Brian Dennehy
(© Joseph Marzullo/Retna)
Brian Dennehy
(© Joseph Marzullo/Retna)
As the new year begins, the Goodman Theatre reunites actor Brian Dennehy and Goodman artistic director Robert Falls in an unusual double bill of Eugene O'Neill's Hughie, staged by Falls, and Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape, staged by Canadian Jennifer Tarver (January 16-February 21). The production plans to transfer to Broadway this spring.

January also sees new productions by several of Chicago's leading resident companies: Court Theatre offers Joan Didion's deeply-felt personal memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking (January 14-February 14); Steppenwolf Theatre presents Tarrell Alvin McCraney's two-night repertory, The Brother/Sister Plays, directed by Ensemble member Tina Landau (January 21-May 23); and Northlight Theatre stages Clifford Odets' 1930's American classic, Awake and Sing!, directed by Amy Morton and featuring beloved Mike Nussbaum as the grandfather (January 21-February 28). As for tours, Mamma Mia! makes yet another return visit (I believe it's been here 12,000 times and counting), this time to the cavernous Rosemont Theatre for one week (January 19-24).

Anglo-American playwright Howard Barker is in for an active month in Chicago, with Off-Loop productions of two of his plays. Trap Door Theatre kicks off 2010 with Barker's Minna (January 2-Febrary 13), inspired by an 18th-century play by influential dramatic theorist and playwright Gotthold Lessing. Then, Oracle Productions offers Barker's The Castle (January 22-March 6). Barker, who is American by birth but who has lived and worked in England most of his life, has authored more than 60 plays in a 40-year career, and has coined the term "Theatre of Catastrophe" for the type of works he writes.

Also, between now and June, three important Off-Loop companies will stage works by Athol Fugard, the playwright whose compassionate anti-Apartheid dramas helped bring about change in his native South Africa. First up in this rolling mini-Fugard festival is 'Master Harold' . . . and the Boys at TimeLine Theatre (January 20-March 27).

The busiest director in town must be Gary Griffin, who made his Lyric Opera of Chicago directing debut in December with a sparkling new production of Franz Lehar's The Merry Widow, and then headed into overlapping productions of Funny Girl at Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook Terrace, where Griffin is associate producer (through March 7), and Noel Coward's Private Lives at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, where Griffin is associate artistic director (January 6-March 7). With the opening nights just six days apart, Griffin called on Drury Lane artistic director William Osetek to co-direct Funny Girl, which stars Sara Sheperd and Paul Anthony Stewart as Fanny Brice and Nick Arnstein.

The classics will be well-served this month (or so we hope) by Brecht's rarely-staged The Wedding, translated by Martin and Rose Kastor for TUTA at Chopin Theatre (January14-February 14), and by the Scottish tragedy, Macbeth, as part of City Lit Theatre's continuing 30th anniversary season (January 15-March 21).

As always, the Off-Loop scene is rich in variety and enterprise. On the North Side, the Side Project presents the world premiere of The Artist Needs a Wife (January 15-March 14), described as a "visceral punk comedy" by Jesse Weaver, a Chicago playwright now living in Dublin (where a one-act version of the play premiered in 2005). The same night, at the city-owned Storefront Theatre in the downtown Theater District, WNEP Theatre offers the world premiere of The (edward) Hopper Project (January 15-February 21), inspired by the iconic paintings of the famous American imagist. Next, Steep Theatre has snared the American premiere rights for Harper Regan, Stephen Simon's inspired-by-life contemporary British play that received its first production in 2008 at the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain. Highly respected Chicago director Robin Witt will stage the work (January 21-March 27). Also, American Theater Company features two of Chicago's best actors, Kate Goehring and Steppenwolf Ensemble member Alan Wilder, in Lisa Loomer's drama, Distracted, about juvenile ADHD (January 28-February 28).

Happy 2010!