Culture Beat: Spotlighting the Can't-Miss Productions of the Season

By Thomas Connors | October 8, 2018 | Culture

From grand stages to fringe storefront shows, these are the essential performances to catch in Chicago this fall.

Visceral Dance Chicago’s Noelle Kayser in Soft Spoken, by company artistic director Nick Pupillo. (Photo by Michelle Reid)

Lollapalooza is long gone, the last of the street fests are wrapping up—and when was the last time you hit the beach? Winter will be rearing its ugly head soon, but don’t hunker down just yet; there are still plenty of reasons to get out and about in Chicago this season.

Playwright Bennett Fisher isn’t one to pen a little drawing room comedy. Not when he’s had privilege and paranoia, capitalism and dread, ghosts and government agents on his mind. In his latest, Borealis, he sets a 13-year-old off to the wilds of Alaska searching for a missing brother. This world-premiere production from House Theatre (now onstage at The Chopin Upstairs Theatre) packs a dark comedic bite as it ponders family, career and the shortsightedness that seems pretty much a universal ailment. Through Oct. 21, 1543 W. Division St., 773.769.3832

If you thought Cirque du Soleil held a monopoly on all things acrobatic, think again. Bogotá’s Circolombia has been wowing audiences with its own brand of circus magic and derring-do. A hit at Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the troupe makes its North American debut at The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare with Acéléré, the final event in this year’s Destinos, the Chicago International Latino Theater Festival. This nonstop, senses-busting spectacle—driven by a score that ranges from hip-hop to electro cumbia—dares you not to gasp. Oct. 23-Nov. 4, 800 E. Grand Ave., 312.595.5600)

The Joffrey Ballet returns with Christopher Wheeldon’s Swan Lake. (Photo by Cheryl Mann)

With a Tony for An American in Paris in hand and plans to direct and choreograph an authorized Michael Jackson musical, it might be a while before we see another straight-up ballet from Christopher Wheeldon. In the meantime, it doesn’t hurt to take a look at his Swan Lake, which launches the Joffrey Ballet’s fall season. Wheeldon has cracked this chestnut wide open, giving the fantastical story more grounding by setting it in a Parisian ballet studio, where the Tchaikovsky-driven classic is being rehearsed. But rest assured, for all its real world ambiance, Wheeldon’s rendition remains all about the romance. Oct. 17-28, Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Parkway, 312.386.8905

Theater, music and dance are always a part of the Chicago Humanities Festival, but not every performance calls for light, sets and costumes. Talking heads are a big draw at this dizzying display of ideas, and this fall’s incarnation is no exception. Organizers have christened this year’s fest Graphic!, and the focus is the visual order of the world today. The slew of speakers ranges from cartoonist Chris Ware and music writer Jessica Hopper to Phoebe Robinson (of NPR’s 2 Dope Queens), Jill Lepore of The New Yorker and Steven Pinker, author of The Better Angels of Our Nature. Listen up. Oct. 27-Nov. 11

Ishmael Houston-Jones, Ralph Lemon and Bebe Miller—three of the most groundbreaking dancers of the ’80s postmodern scene—come to the Museum of Contemporary Art to perform for the first time as a trio. Keen participants in the redefining of contemporary dance aesthetics, and trailblazers in exploring what Houston-Jones once called “post-Alvin Ailey black dance,” each has built a career on highly individual notions of form and content. Nov. 2-3, 220 E. Chicago Ave., 312.397.4010

The Woman in Black brings spooky dramatics to The Royal George Theatre. (Photo by Mark Douet)

Need to get spooked? Head on over to The Royal George Theatre, where The Woman in Black will scare your socks off. The long-running (30 years!) West End thriller—adapted for the stage by Stephen Mallatratt from Susan Hill’s gothic novel—is a classic ghost story, in which a man recalls weird goings-on in a creepy country house. Half the thrill of the show is the fact that the story’s twists and turns are all enacted by only two performers, who conjure multiple characters and settings without any special effects. Nov. 15-Feb. 17, 1641 N. Halsted St., 312.988.9000

There’s something for everyone in the Auditorium Theatre’s Made in Chicago dance series. Deeply Rooted Dance Theater, known for its storytelling prowess, performs several pieces, including Nicole Clarke-Springer’s hard-hitting female quartet, Until Lambs Become Lions. Visceral Dance Chicago does Artistic Director Nick Pupillo’s Soft Spoken, set to recordings by Frank Sinatra, Arvo Pärt and Joni Mitchell, among others. And L.A.’s Ate9 Dance Company teams up with Chicago-based percussionist/ composer Glenn Kotche from Wilco for the work Calling Glenn. Nov. 16, Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Parkway, 312.341.2300

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