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DC Metro Spotlight: October 2006
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Chicago Spotlight: October 2006

Queen-Sized

By New York City
A scene from Hatfield and McCoy
(© The House Theatre of Chicago)
A scene from Hatfield and McCoy
(© The House Theatre of Chicago)
One of the surprises as the autumn season moves into full swing is the number of large-cast shows on the boards. American theater has become so used to plays with only two or three or four characters, set in a living room or a kitchen, that we sometimes forget the charge of excitement a big show with theatrical dazzle can bring. And there will be no greater example of that statement when Broadway in Chicago unveils The Pirate Queen at the Cadillac Palace Theatre (October 3-November 26), a vast spectacle about a 16th-century female pirate chieftain. The Broadway-bound show was conceived by the producers of Riverdance, is written by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg (Les Miserables, Miss Saigon) and directed by Frank Galati (Ragtime). Coincidentally, it also has the biggest cast of all, with a company of 39.

The Bard required many players as well, as evidenced by Chicago Shakespeare Theater's Hamlet (through November 11) and The Two Noble Kinsmen (October 4-December 17). So does Stephen Sondheim, whose Into the Woods (through November 26) is onstage at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire.

But we don't expect such ambitions from much smaller Off-Loop troupes, most of which perform in venues of 50-150 seats, yet that's what we're seeing to our great joy. In only its fourth season, the rambunctious and meteoric House Theatre of Chicago has put 20 people onstage for its world premiere folkloric work, Hatfield and McCoy, about the famous Appalachian feud (continuing through November 4). The young and small Vitalist Theatre has mounted Sir David Hare's version of Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children at Theatre Building Chicago with a company of 12 actors and musicians (through October 22). Strawdog Theatre, whose loft-like second floor playhouse seats just 74, is producing June Havoc's Depression Era dance contest play Marathon '33 with a cast of 33 and a seven-person band (through October 28).

Just in time for the mid-term elections, Remy Bumppo opens its season at the Victory Gardens Greenhouse staging a revival of Gore Vidal's pungent 1960 political drama, The Best Man, with a company of 14 (through November 5). Not to be outdone, Griffin Theatre offers Sidney Kingsley's huge and rarely-seen Dead End, the gritty 1930's slum drama that spawned Hollywood's Dead End Kids and Bowery Boys. Griffin, which hasn't produced a prime time show in a year, is mounting the play in a 150-seat house at Theatre Building Chicago with a cast of 28 (through November 12).

While it doesn't feature a large cast (having merely four roles), the Goodman's world premiere production of Vigils, by Noah Haidle, is still noteworthy. The off-beat play concerns a widow who has kept her fireman husband's soul trapped in a box (October 14-November 12).

Northlight Theatre will mix a cracking-good story with social and political commentary when it offers a new production of Inherit the Wind (October 11-November 12). At the end of the month, Lookingglass Theatre will stage Argonautika (October 28-December 23), a new piece by Tony Award winning director and adaptor Mary Zimmerman (Metamorphosis), based on the Greek legends of Jason and the Golden Fleece.

Finally, the weekend of October 14-15 marks the gala opening of the $11.2 million Victory Gardens Theater at the Biograph, with the world premiere of the American historical drama, Denmark, by Charles Smith (October 15-November 12). Constructed as an elegant neighborhood movie house in 1914, the Biograph gained notoriety and entered history in 1934 when John Dillinger was killed by FBI agents in the adjoining alley. Victory Gardens purchased the Chicago landmark building two years ago and has reshaped it into a state-of-the-art 299-seat playhouse, with backstage and audience amenities to rival any in town.


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