REVIEW: As You Like It (Chicago Shakespeare)

  
  

An ardent Arden blooms beautifully

  
  

Orlando (Matt Schwader) surprises Rosalind (Kate Fry) with a kiss after she and Celia (Chaon Cross) praise his wrestling victory at Court, in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's 'As You Like It'. Photo by Liz Lauren.

   
Chicago Shakespeare Theatre 
 
As You Like It
   
Written by William Shakespeare 
Directed by
Gary Griffin
at CST’s
Courtyard Theatre, Navy Pier (map)
thru March 6  |  tickets: $44-$75  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Through disguise or intrigue, Shakespeare’s driven lovers test each other until they finally earn their fifth-act wedding. In As You Like It, an unconquered forest is the neutral playground for the romantic reconnoiters that will bind the exiled lovers Rosalind and Orlando. In this shelter for simple innocence, artificial privilege defers to natural merit.

The shepherdess Phoebe (Elizabeth Ledo) falls in love with Ganymede (Kate Fry), unaware "he" is actually Rosalind in disguise, in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's As You Like It. Photo by Liz Lauren.If love, joy or melancholy were to vanish from the world, you could reconstruct them from Shakespeare’s merriest and wisest comedy. The play’s genius is its artful dispersion of the good and, later, bad characters from the corrupt court to the enchanting trees of Arden. There the Bard imagines the perfect play–and proving ground for Rosalind, strategically disguised as the bisexual cupbearer Ganymede, to test her Orlando by teaching him how to woo the woman he takes for a man.

Sensing how Rosalind’s high spirits and good humor could overwhelm even this teeming forest, Shakespeare balances her natural worth against the snobbish clown Touchstone, the darkly cynical Jaques and the sluttish goatherd Audrey. By play’s end every kind of attachment–romantic, earthy, impetuous and exploitive–is embodied by the four (mis)matched couples who join in a monumental mating.

All any revival needs to do is trust the text and here it triumphs. Vaguely set in the Empire era, Gary Griffin’s perfectly tuned three-hour staging moves effortlessly from the artificial wood façade of the bad Duke’s cold palace to Arden’s blossom-rich, Pandora-like arboreal refuge. Over both the city and country hangs a mysterious pendulum, tolling out the seconds without revealing the time.

Disguised as the young man Ganymede, Rosalind (Kate Fry, center) listens to Orlando (Matt Schwader) unwittingly proclaim his love for her as Celia (Chaon Cross) looks on in amusement, in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's 'As You Like It'. Photo by Liz Lauren.

But then time stands still here: The refugees in these woods have been displaced by the pursuit of power. Very good, then: It gives them all the more leisure for four very different couples to reinvent love from the inside out with all the unmatched and dynamically diverse eloquence that the Bard could give them,

Griffin is an actors’ director and he’s assembled an unexceptionable ensemble as true to their tale as their wonderful writer could wish. Though a tad older than Orlando is usually depicted, Matt Schwader delivers the non-negotiable spontaneity of a late-blooming first love. Above all, he’s a good listener and here he must be: Kate Fry’s electric Rosalind fascinates with every quicksilver, gender-shifting mood swing, capricious whim, resourceful quip or lyrical rhapsody. Fry also plays her as postmaturely young, a woman who was happy enough to be a maiden but won’t become a wife without a complete guarantee of reciprocal adoration. All her testing of Orlando as “Ganymede” is both flirtatious fun and deadly earnest. It would be all too easy to watch only her throughout and see this again for the other performances.

Kate Fry as Rosalind (Ganymede) and Matt Schwader as Orlando in William Shakespeare's 'As You Like It', directed by Associate Artistic Director Gary Griffin at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Photo by Peter Bosy.The contrasting characters are a litany of excellence, with even the supporting actors attractive despite any lack of lines. Kevin Gudahl’s noble exile of a banished duke, Matt DeCaro’s elaborately evil one, Phillip James Brannon’s flippant and almost anachronistic clown Touchstone, Chaon Cross’ pert and well-grounded Celia, Patrick Clear’s dignified bumpkin, Steve Haggard’s infatuated Silvius and Hillary Clemens as his less than adorable Audrey, Dennis Kelly’s venerable Adam—these are masterful portrayals drawn from life as much as literature.

Shakespeare’s most brilliant creation is the anti-social Jaques, who darkly balances the springtime frolic of Shakespeare’s unstoppable love plots. Oddly social as he waxes with misanthropic melancholy, Jaques is cursed to see the sad end of every story: He can never enjoy the happy ignorance beginning and middle. Ross Lehman gives him the right enthusiastic isolation. He’s dour but never dire.

Arden is a forest well worth escaping to and never leaving. The most regretful part of the play is happily never seen, when this enchanted company must return from these miracle-making groves to the workaday world. But that’s just how the audience feels leaving the Courtyard Theatre, reluctantly relinquishing so much romance.

   
  
Rating: ★★★★
     
   

Celia (Chaon Cross), Touchstone (Phillip James Brannon) and Rosalind (Kate Fry), disguised as the young man Ganymede, celebrate their arrival in the Forest of Arden, in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's 'As You Like It'. Photo by Liz Lauren.

Chaon Cross as Celia, Kate Fry as Rosalind, and Matt Schwader as Orlando in William Shakespeare's As You Like It, directed by Associate Artistic Director Gary Griffin at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Photo by Peter Bosy

     
     

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REVIEW: The Comedy of Errors (Court Theatre)

Graney’s adaptation brings the laughs, but lacks substance

 

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Court Theatre presents
   
The Comedy of Errors
   
Written by William Shakespeare
Adapted and Directed by
Sean Graney
at
Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis (map)
through October 17  |  tickets: $30-$60  | more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

Sean Graney’s The Mystery of Irma Vep (our review ★★★★) was one of the highlights of last season, with the seamless execution of the quick-change heavy script garnering huge laughs and multiple Jeff nominations for Court Theatre. With their new adaptation of The Comedy of Errors, it’s apparent that Court is trying to see if lightning can strike twice, with six actors playing 20 characters in another quick change extravaganza, but the script lacks the sophistication that made Irma Vep so memorable. In Graney’s hands, Shakespeare’s story of two sets of separated twins is taken to new levels of Goodrich, Hellman - vabsurdity, building humor around the characters’ awareness of the plot’s implausibility. The jokes are very funny, but too much of the play’s substance is lost as the story essentially becomes a 90-minute running gag.

In the dilapidated town of Ephesus, Antipholus (Erik Hellman) and Dromio (Alex Goodrich) of Syracuse search for their missing twin brothers, separated from them in a shipwreck during infancy. Because of a feud between the two cities, they conceal their true identities, inciting mass confusion as they are mistaken for their counterparts. Hellman and Goodrich are the focal points of the production, playing both sets of twins, leading to some impressively rapid costume changes (see video example here) and backstage movement.

As the characters most bewitched by the events surrounding them, Antipholus and Dromio are also the most self-aware, often breaking the fourth wall to comment on the ridiculous nature of the plot they are in. When Antipholus calls out Dromio for interrupting him mid-soliloquy, this works. But when Goodrich constantly checks in with the audience to check if a joke landed, it gets old. These scenes are also when Graney returns to some of his Irma Vep tricks, with varying degrees of success. An audience participation segment as Dromio describes his beastly wife Luce (Elizabeth Ledo) works incredibly well to create a relationship with the viewer, but a song sung by Dromio later in the show seems out of place and odd for odds sake (Irma Vep used dulcimers, here it’s a ukulele).

 

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As more time becomes devoted to meta-comedy and increasing the slapstick, less time is spent on the actual story and the characters’ relationships. The actors turn to exaggeration to differentiate their multiple roles, and in doing so the illusion becomes more important than the action. Steve Wilson is the major exception to this as Officer Jailor and Balthazar, with the Jailor’s unreturned love for Luciana (Ledo) garnering a vocal lament from the audience in the play’s closest thing to a “dramatic” moment. On the flip side, Wilson has amazing talent for slapstick, and the fate of Balthazar is of the funniest moments of the show.

As the play becomes more and more absurd, it becomes obvious that the story is just a launching pad for an endless barrage of meta-theatrical gags. By the end it feels like there are no stakes at all, and while it is fun to be along for the ride, there’s still a huge emotional connection missing. Granted, when the ride is Kurt Ehrmann in drag recounting his days at the mall getting his ears pierced, it’s worth it.

   
   
Rating: ★★½
   
   

 

 

 

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REVIEW: The Illusion (Court Theatre)

A Love Letter for the Theatre

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Court Theatre presents
 
The Illusion
 
Written by Pierre Corneille
Freely adapted by Tony Kushner
Directed by Charles Newell
Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave. (map)
through April 11th (more info)

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

Essentially, Pierre Corneille /Tony Kushner’s The Illusion is a play about theatre. It dwells on theatre’s power to evoke, transform, and relate. But the medium has many limitations. There is an inherent tension—the actions seen on stage are just an illusion of real life. Kushner points out that theatre can be likened to a dream, a the-illusion_008 hallucination. Charles Newell’s enlightening production of the 1988 script now at Court Theatre freefalls through all sorts of storytelling layers, piecing together a tale that is hilarious, dreamlike, and startlingly poignant.

The posters claim that this Illusion is Kushner’s “freely adapted” translation of Pierre Corneille’s L’Illusion Comique, a 1636 work way ahead of it’s time in terms of theatrical theory. And Kushner is pretty liberal in his translating, slapping on a whole extra illusion. The play isn’t as vast as his magnum opus Angels in America, but the kernels of Kushner’s trademark lyrical playfulness and socio-political awareness are scattered freely throughout the text.

Although usually handled well here, sometimes Newell loses balance of all the narrative layers and the production is a bit muddled. But the ride is worth it.

In the multilayered play, Pridamant (John Reeger) comes to a creepy magician, Alcandre (Chris Sullivan), to see if the man can conjure up his estranged son (Michael Mahler). Alcandre than confronts the old man with several visions skipping through various moments of life and loves of the young man. It’s like Baroque-period television broadcast from a cave. Through the illusions, we watch the boy temper the steamy hot passions of love with the ever-present chill of poverty. We also get to enjoy the ridiculous posturing of Matamore (the hilarious Timothy Edward Kane), a warrior whose bragging ability is matched only by his cowardice. The character names change from one illusion to the next, making Pridamant and us ask if they really represent past events or spring from our own fertile imagination.

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Newell faces numerous challenges here, and he comes out successful. There’s magic, crazy scenic effects, and the fact that three characters are on-stage the whole time just watching the illusions. Collette Pollard’s intricate set packs plenty of surprises. Alcandre’s cave is enormous, spooky, and endlessly fascinating. For example, as each illusion starts, giant gears chug along underneath the floating platform that functions as Alcandre’s gigantic crystal ball. Lighting designer John Culbert also explores this magical element in his design, shaping and evolving the multiple worlds. Jacqueline Firkins’ costumes are rich and dig to the core of each character. Newell brings all of this together in a production that obviously loves bathing in theatricality.

Most of the performances are magnificent. Kane is simply brilliant, commanding the stage with each pompous gesture and absurd boast. Reeger and Sullivan do a good job exploring the quirkiness of their “reality,” along with Kevin Gudahl, who plays Alcandre’s much-abused, tongueless servant Amanuensis. The world of the illusions has a whole different energy, which is totally refreshing. Elizabeth Ledo does radiant work as the scheming maid Elicia/Lyse/Clarina. The young lovers of the story are probably the weakest links in the production. Mahler seems disconnected to everything else and rings false in a few moments. Hilary Clemens as the thrice-named object of his affections is more in-tune with the other elements, but she could definitely push a bit farther. The weak points aren’t glaring, but serve as a reminder that this production could go even further.

Rarely do two artistic pioneers collaborate when there is four-hundred years of distance between them. In that light, The Illusion is an uncommon delight. Under the steady hand and imaginative head of Newell, The Court has a fantastical triumph here. Although there are some bumps, this Illusion reminds and reassures us that theatre is a powerful art form when its power is harnessed by the right hands.

 
Rating: ★★★
 

Extra Credit

 

View (2010-03) The Illusion - Court Theatre
         

Interview with Elizabeth Ledo (now starring in Goodman’s “Boleros”)

INTERVIEW WITH ELIZABETH LEDO 

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Elizabeth Ledo, currently playing the lead in The Goodman’s acclaimed Boleros for the Disenchanted. 

 

 

Barry Eitel:  Recently, I chatted with Chicago actress Elizabeth Ledo, one of the stars of the Goodman’s production of Boleros for the Disenchanted (our 4-star review here) where she plays both a young girl in 1953 Puerto Rico and a caretaker in 1992 Alabama. The two of us talked about her experience with the two roles, her Latina heritage, and why she chooses to work in Chicago.

You face an interesting acting challenge in “Boleros,” playing a character we see about 50 years later and played by another actress. Did you and Sandra Marquez collaborate at all on the characterization of Flora? How?

Not in an outwardly way. I think mostly through observation. There were things that I noticed her do in the second act and I said, ‘I like that, where can I find the genesis for that in my own portrayal.” We never sat down around a cup of coffee and talked about it specifically. There are things that are echoed in the script that we tried to serve up in both acts. Flora repeats certain lines in each act; we would try to serve those up. We worked with Henry a lot over Flora’s and her mother’s similar relation with the flowers, for example. Most of it, though, was just through observation or from the script

 Did the cast work closely with the playwright, Jose Rivera?

He was there for the second week of rehearsals and for previews. For the most part, because the play is very biographical, I would say Jose was a great resource. We were able to ask questions about his family and experiences, he was very open. He observed, was around rehearsals as a resource, but he didn’t really impose ever. He was very gracious and let us find our own way with the characters. So yes, he more there as resource than an imposing figure, rarely did he do anything unsolicited.

Now do you come from a Hispanic background?

My father was born in Havana, Cuba, and came over to the US in 1962 at the age of 14. Growing up, it was very important to keep that side of the culture alive and present. The Cuban way of life and the energy of that people was a big part of my family life.

Jose’s script is steeped in traditional Puerto Rican culture and beliefs about family, gender, work, America, etc. Did you pull inspiration from your own upbringing for the role of Flora?

Young Flora has a lot of similarities to my own grandmother. At the time of the first act, 1953, my grandmother was only two years older than Flora, on a different island, of course, but similar culture. My abuela came from very male-dominated society—respecting her parents, virgin on her wedding night, very pious. My grandmother just died in April, and this role was a very important part of my grieving process. I found it was a celebration of her. Flora and my grandmother, though, are very similar. I didn’t need to impose anything.

You switch in the second act to a different character—Eve, a caretaker. What was your experience like switching between two characters?

I’ve done that before in a few shows. Usually, though the multiple characters live in the same world and culture, but this show’s special in that the time periods are so different. It actually made it a lot easier; there was heavy stuff in the beginning, I could decompress over intermission, and come out in the second act in a time period that I’m very familiar with. I know the nineties, I grew up then. Henry and I talked quite a bit about Eve’s backstory, we came up that she was in the Peace Corps, for example. Eve alludes that she was born in Spain and she has a very European sense about her. Eve’s earthy, I’m earthy, I could throw in a lot of myself into the character. She has great compassion and great integrity, I think. I was able to fold in a relaxed air to her and a playfulness and a generosity.

Is there one that you personally connect to more?

I connected to both Eve and Flora very well. There was less social, vocal, and physical constraints with Eve because I can be my own resource. I know what it feels like to wear denim. Emotionally, though, both of these women were easy to tap into.

The show is remarkably funny, even though the play covers some heavy issues. How did you and the rest of the cast find the rhythm to balance both of those aspects of the script?

You have to. It’s survival in some ways. When you’re doing a show with heavy themes you need a release. We need it as much as the audience. When those funny moments come up it’s like an oasis in the desert, we need those moments to continue. The hardest scenes for us to nail down were the first two scenes. The play starts with a girl coming on crying, and you really have to serve up the comedy within the first 5-6 lines or else everything is dragged down. And then in scene 2, Flora gets validation that her fiancé is cheating. We really had to serve that up, you need those things, you got to let people laugh in the play. You got to get in the script and find the humor. We know it’s difficult, we know it’s sad and scary, so you must find the human side of the characters. Flora’s so innocent and earnest, and we were able to pull out humor in that. A lot of time we were desperate to find it for ourselves, because we really needed it with all of the heavier themes at work in the play.

This is your Goodman debut, but you are a well-established Chicago actress. What’s your favorite thing about acting in Chicago?

I love the audiences and I love the artists. The community is supportive and is always taking risks. It’s also nice being able to work where I live. The audiences are great. They’re smart, supportive, and a large amount of them are into something different and like it when artists go ahead and take risks. This says so much about them. Chicago artists are some of the most talented and human artists around. I can say that, and people from New York and LA comment on that as well. The artists have so much sensitivity and compassion for their work.

You also have a lot of experience in regional theatres across the country. Is acting in Chicago special for you?

I love working in regional theatre. But I always prefer to be home and be working. I’ve done a dozen productions with Milwaukee Rep, I love it, but if I have the opportunity to work at home I love to do that, I can be here at home with friends and artists I know really well.

What do you have up next?

Next I go up to do Christmas Carol at Milwaukee Rep. This will be my, oh gosh, eighth time. Its fun, I get reunited with the old gang. And then I’ll be working at the Court in the late winter.

 

View (2009-06-30) Boleros for the Disenchanted

View full Goodman production Album
(i.e., not just pics of Ms. Ledo)

Review: Goodman’s “Boleros for the Disenchanted”

A touching journey of one woman’s quest for love

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Playwright Jose Rivera takes us on an emotionally touching journey through the eyes and soul of his mother as she experiences the raw struggles, joys, flaws, disappointments and selfless choices that love demands. As a young woman in Puerto Rico, innocent and filled with optimism in the strength of love, she leaves her unsuitable fiancé and meets the man she will marry. Boleros for the Disenchanted, Boleros-2playing at Goodman Theatre, is about whether that love can sustain 40 years later, after the truths of life have been unveiled.

Rivera’s story begins in the early 1950’s in Puerto Rico with a breathtaking set designed by Linda Buchanan filled with an assortment of flowers, and bright simply constructed housing. This Puerto Rican set is electrified with the romantic colors of the sky created by lighting designer (Joseph Appelt.)

The cast of six actresses and actors each take on multiple roles as the play ages itself through the years. With the outstanding direction of Henry Godinez, the transition of the characters’ lives over forty years has a natural fluidity and builds in intensity as it pushes various emotional nerves each act.

As the story begins, young Flora (Elizabeth Ledo) is engaged to marry the smooth talking charismatic machismo Manuelo (Feliz Solis) but she recently discovered that he has been cheating on her with another woman. Raised in a strict Catholic household, Flora was keeping herself pure for him. Flora’s mother warns her about being with a man like Manuelo but also speaks about the role of a woman in a marriage and dismisses the hurtful actions of men as it being in their nature. This conversation between Young Flora and her mother is continuously funny and made boleros_eusebioand floramore so by their ability to act as if they see no humor in their lines. Flora has witnessed, as we witness, her father’s (Rene Rivera) emotional flar-ups and how her mother copes with these individual moments and maintains their marriage.

Her father’s brash actions towards his wife and daughter leave the audience with a bit of distaste for his character, but the portrayal is realistic for the social norms of the time and emphasizes the social suppression of women. He also represents the Boleros-4sentiment of the elder Puerto Rican society, a disappointment in the deterioration of their country, which is mainly blamed on the United States. Neighbors with in the community are leaving for places like New York and Chicago, produce is being taken to the United States and being sold back to them at inflated prices, and the traditional values of the past are being taken for granted. The value of family, honor and happiness over wealth remains in Flora’s household, and her parents hope she will marry a good Puerto Rican who will remain in Puerto Rico.

Manuelo also attempts to justify his polygamous actions by explaining the biological nature of men, but his refusal to Boleros-6remain faithful to her forces her to leave him. Manuelo’s charismatic style of saying something ridiculous but making it sound romantic and sincere is gut-wrenchingly funny as he tries to romanticize his promiscuous ways.

Heart broken but uplifted with the excuse to visit her free-spirited eccentric cousin Petra (Liz Fernandez) Flora takes a trip to the “big” city. Against her traditional upbringing of female purity Flora and Petra are sitting alone outside when they meet a young soldier who is interested in Flora. Young Eusebio (Joe Minoso) is a kind patient man who draws the audience’s affection through his sincere love for Flora and desire for her happiness.

Boleros-3 Does Eusebio grow up to be the man and husband that Flora believes he is? Does their love still flourish with the same excitement and electricity that they had in their youth while meeting under the Puerto Rican sun?

Nine children later, living alone in America, and taking care of her now disabled husband, Jose Rivera tells us the story of how his mother champions love in its most beautiful and encouraging states along with the most ugly and defeating moments that life brings.

Jose Rivera’s ability to tell his parent’s story with heart-felt honesty astounds me. The inclusion of multiple themes such as migration, the loss of traditional values in individual progress, the roles of men and women and the meaning of true happiness all created a complicated mix much like the lives of his parents. The strength and vulnerability shown in Flora and her husband Eusebio are beautifully played by Boleros-7Sandra Marquez and Rene Rivera. They capture the depth and contradicting emotions that come with forty years of marriage.

This beautiful story had me laughing for 2 hours and crying at the end. It left a knot in my stomach and throat that only a story capturing the deepest truth of love can create. This play represents love in real relationships and the truth that lies behind the stories of our lives. In the end we see the strength that can surface when we choose to love.

Rating: ««««

Where: Goodman Theatre

Through: July 26th

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Chicago Theater – Best of 2008 (Chicago Sun-Times)

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 Hedy Weiss, theater-critic extraordinaire for the Chicago Sun-Times, has put together an excellent list of her 10 favorite plays of 2008.  Along with the list, Hedy notes the wonderful year Chicago theater has had on the national stage:

…this was the year that Steppenwolf Theatre picked up five Tony Awards for its Chicago-bred Broadway production of Tracy Letts‘ “August: Osage County” before the cast crossed the pond to remount the show at London’s National Theatre, and when the Chicago Shakespeare Theater was feted with the “Best Regional Theater” Tony.

Continuing:

But that was just the beginning. Next Theatre‘s production of the new musical “Adding Machine,” was hailed in its Off Broadway incarnation, with director David Cromer racking up plaudits for his work on that show, as well as for his revelatory revivals of “Our Town” (at the Hypocrites) and “Picnic” (at Writers’ Theatre). Profiles championed the work of incendiary playwright Neil LaBute to grand effect. Remy Bumppo earned laughs with its tale of financial chicanery in a revival of an Edwardian classic, “The Voysey Inheritance.” And director Sean Graney experimented boldy with productions of “The Threepenny Opera” and Marlowe‘s “Edward II.”

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Now here are Hedy Weiss’s favorite productions in 2008:

 

1. Caroline or Change  (Court Theatre)
by Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori
Standouts: Charles Newell (director), Doug Peck (musical director); performances: Malcolm Durning, E.Faye Butler
     
2. Ruined  (Goodman Theatre)
by Lynn Nottage
Weiss comments: Worthy of a Pulitzer Prize, the play will soon move to New York’s Manhattan Theatre Club.
 
     
3. Gatz  (Elevator Repair Service Theatre)
by John Collins
 
     
4. Our Town  (The Hypocrites)
by Thornton Wilder
Standouts: David Cromer (director)
 
     
5. Requiem for a Heavyweight  (Shattered Globe)
by Rod Serling
Standouts: Lou Contey (director)
 
     
6. Amadeus  (Chicago Shakespeare)
by Peter Schaffer
Standouts: Gary Griffin (director), Daniel Ostling (set designer); performances: Robert Sella, Robbi Collier Sublett, Elizabeth Ledo, Lance Baker
 
     
7. As You Like It  (Writers’ Theatre)
by William Shakespeare
Standouts: William Brown (director), Performance: Larry Yando
 
     
8. Drowsy Chaperone  (Cadillac Palace Theater)
by Laura Wade
Standouts: Casey Nicholaw (director)
 
     
9. Around the World in 80 Days  (Lookingglass)
Standouts: Laura Eason (adaptor/director); Performances: Philip R. Smith, Kevin Douglas, Joe Dempsey, Ravi Batista, Anish Jethmalani, Ericka Ratcliff, Nick Sandys and Rom Barkhordar
 
     
10. Columbinus  (Raven Theatre)
by Stephen Karam and P.J. Paparelli
Standouts: Greg Kolack (director); Performances: Matthew Klingler and Jamie Abelson
 

To see the Hedy Weiss’s complete description and thoughts on her favorite plays, click here.