Tom Hardy in rehearsal for The Long Red Road
(© Liz Lauren)
Tom Hardy in rehearsal for The Long Red Road
(© Liz Lauren)
The meatiest world premiere on this month's calendar certainly belongs to the Goodman Theatre, presenting Brett C. Leonard's The Long Red Road (February 13-March 14), directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman and marking the American stage debut of Brit heartthrob Tom Hardy.

February world premieres also include Wilson Wants It All, a slightly futuristic drama (set in 2040) about two sisters, presented by the usually-raucous House Theatre of Chicago at the Chopin Theatre (February 4-March 24). Then, Return to Haifa, a contemporary drama of Middle East issues by Evanston playwright M. E. H. Lewis (from the novella by Ghassan Kanafani) at Next Theatre Company (February 4-March 7). Also, Jon Steinhagen's The Analytical Engine, the story of a bright young woman who invents the first computer -- in 1850! -- at Circle Theatre (February 5-March 28). The Quest Ensemble offers the world premiere of The People's Evolution/Creation by artistic director Andrew Park at the Blue Theatre (February 19-March 28), employing a company of 18 plus puppets and original music to discuss conflicting views about the origins of life.

Black History Month rolls out in Chicago with Tanya Barfield's Blue Door at Victory Gardens Theater (through February 28), the Pulitzer Prize-finalist drama that spans 150 years of African-American history. Also suiting the month's theme are John Henry Redwood's The Old Settler, at Writer's Theatre (February 2-March 28), then Fathers & Sons, Michael Bradford's look at three generations of African-American men, at eta Creative Arts Foundations (February 11-April 4), and Dael Orlandersmith's look at 1968 Harlem, The Gimmick, at Pegasus Players (February 11-March 28).

While not about history or race relations, The 101 Dalmatians Musical IS about things black-and-white, and will make its Chicago debut at the Cadillac Palace (February 16-28), featuring music by Chicago-bred Dennis DeYoung (of the rock group Styx). It will be preceded at the Cadillac Palace by another returning Chicagoan of sorts, the national tour of Tracy Letts' August: Osage County (February 2-14). The Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning play began at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company (where Letts is an ensemble member) before its Broadway and London successes.

Among this month's classics are Bernard Shaw's The Philanderer, presented by ShawChicago at the Ruth Page Center (February 6-March 1), also Thornton Wilder's challenging The Skin of Our Teeth at The Artistic Home (February 4-March 21), then Chekhov's bitter comedy Uncle Vanya at Strawdog Theatre (February 20-March 27), and the classic of 1950's American social realism, Reginald Rose's Twelve Angry Men, at Raven Theatre (February 16-March 17). Two classic musicals pop up as well, Fiddler on the Roof at the Marriott Theatre (February 17-March 25) featuring local favorites Ross Lehman and Paula Scrofano as Tevye and Golde, and The Fantasticks, a first-time musical for Promethean Ensemble Theatre presented at City Lit (February 27-March 21).

Of course, it wouldn't be Chicago without a grab bag of other productions that fit no easy categories. Moving Stories Theatre offers a rare staging of The Emigrants, by Polish absurdist Slawomir Mrozek, at The Artistic Home studio (February 3-21). Redmoon Theatre revives its 2005 puppet-and-miniature theater hit, The Cabinet, a condensed version of the Expressionist silent film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, at Redmoon Central (February 5-March 7). In near-west suburban Berwyn, the 16th Street Theatre offers Joel Drake Johnson's The End of the Tour, a tale of a young man returning -- with his boyfriend -- to his rural roots in Dixon, IL where Ronald Reagan was born (February 6-March 6).

About Face Theatre presents Ann Marie Healy's futurist noir drama, What Once We Felt, at the Center on Halsted (February 3-March 6). Then, A Red Orchid offers Mike Leigh's ensemble piece, Abigail's Party (February 12-March 28). Also, a new troupe with the overreaching name of American Demigods offers Monks in Trouble, described as a "theological horror comedy," at the Apollo Studio Theater (February 12-March 6). A long one-act, it's presented with short curtain-raisers by young Chicago author Reina Hardy.

Finally, the city's unofficial rolling Fugard festival continues with the second of three overlapping Athol Fugard plays, The Island, produced by Remy Bumppo Theatre at The Greenhouse (through March 7); the fist Fugard production, 'Master Harold'... and the Boys , continues at TimeLine Theatre through March 27.