom Patterson Theater

One thing I’d say for the translator of this Elektra, Canada’s award-winning poet and classical scholar Anne Carson: she certainly managed to remove the poetry.

Herbert M. Simpson
Word or Two, A
Stratford Festival - Avon Theater

I really hope that this beautiful, valuable-beyond-price theatre-piece will be recorded in Christopher Plummer’s incomparable performance of it, because it is a treasure truly worth preserving for future generations.

Herbert M. Simpson
Thousand Clowns, A
Broadway Theater Center - Cabot Theater

Although decades have passed since this award-winning chestnut debuted on Broadway in 1964, the characters in A Thousand Clownsring as true today as they did then. The play revolves around the life of Murray Burns, a real-life Peter Pan. Despite the fact that he’s in his 30s, Murray just doesn’t want to grow up; “responsibility” is a dirty word in his vocabulary. No wonder he has no wife, no family, and no decent place to call home. What he does have is a bright, precocious 12-year-old, unwittingly dumped on him years ago by his even-more-irresponsible sister.

Anne Siegel
Shalom Dammit!
Roy Arias Theater Center

In his show, Shalom Dammit!, David Lefkowitz, in his persona of “Rabbi Sol Solomon,” gives us an entertaining evening of humor, song, physical action, as he explores worldly incongruities and the consequences of being Jewish. His folky presentation is full of sparks of insight and sprinkled generously with jokes, from an unabashedly partisan point of view. He’s lively as a herring, smart (as a rabbi should be), tasty as a gefilte fish (with red horseradish), cute - as he bounces around the stage, and quite entertaining. What more could you want?

Richmond Shepard
Crimes of the Heart
Florida Studio Theater Center for the Performing Arts - Cook Theater

Crimes of the Heart is a comedy in the way Chekhov’s self-described comedies are. Indeed, Barba Redmond in her director’s notes has reasonably compared it and its leads to his Three Sisters.Each play is really site-specific, Henley’s in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, with a quirky fall atmosphere like the dropping leaves outside the three Magrath Sisters’ house.

Marie J. Kilker
Dandy Dick
Theatre Royal

Dandy Dick, the first production launched by a brand-new partnership between several large regional theaters in the UK, made a sparkling debut at Theatre Royal, Glasgow. The Victorian comedy by Arthur Wing Pinero was written in 1887, but it has been given a fresh gloss by director Christopher Lucombe, whose specialty is classic comedies.

Willard Manus
Miss Lilly Gets Boned
New Ohio Theater

Bekah Brunsteller’s Miss Lilly Gets Boned is a captivating piece of rare theatricality involving a huge, very animated, three-man elephant puppet (ala War Horse), the elephant’s psychotherapist (the sensitive Sanam Erfani), and, in a parallel story, two sisters, one a profligate (the vivid Liz Wisan), one a 30 year old virgin (the super-charming, highly-talented and skilled, good-looking Jessica Dickey). The latter meets a South African father (Chris Thorn) and his precocious son (David Rosenblatt) whose mother was killed by an elephant.

Richmond Shepard
Billy Elliot
Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

Almost any review is certain to short-change the magic that is Billy Elliott the Musical. Words alone cannot describe the unique chemistry among all the elements that come together in this award-winning musical. The North American tour gave Milwaukee audiences their first look at this international sensation.

Anne Siegel