As an amazing year of performance in Chicago comes to an end, we’re wrapping up our picks for the best productions of 2016. We asked our critics which of the 125 shows we reviewed this year have truly stuck with them, and below are their favorites.
It’s important to note that PerformInk re-launched in March, so we weren’t yet reviewing shows in January and February. And, while we didn’t see every show Chicago has to offer, we tried to send critics to a healthy sampling of venues from the smallest to the largest, and to as many different types of performance as possible.
The following, in alphabetical order, are PerformInk’s Best Shows of 2016. Click the links to read the full reviews:
"Tom Stoppard’s ARCADIA, a timeless comedic romp through past and present – seamlessly held together by Stoppard’s mastery of language and imagery – is not a play to approach lightly. Adorn it with a ‘vision’ and it’ll crumble at your feet. It is a true masterwork of intellectual theater that is on par with the great English literature that inspires its plot. Thankfully Writer’s Theatre has managed to find just the right balance with their interpretation, and director Michael Halberstam has laid a gentle, yet exacting hand over ARCADIA. It is the quintessential Writers work, and the perfect show to christen the stunning $28 million facility." - Abigail Trabue
"BYHALIA, MISSISSIPPI is a play that beautifully illustrates the difficult relationships between people, how happiness can be found—even in the bleakest of circumstances—and shows us just how far we still have to go in our dealings with racism in this country. We make mistakes, snap judgements, and have so much more to learn, but, when we find what matters, we’d better fight like hell to keep it in our lives." - Hilary Holbrook
"In my life so far, the scariest, most confusing, most complicated moments happened in high school. When we’re young, we don’t always know how to ask for help. We often don’t think we can ask. Sometimes, going through something awful alone seems like an easier alternative than the shame that comes from admitting that we screwed up, that we don’t have all the answers. It’s a formative time in our lives and one that is rarely explored so honestly as in Ruby Rae Spiegel’s expertly crafted play, DRY LAND ... I’ve been hoping for a play like this for a long time and I didn’t want it to end." - Erin Shea Brady
"HAND TO GOD suggests that sometimes blatant honesty is, indeed, the best and more admirable route in place of platitudes. And that, for better or worse, we must also own up to our actions—instead of blaming the devil (or, in this case, an evil puppet). [It] is a theatrical whirlwind that takes audiences from laugh-out-loud, outrageous comedy to moments of intense darkness and pure emotion—all of which are balanced in Askins’s brilliant, bold play." - Rachel Weinberg
"As I left and walked out to Chicago on a Friday night I silently cried. HUMAN TERRAIN stirred up feelings that are hard to carry, emotions that you need to recognize, embrace, and release. This is a show that needs to be seen and a cast that needs to be heard. In a time when we are so focused on what divides us we need more shows like HUMAN TERRAIN, and we need more companies like Broken Nose making these stories accessible." - Abigail Trabue
"If you had told me in advance that bracing freezing temps and sitting through an almost two-hour show with no intermission would be the highlight of my theater going experience this year, I wouldn’t have believed you. Yet, once in awhile, a production comes along that is so masterful at storytelling, so clever at employing any stage element for its innovative use, that the gripping bony fingers of unpredictability wrap about your heart as you await to see what these sui generis will spin next. This collaboration between New York’s Pigpen Theatre Co. and Writers Theatre on their original storytelling feat THE HUNTER AND THE BEAR proved quite simply to be the reason I love going to the theater." - Tonika Todorova
"MAN IN THE RING manages to set the bar beyond unreachable in its skilled talent and superb storytelling. This play makes us reflect about the human condition in a time where love and peace is much in need. I’m so in love with this play, and I know that is the most cliché thing to say, but this play will stick with me for a long time." - Naima Dawson
"As the secretary and wannabe stage actor Ulla sings in THE PRODUCERS, when you got it, flaunt it. And Mercury Theater’s production definitely got it. THE PRODUCERS had me riveted in my seat and awing at the comedic talent on display all the way through. I honestly can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard at a musical, and L. Walter Stearns’s direction ensures the actors don’t miss a single potential punchline anywhere in Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan’s book." - Rachel Weinberg
"Holter’s deftly crafted dialogue miraculously manages to make the vigilante superhero premise believable—maybe even relatable. The story never feels like it’s taking place in a fictional universe. I totally believe that these likeable characters want to fight Chicago’s gang violence Batman style: no superpowers, no guns (and no rich, dead parents). But like all vigilante heroes, there’s something personal about their crusade and their struggle has as much to do with keeping the city safe as filling something empty inside each of them." - Smyra Yawn
"Joffrey Ballet opened its 21st season in Chicago with what might be the single best production I’ve seen by the company in the 15 years I’ve lived in Chicago, Krzysztof Pastor’s ROMEO AND JULIET. This reimagined tale of two star-crossed lovers feels fresh and accessible, bridging the gap between a story that is four centuries old and the 21st century social, political and religious struggles we see play out daily in our modern world. Now is the time of the Joffrey Ballet and ROMEO AND JULIET is the perfect example of what this company is capable of doing and achieving." - Abigail Trabue
"Though we each have our own superpowers, and in our way, potential to affect great change, we are not superheroes. We can’t always stop the meteor, even when we see it coming. But we can pledge to do all the good we can, to reach that good as far as we can, to use our superpowers in the most effective way. Sometimes that good is about resistance, revolution, making our voices heard. Sometimes it’s about companionship, forgiveness, and love. We talk a lot these days about love – 'love, not hate', 'find the love', 'share that love.' In its way, ROZ AND RAY may be one of the great love stories of our time." - Erin Shea Brady
"UNITED FLIGHT 232 is a near-death experience. Don’t be surprised if you have survivor’s guilt. Don’t be surprised if you walk away a kinder human being. Of if you exit the beautiful Chopin Theater and stand in awe of the blue sky. Or if you go home and hold your family tight and tell them you love them. Or if you turn to the person wiping away their tears next to you and be glad you are traveling together on this little adventure we call life." - Tonika Todorova
You may also like: PerformInk’s 2016 Company of the Year