Shakespeare, Cinderella, and the Black Panther Party Star in Winter’s Must-See Theater Productions

Photo courtesy of Thirst/Strawdog Theatre

The forecast may say otherwise, but winter is always a hot time for theater in Chicago. Coming up these next few months, theater companies put the spotlight on the women of the Black Panther Party, Shakespeare’s bloodiest play, and taste-testers who put their lives at risk, among other subjects.

The White Plague / Photo by Chris Popio/Courtesy of Trap Door Theatre

Am I Man Enough?: Stories on Toxic Masculinity 
We are surrounded by toxic masculinity. The Oval Office is occupied by its embodiment, and the more we avoid it, the more we’ll continue living lives that feel a little like we’re stuck in a bad rendition of The Emperor’s New Clothes. Let’s remove the blinders as we begin 2020, shall we?
Details: January 23, 7:30 p.m., at Volumes Bookcafe

The Leopard Play: Or Sad Songs for Lost Boys
Isaac Gomez is back with a play he tags as follows: #NewWork, #NewWerk, #QueerPlays, #LatinePlays, #LatinxPlays, #MexicanPlays, #DadPlays, and #DaddyIssues. A man goes back to the place where he was raised, along the U.S.-Mexican border. Waiting for him is information about his uncle’s mysterious death, the men he escaped, and a whole bunch of memories he never wanted to access again. What are we willing to do and face in order to get the answers we think we need? This one is at the very top of my must-see list.
Details: January 24–February 29 at Steep Theatre

The White Plague
This one may not be for the faint-of-heart baby boomer! A mysterious plague starts killing people above the age of 45, and one person has cracked the case as to why. However, the cure will require a sacrifice. Is humanity as we know it worth the cost?
Details: Through January 25 at Trap Door Theatre

In this musical, Stephen Schwartz, Lin-Manuel Miranda, James Taylor, Mary Rodgers, Micki Grant, and Craig Carnelia have transformed Studs Terkel’s interviews of working people living in Chicago into songs. We hear from “a mason, a waitress, a millworker, a manager, a fireman, a teacher, a trucker, a [sex worker], a housewife, and many others.” Recommended for anyone looking for a way to start the year with a reminder of the power and vulnerability of the working class.
Details: Through January 26 at Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre

Panther Women: An Army for the Liberation
Showing at Rhinofest only twice, Panther Women is an ensemble-devised play by Inda Nicole Burton celebrating the lives of Elaine Brown, Angela Davis, and Assata Shakur, three Black Panther leaders commonly overlooked when Americans remember the Black Panther Party. Tickets are available online, and same-day pay-what-you-can tickets are available at the theater.
Details: February 1 and 2 at Rhinofest

Plano / Photo courtesy of First Floor Theater

First Floor Theater Presents: Plano
Three neurotic sisters have three different ailments, and you’ll find out the specifics of just two. The third woman doesn’t want to share, but she does want you to eat her homemade hummus. This sounds terrifying, right? Time Out New York called it “experimental theater perfection.” Yeah, it’s gonna freak you out. I’m in.
Details: February 16–March 28 at First Floor Theater and Steppenwolf Theatre

Titus Andronicus
Haven Theatre artistic director Ian Diamont Martin helms this production of what is known as one of Shakespeare’s bloodiest plays. Centering the narrative around marginalized communities, Martin asks: Is revenge ever justifiable? What if there is no justice?
Details: February 13–March 14 at Haven Theatre

Set in a postapocalyptic world, Thirst is about survival, community, and family in a time of water shortage and war. Samira, Greta, and their son, Kalil, live in a clearing in the woods, and they depend on Kalil for their water rations. When he returns home one day without any, they find themselves forced to grapple with a local political leader.
Details: Through February 15 at Strawdog Theatre

The Tasters
Directed by Devon de Mayo, this play features two of my very favorite Chicago actors: Shariba Rivers and Paula Ramirez. In this universe, world leaders are often poisoned, so tasters are employed to taste-test the meals of the most powerful and wait to see if they die from poisoning. When one taster goes on hunger strike, she puts her fellow tasters’ lives in jeopardy for the sake of her mission. I can’t wait to catch this and learn what that mission is!
Details: Through February 16 at Rivendell Theatre

Photo courtesy of The Tasters/Time Out Chicago

There is nothing more theatrical than improv, in my humble opinion. The stakes are set and very high: Will these people pull off a coherent story or joke? Will they become the joke? How will they turn my suggestions as an audience member into something? Anything? And hey, if they can get up there and use my suggestions to make something funny, does that mean that I could do this, too? No evening is the same as any other. You never know what you’re going to get. If you had to endure a holiday season of the same old, same old, this might be right up your alley.
Details: Open run at Stage 773

The Infinite Wrench
The Infinite Wrench boasts two new plays every week, 50 weekends of the year, and they are good! If you love theater and want a break from the family living room drama, check this series out.
Details: Open run at the Neo-Futurists