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Chicago stages set to take you places both near and far

'An Iliad' featuring Timothy Edward Kane as The Poet. | Michael Brosilow photo

"An Iliad" featuring Timothy Edward Kane as The Poet. | Michael Brosilow photo

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Updated: September 5, 2013 7:47AM



In the best of all possible theatrical worlds, every play is a great journey. But this fall that notion can be taken quite literally. For the price of a theater ticket, and without any of the hassles of booking a flight and a hotel room, you can travel the globe (and beyond): from Indochina in the 1930s, to the routes taken by the luxurious Pullman Trains of the same era in this country; from ancient Greece during the decade-long Trojan War, to the streets of Dublin in recent years; from the stages of the Catskills, to northern Manhattan’s bustling Latino neighborhood of Washington Heights; from Detroit, circa 1967, to Buenos Aires in the Peron era; from 17th century Paris to 19th century Spain. You can even book an imaginative voyage to the moon.

With scores upon scores of shows opening on Chicago area stages this fall, it is impossible to choose a “Top 10 must see.” So here is an itinerary for the restless who are eager to explore without having to pack a bag:

† “THE OLD MAN AND THE MOON” (through Nov. 10, a Pigpen Theatre Co. production at Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Ct., Glencoe. 847-242-9730; writerstheatre.org): Writers Theatre introduces audiences to the PigPen Theatre Co., a New York-based ensemble of seven multi-talented guys in their twenties who blend theater, music, puppetry, animation and fantasy in a unique way. The Midwest premiere of this “play with music” is being directed by Stuart Carden, the ensemble’s mentor when they all were students at Carnegie Mellon.

† “IN THE HEIGHTS” (Sept. 11 - Oct. 6, Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Ave., Aurora. 630-896-6666; theparamounttheatre.com): It’s a bit of a ride, but in its first two seasons the Paramount’s Broadway Series has repeatedly come up a winner. And now, the supremely gifted director Rachel Rockwell will stage the first post-Broadway edition of the Tony Award-winning musical with its infectious Latin/hip-hop score by Lin-Manuel Miranda and a story that follows three days in the lives of a largely Hispanic neighborhood where change is in the air.

† “THE WHEEL” (Sept. 12 - Nov. 10, Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted. 312-335-1650; steppenwolf.org): British playwright Zinnie Harris weaves a surreal tale of the chaos of war through the ages as a Spanish woman (played by Joan Allen, back on a Steppenwolf stage for the first time since 1991) becomes the unintentional guardian of a young girl.

† “PULLMAN PORTER BLUES” (Sept. 14 - Oct. 20, Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn. 312-443-3800; goodmantheatre.org.): Cheryl L. West’s play-with-music is “a blues-infused ride” that follows three generations of African American Pullman porters in the 1930s, and suggests the mix of freedom and exploitation that came with the job. Chuck Smith (“By the Way, Meet Vera Stark”), will direct.

† “CYRANO DE BERGERAC” (Sept. 24 - Nov. 10, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, 800 E. Grand. (312) 595-5600; chicagoshakes.com): Edmond Rostand’s classic tale of love, war, poetry, panache and an all-too-prominent nose will be the occasion for a reunion of actor Harry Groener and director Penny Metropulos, who created such a stir with their 2011 production of “The Madness of George III.”

† “OLD JEWS TELLING JOKES” (Sept. 24-Nov. 24, Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted. 312-988-9000; Ticketmaster.com): Initially a popular website started by Sam Hoffman, this revue, devised by Peter Gethers and Daniel Okrent, already a hit in New York, has been described as “a pickle-barrelful of giggles.” It celebrates the rich tradition of Jewish humor “and all the rabbis, complaining wives, fed-up husbands, patience-challenged physicians, gossiping ladies and competitive men” populating it. The Chicago cast includes Tim Kazurinsky, Renee Matthews, Gene Weygandt, Dara Cameron and Alex Goodrich.

† “THE NORTH CHINA LOVER” (Sept. 25-Nov. 10 Lookingglass Theater at Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan. 312-337-0665; lookingglasstheatre.org): Heidi Stillman has adopted the 1991 autobiographical novel by the influential French writer and film director, Marguerite Duras. Set in French-dominated Indochina (now Vietnam), it will star Tony Award-winner Deanna Dunagan as the older Duras looking back to her 14-year-old self (played by Rae Gray of “Slowgirl”), when she had an affair with a 27-year-old Chinese aristocrat (Tim Chiou).

† “ONCE” (Oct. 9-27, Oriental Theatre, 24 West Randolph. 800-775-2000; BroadwayInChicago.com): Based on the quirky, engaging 2006 film about the love affair between a Dublin street musician and the young immigrant pianist who falls for his haunting love songs (and for him), the show features a gorgeous score by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, and performers who also play much of their own musical accompaniment. Ingeniously directed by John Tiffany, and choreographed Steven Hoggett, it received the 2012 Tony Award for best musical.

† “DETROIT ‘67” (Nov. 8-Dec. 15, Northlight Theatre, 9501 N. Skokie Blvd., Skokie. 847-673-6300; northlight.org): Where did the calamity now facing Motor City begin? Dominique Morisseau’s play, directed by Ron OJ Parson, might provide a few hints as it spins the story of the diverging dreams of siblings who run an after-hours club in the basement of their late parents’ house in Detroit. As the city around them erupts in violence, the music of Motown can be heard in the background.

† “AN ILIAD” (Nov. 13-Dec. 8, Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis. 773-753-4472; CourtTheatre.org): If you saw this breathtaking one-man show in 2011 you will surely want to see it again. If you didn’t, don’t miss it. Timothy Edward Kane will reprise his uncanny, tour de force performance in this supremely modern rendering of Homer’s epic poem about the horrific price of war that features a book by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare and direction by Charles Newell.

Email: hweiss@suntimes.com

Twitter: @HedyWeissCritic



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