(Chris Jones’s article appeared in the Chicago Tribune Theater Loop, 9/8; Photo: Carrie Coon and Namir Smallwood star in the Tracy Letts play “Bug” at Steppenwolf Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo/Handout)

No sentient Chicagoan needs to be reminded that the fall of 2021 is far from a normal autumn when it comes to the performing arts. At least it eclipses 2020, when the curtains remained closed as leaves fell. May we never go back to that.

This year, especially in the second half of the fall season, we’ll see some boffo attractions on an overall theatrical slate that still looks to be less than half as expansive as the usual offerings. Some of the regular players (especially the smaller storefront companies) aren’t amping up their in-person shows until 2022, preferring the safety of a longer pause or strictly digital programming. But others are coming back live and in person as safely as they can, which means insisting under a blanket agreement arranged by almost all Chicago-area theaters that patrons are both vaccinated and masked.

So you’ve got your shots and your N95 and you’re ready to venture out again?

Here, in the return of a September tradition, are 10 shows that should help you remember why Chicago theater is such a crucial part of this city. Plus one more for the holidays.

  1. “American Mariarchi,” Goodman Theatre: A much-postponed show with multiple producing partners including the Dallas Theatre Center and the Destinos: Chicago International Latino Theatre Festival, José Cruz González’s “American Mariachi” is billed as an exuberant and warm-centered new musical. The show is set in the 1970s and the action revolves around a young woman’s idea to create an all-female Mariachi band.  18 to Oct. 24 at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St.; 312-443-3800 and www.goodmantheatre.org
  2. “As You Like It,” Chicago Shakespeare Theater: We’ve previewed this much-postponed attraction several times now, but new Navy Pier dates are finally set for what looks likely to be an exuberant Chicago Shakespeare Theater staging of the justly beloved Shakespearean comedy with the added attraction of some 20 songs made famous by the Beatles. It’s adapted and directed by Daryl Cloran and features an all-star Chicago cast. Oct. 6 to Nov. 21 at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier; 312-595-5600 and www.chicagoshakes.com
  3. “Bug,” Steppenwolf Theatre: It’s a reprise, but the length of the original run was cut short by the pandemic. And it’s a stunner. Director David Cromer’s staging of the Tracy Lett’s tragicomedy about mysterious government goings-on in a seedy Oklahoma motel room features knockout acting from Carrie Coon and Namir Smallwood, not to mention one of the greatest scene changes in Steppenwolf history. If you missed it the first time, don’t make that mistake again. Nov. 11 to Dec. 12 at Steppenwolf Theatre Company, 1650 N. Halsted St.; 312-335-1650 and www.steppenwolf.org

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