From murder to Madoff, 10 of fall’s best plays in the suburbs

From the dozens of suburban theater productions launching this fall, we’ve culled a list of 10 that absolutely deserve your consideration. Here’s our autumn roster of the best of the best.

1. “The Commons of Pensacola”

Sept. 12-Oct. 19; Northlight Theater, 9501 Skokie Blvd, Skokie; Northlight.org

Dysfunctional family dramas are hardly uncommon on stage, but playwright Amanda Peet puts an intriguing spin on the tried-and-true trope with “The Commons of Pensacola.” We’ll note here that any resemblance between the clan in “Pensacola” and surviving family members of the late, disgraced Ponzi Scheme King swindler Bernie Madoff are — maybe — coincidental. Peet focuses in on Judith, a widow whose late husband’s financial improprieties echo those of Madoff. The fractured family left in social and economic exile is further tested during a fraught Thanksgiving. Investing in a ticket is pretty much guaranteed to pay off far with far more certainty than any speculative hedge fund.

2. “Camelot”

Oct. 30–Jan. 4; Drury Lane, Oak Brook, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace; Drurylane.com

They’re bringing Broadway vets to play King Arthur (the lantern-jawed Bryce Ryness, who was excellent as Woof in the recent Broadway revival of “Hair”) and Queen Guinevere (Christy Altomare, late of “Mamma Mia!”) in Lerner and Loewe’s musical telling of Arthurian legends. But for my money, it’s the supporting roles in the show that are far more interesting. Alan Souza directs and choreographs an ensemble that includes Travis Taylor as the hilariously self- confident Lancelot, Jonathan Weir as the wizardly Merlin and Patrick Rooney as the villainous, telepathic Mordred. The score is an American classic, featuring standards including “If Ever I Would Leave You,” “Follow Me” and that ear-worm worthy title tune.

3. “Luce”

Sept. 27–Nov. 9; Next Theatre, 927 Noyes St., Evanston; Nexttheatre.org

They may be having some financial troubles (Pioneer Press reported earlier this summer that Next owes roughly $76,000 in back rent for their long-time home in the Noyes Cultural Center), but that’s not stopping Next from launching what promises to be an intellectually engaging and entertaining 34th season. First up is JC Lee’s story involving school violence and the dangerous ambiguity that comes of drawing conclusions about people whose true motivations you may never know. The title character is an all-star high schooler, but after he pens an essay that may or may not indicate an unstable mind and a danger to the community, Luce’s parents are faced with difficult questions. Whether Luce is a threat or the victim of assumptions becomes one of the central questions in Lee’s loaded drama. Keira Fromm directs.

4. “The King and I”

Oct. 22–Jan. 4; Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire; MarriottTheatre.com

Siam (as Thailand was known in the 19th century) is the setting for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s romanticized look at Anna Leonowens and her attempts to bring Western education to the Far East. This is a tricky musical to stage — the culture clash has the potential to be dangerously dated, but there’s no denying that the score’s myriad love songs are utterly swoon-worthy: “Shall We Dance,” “Hello Young Lovers,” “We Kiss in a Shadow” and “Something Wonderful”among them. And who can resist the inevitable adorableness of all those little children Anna teaches?

5. “The Gravedigger”

Oct. 1–Nov. 2, First Folio Theatre, 31st Street and Route 83, Oak Brook; Firstfolio.org

Just in time for Halloween, a new twist on Frankenstein. In the deliciously creepy confines of the Peabody Mansion, First Folio transports audiences to 1700s Bavaria, where playwright Joseph Zettelmaier sets his horrific thriller. Our setting is a graveyard, where the titular laborer unearths a scary looking fellow living in a freshly dug grave. Alison C. Vesely directs.

6. “Deathtrap”

Sept. 5–Oct. 5; Citadel Theatre, 300 S. Waukegan Road, Lake Forest; Citadeltheatre.org

It’s not for nothing that Ira Levin’s spooky/funny mystery/comedy ran for over three years on Broadway and was made into a hit movie. A maze of murderers, psychics, troubled wives and unhinged theater artists create a labyrinth of a plot that’s a crackling delight from start to finish. Even if you know what’s coming, following Levin’s ingenious maze of red herrings, plots and counter-plots is a diabolical delight.

7. “Impenetrable”

Oct. 10-Nov. 2, Clockwise Theatre, 221 N. Genesee St., Waukegan, Clockwisetheatre.org

Chicago playwright Mia McCullough has long been known for smart, compelling and complex stories about equally smart, compelling and complex women. The prospect of one of Chicago’s finest female actors, Judy Blue, directing a McCullough piece? Reason enough to get your tickets now. “Impenetrable” deals with the fallout that follows a spa owner who erects a billboard featuring a gorgeous supermodel type, marked up like a side of steak and annotated by arrows pointing out just her bodily “flaws” and suggesting spa treatments to fix them. Religion as well as female objectification enters the discussion as the spa owner — formerly a Muslim — incites the rage of the woman in the picture who has given up modeling and taken up the veil as a devout Muslim.

8. “Isaac’s Eye”Through Dec. 7; Writers’ Theatre, 64 Vernon Ave., Glencoe; Writerstheatre.org

From playwright Lucas Hnath comes a portrait of Isaac Newton you aren’t apt to find in any science texts. Michael Halberstam directs the tale of an ambitious, young Newton and his fractious, competitive relationship with one of the era’s most respected scientists, Dr. Robert Hooke. In Hnath’s version of the 17th century, period dialects and costumes are out. Modern slang and a giant chalkboard separating fact from fiction are in. Jurgen Hooper and Marc Grapey play Isaac and Hooke in a tale of intrigue and wondrous discovery.

9. “Into Something Rich and Strange: Stories of Transformation”

Dec. 10–14; Piven Theatre Young People’s Company at the Noyes Cultural Center, 925 Noyes St., Evanston; Piventheatre.org

The young people’s company at Piven will spend much of the fall devising this new work, which artistic director Jennifer Green describes as a meditation on transformation. The youth company will write and perform the work, drawing from their own experiences in a collaboration that is apt to be both deeply personal and intensely universal.

10. “The Mousetrap”

Nov. 7–Dec. 14; Northlight Theatre, 9501 N. Skokie Blvd., Skokie; Northlight.org

And finally, an oldie but a definite goodie from Northlight. Agatha Christie’s whodunit has been playing in London for an astonishing 62 years. Set in an English country guesthouse, it features a motley assortment of colorful suspects conveniently snowed in and unable to escape as a murderer is loose somewhere on the grounds. Jonathan Berry directs a procedural with a twist ending we wouldn’t dream of disclosing (and that savvy audiences should keep to themselves as well).

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