Steve Pickering and Stacy Keach
in rehearsal for King Lear
(© Michael Brosilow)
Steve Pickering and Stacy Keach
in rehearsal for King Lear
(© Michael Brosilow)
After the briefest of slow-downs in mid-August, Chicago theater will roar into autumn with over 50 shows opening in September, with the odd couple of Shakespeare and Christopher Durang leading the way among playwrights.

The biggest event of the month is King Lear at the Goodman Theatre (September 18-October 15). Not only does it feature Stacy Keach in the title role, but it also marks the opening of Robert Falls' 20th anniversary season as Goodman's artistic director. The busy Falls will direct three shows at Goodman this season (including Lear), and still find time in the winter to stage Eric Bogosian's Talk Radio on Broadway. Meanwhile, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, fresh from its July performances in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England, begins its 2006-2007 home season with Hamlet, staged by Terry Hands, the former artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company (September 10-November 18).

The works of Christopher Durang -- at 60 or so still an enfant terrible of satirical and frequently anti-Catholic sentiment -- pop up in overlapping productions at four smaller Off-Loop theaters, which have recognized the coincidence by cross-marketing the unofficial Durang Fest. Oracle Theatre began the Durang shebang last month with his one-act plays, The Actor's Nightmare and Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You (through September 17). The cycle continues with The Vietnamization of New Jersey by Chemically Imbalanced Theatre at the Cornservatory (through October 8), then Betty's Summer Vacation by Infamous Commonwealth Theatre Company at Live Bait Theatre (September 2-October 1), and finally Beyond Therapy by the Promethean Ensemble at the Side Project (September 16-October 7).

We'll be ready for a little sentimentality after all that satire. Trouble is, I'm not sure theater-goers will find it in such September offerings as Thrill Me: the Leopold and Loeb Musical at Bailiwick Repertory (September 6-October 8) Pantomime, Derek Wolcott's work of spectacle theater about race, at Pegasus Players (September 13-October 22), Martin McDonagh's pitch-black The Pillowman, which is opening the Steppenwolf Theatre Company season (September 23-November 12), or Gore Vidal's political pot-boiler, The Best Man, in a timely revival by Remy Bumppo Theatre at the Victory Gardens Greenhouse (September 24-November 5).

Elsewhere, there's something for all tastes: Samuel Beckett's Endgame by Curious Theatre Branch at Prop Thtr (September 9-October 29); Suzan-Lori Parks' Venus, to be staged by The Mill at the Athenaeum (September 10-October 8); The African Company Rehearses Richard III, staged by Congo Square Theatre at the Chernin Center (September 17-October 15); also Fat Pig, Neil LaBute's controversial tale of fit guy dating full-figured woman, at Profiles Theatre (September 14-October 29); Raisin, the musical version of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, opening the Court Theatre season (September 23-October 22); Drag It Up, a late-night drag king revue, at Rogue Theatre (September 8-30); the hilarious musical, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at Noble Fool Theatre (September 9-November 4); Bertolt Brecht's timeless Mother Courage and Her Children by Vitalist Theatre at Theatre Building Chicago (Sept. 11-Oct. 22); and a revival of Sidney Kingsley's Dead End by Griffin Theatre at Theatre Building Chicago (September 23-November 12).

Finally, families with young kids seeking appropriate theater fare might wish to check out the Pauly the Clown Show, presented by the Department of Cultural Affairs at the Chicago Cultural Center Studio Theater (September 8-17) with two Saturday matinees and two on Sundays. Also, the Rascal Children's Theater (the junior branch of the Rogue Theater Company) in its new Andersonville neighborhood home, offers Cinderella Goes Disco (through September 23) incorporating three fairy tales, disco music, and audience-interactive dancing.