Hundreds of highly rated performances graced the Chicago theater in 2022. Some came from celebrities, others from largely unknowns. Everyone took risks, especially in an environment where the effects of COVID-19 are still stirring casts and creating a host of challenges for a profession that is challenging enough at the best of times.
Here then, in alphabetical order and in honor of a stellar year of work under difficult circumstances, are 10 great performances made at Chicagoland in 2022 that will live on in the memory.
Bunch Kierra, “two trains running”, Court Theater: The role of Risa, a waitress, is at the center of August Wilson’s “Two Trains Running,” a character who serves up sustenance whatever the state of the world beyond the doors of her restaurant, or even whatever the content of the kitchen of your restaurant. Risa is a damaged person and stoically goes about her daily chores carrying those wounds; a story that the sad-eyed group seemed to understand innately. This was a mostly male ensemble, often ignited in the Ron OJ Parson’s Court production with Wilson’s poetic words. But it was Bunch who stood out as he wistfully and proudly walked across the stage, unable to trust anyone and still seeking happiness on his own terms.
Felicia P. Fields, “Pearl rolling with the blues”, Theater of Writers: Although they deserve to be stars, veteran Chicago actors rarely get the opportunity to star in vehicles designed specifically for them. They also don’t often get the chance to introduce themselves and their lives to the public. But Fields, who has sung the blues in a host of Chicago theater shows over the years, got that chance at Writers Theater and it was a consummate treat for everyone involved. Instead of being hidden behind a letter or a role, Fields’ inclusive and caring personality came through vividly and it was nothing short of wonderful to watch Pearl roll.
Maria Beth Fisher, “oscillating stateGoodman Theatre: Mary Beth Fisher’s powerful performance in Rebecca Gilman’s new play about an idealistic Wisconsin woman overcome with the burdens of life and loss was borne out of a deep familiarity with the writer. If Gilman can be said to have a muse, then Fisher is that actress. She starred in “Spinning into Butter” and many other plays by a playwright whose latest Goodman drama, befitting this moment of disunity and widespread mental health issues like few other plays, has come and gone far too soon. I suspect Fisher would have happily played this woman, Peg, for months; she was that rich a find.
Sean Hayes, “Good evening, Oscar.Goodman Theatre: Narrator, neurotic, talk show guest, concert pianist, Oscar Levant is as challenging a real-life character as any actor could imagine. But by channeling it, Sean Hayes clearly unlocked something revealing within himself. This was an extraordinary performance that wowed the audience with intensity and delighted them with his musical dynamism. Both Hayes and the show are heading to Broadway this spring; The “Will & Grace” star, who cherishes his Chicago theater roots, will be a formidable draw and awards contender.
Alice Kaori, “The sound of the music”, Paramount Theater in Aurora: How do you solve an acting problem like Maria’s? Find your own way. Kaori was a complete delight as pop culture’s most famous Austrian newbie, bickering with the Von Trapp kids with gleeful glee and (unlike many who’ve played this role) coming off utterly believable as a woman who’s never paid attention before. anyone even remotely. like Captain von Trapp. Not a second of Kaori’s performance felt prepackaged and she listened to others as much as she commanded one of the biggest roles in American musical theatre. She was a total delight.
Isabel Ledo, “steel magnoliasDrury Lane Theatre: Most of us expected the scratchy tearjerker “Steel Magnolias” to be a run-of-the-mill summer production on Drury Lane, at the height of the season when the suburban theater takes a break from its big musicals. But it turned out to contain a lot of great comedic performances from actors of a certain age and even more certain experiences. Playing the role of Louisiana beautician and therapist Truvy, Elizabeth Ledo had the job of holding together one of the most talented ensembles of the year, and to say that her Dolly Parton-esque performance was full of heart understates the warmth that radiated from her worked. . Ledo has played all sorts of characters in her Chicago stage career, often a canvas for directors’ whims. Truvy seemed to reside at the center of this talented artist.
Evan Mills, “Do the right thing, don’t worry if you don’t,” The Second City: Great physical comedians are a crucial part of Second City’s storied past, but they have dwindled in number in recent years. But Mills, whom I described as a cross between “a gummy bear, jack-in-the-box, Peter Sellers, and a 149 CTA bus going around a corner with its bendy part in the middle,” is very much like that. He’s the leading chameleon in the current cast of Second City and his quick-change prowess comes with surprising warmth and one of the quickest minds to ever wield the Wells Street comedy trade. Fortunately for Second City audiences, the main stage revue “Do the Right Thing” brought Mills to the fore.
Betsy Morgan, “The King and IDrury Lane Theatre: No role in Chicago in 2022 was sung with more elegance and grace than Anna in Drury Lane’s “The King and I.” A Broadway performer who returned to her Chicago roots, Morgan’s voice was simply exquisite; all the better when you have so many iconic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical theater numbers to sing along to. Her performance was just as good: Anna is not an easy role these days and she requires navigating the space between the romantic hero and the proto-feminist resistance to the King of Siam. Morgan pulled it off magnificently atop a production full of young people, all looking up in her superbly centered direction.
Maryan Plunkett, “The notebook”, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre: Playing a character suffering from dementia means avoiding the pitfalls: condescension, bullshit, and raging clichés with each other. Instead, Plunkett gave a truly beautiful performance of a woman searching for what love could still mean, even if many of the memories of the past seem to have been erased. This was a quiet performance in many ways, made all the more elegant for the loving care and respect for the elders with which it was crafted. “The Notebook” is also heading to Broadway in 2023; Plunkett, the beating heart of this moving new musical, deserves to be a part of that New York cast.
Emily Rohm, “funny house”, Paramount Theater in Aurora: A wealthy vocalist, Emily Rohm spent many years playing Disney princesses, wacky teens, and other leading musical theater roles. But in “Fun Home”, she was far from being the protagonist: this is the story of Alison Bechdel and the central character is played by three different women of different ages. Rohm’s task was Helen, Alison’s mother, a woman trapped in a treacherous marriage and forced much more to react to others than to fulfill herself. Alison escapes; Helen has no way out of her, and in everything she said and sang, Rohm made you feel like walls were closing in on her. By far the most successful performer of a role I’ve seen performed multiple times, Rohm made a magnificently well-crafted case that it was Helen who had the least fun of all.
Chris Jones is a critic for the Tribune.