John Mahoney
(© Joseph Marzullo/Retna)
John Mahoney
(© Joseph Marzullo/Retna)
December is the sugar plums-and-treacle time of year, as far too many Chicago-area theaters turn their attention to the cash cows of Holiday shows. But there are some only loosely related seasonal offerings worth noting, such as Steppenwolf Theatre Company's Chicago premiere of Conor McPherson's ghostly The Seafarer (December 4-February 8) with an ensemble cast including John Mahoney, Alan Wilder, Tom Irwin and Francis Guinan. Set on Christmas Eve, the play involves a high stakes card game, where one participant is playing for his very soul.

The new Sandhill Theatre Company offers the Chicago premiere of Nathaniel Wright's Faith, also set on Christmas Day but not a holiday show. Rather, it's a drama about generational conflict, racism and homophobia within a fundamentalist Christian clan (performed at Stage 33, through January 4). Additional non-holiday shows include a few bold choices, none more so than a production of Jean Genet's The Maids at Writers' Theatre in Glencoe (through April 5, 2009). How about that for a cheery, cozy holiday treat? Then, eta Creative Arts presents a new staging of the uplifting From the Mississippi Delta at their South Side playhouse (through January 4).

Our musical stages also offer some non-holiday fare, including Apple Tree Theatre's John & Jen (December 11-January 4), a two-person musical that spans 40 years to look at the relationships between Jen and the two Johns of her life: her brother and, later, her son. The Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire offers the world premiere of The Bowery Boys, inspired by the stories of Horatio Alger, Jr. and the songs of George M. Cohan. Set in New York City in the last decades of the 19th Century, the show has book, lyrics, and direction by David H. Bell and music by Jeremy Cohen (December 10- February 15). Finally, Light Opera Works closes the month and year with Meredith Wilson's ever-popular The Music Man (Cahn Auditorium, December 26-January 4), with a 28-piece orchestra.

But as for those more traditional seasonal offerings, they range from the Mother of All Holiday Shows, A Christmas Carol in its most lavish version at the Goodman Theatre (through December 30) to the Sexy Santa Spectacular burlesque show presented by Vaudezilla and Mo Rose at the Gorilla Tango Theatre (through December 20). The Vitalist Theatre offers an unusual examination of The Holidays with Anung's First American Christmas (Theatre Building Chicago, through January 4), a view of Christmas through the eyes of a young Asian immigrant. Then, Bailiwick Repertory presents its final production of The Christmas Schooner (through January 1), the nationally popular bittersweet holiday musical, by John Reeger and Julie Shannon, that Bailiwick created and premiered many years ago. Also, Theatre Wit presents actor and author Tom Mula in a one-man adaptation of his own highly-imaginative novella, Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol (at Theatre Building Chicago, through January 3). Mula's original tale follows the death and redemption of Scrooge's late partner, beginning seven years before the events of A Christmas Carol proper. Finally, Provision Theatre Company offers a world premiere adaptation of two Truman Capote short memoirs, A Christmas Memory and The Thanksgiving Visitor (Royal George Theatre, through December 21).