Times haven't been this good for audio plays since before the advent of television. Less complicated and costly to create than Zoom or filmed works, they range from comedies and dramas to musicals and mysteries. Many have short runs but some are podcasts posted long-term. Here are a handful that recently caught my attention.

“Measure for Measure”

Adapter/director Henry Godinez sets Shakespeare's penetrating exploration of sexual politics and social injustice in Havana, Cuba, in 1958, just before Fidel Castro takes power, and enhances the poetry with vivid video by Rasean Davonte Johnson. The opening montage combining vintage film clips, stills and Cuban music is especially evocative, and projections on walls of street scenes at dusk feature eerie head shots of the characters that clue us in to who is speaking. The atmosphere oozes corruption, and the ending explicitly linking Angelo (James Vincent Meredith) with Castro is very dark — like many contemporary interpretations of “Measure for Measure.” The cast of Chicago Shakespeare regulars and newcomers includes Yao Dogbe, Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel, Kevin Gudahl, Timothy Edward Kane, Daniel José Molina, Monica Orozco, Lakeisha Renee, Paul Oakley Stovall and Larry Yando, as well as Meredith. 

Chicago ShakesSTREAM, through May 16, $25. chicagoshakes.com

  

“Twelfth Night” 

The same ensemble as for “Measure for Measure” takes on the classic comedy “Twelfth Night” guided by artistic director Barbara Gaines with all-new songs by Joriah Kwamé. Some familiarity with the play helps, because it isn't always clear which character is speaking. The jazzy music doesn't do much for me, but Larry Yando deserves a special shout out for making the misguided, much-abused Malvolio strangely sympathetic even as he's hamming it up shamelessly. . .

Chicago ShakesSTREAM, through May 16, $25. chicagoshakes.com

“Her Honor Jane Byrne”

When COVID-19 shut down Lookingglass Theatre's world premiere of “Her Honor Jane Byrne” after only a few performances in March 2020, playwright J. Nicole Brooks and the theater teamed up with WBEZ, Chicago's National Public Radio Station, to rework it as a radio play that was broadcast for Thanksgiving and in December. Now it's back for a short run. Brooks' focuses on the three weeks in 1981 that Major Bryne spent living in Cabrini-Green and paints a complex portrait of tough woman who tried to improve things despite being in over her head and surrounded by corruption and sexism. Christine Mary Dunford as Bryne heads the original cast directed by Brooks.

Lookingglass Theatre Company, through May 18, free. lookingglasstheatre.org/event/her-honor-jane-byrne-audio-play

“Bold Stroke for a Wife”

Susanna Centlivre may be the most famous female playwright you've never heard of, so Artemisia Theatre earns points for making her 1718 “Bold Stroke for a Wife” one of its We Women podcasts (#129). The comedy revolves around a military officer who falls in love with a young lady and dons four different disguises to try to convince her four very diverse, disagreeable guardians to let him marry her. Molly Lyons directs the competent cast of eleven, though overacting and questionable British accents are occasional issues, and the long piece requires a certain dedication. 

Artemisia Theatre, open run, free. artemisiatheatre.org/podcast/

“Miss Holmes”

Women also are at the center of this engrossing six-episode audio adaptation of Lifeline Theatre ensemble member Christopher M. Walsh's hit play, “Miss Holmes,” directed by Paul S. Holmquist. The original cast, headed by Katie McLean Hainsworth as the strong-minded Sherlock and Mandy Walsh as Dr. Dorothy Watson, reunites for this murder mystery about a corrupt police inspector whose wives have a habit of turning up dead. Naturally, there's a surprise twist or two and a vague promise of more to come. The episodes were released one by one starting March 12 but are now all available. 

Lifeline Theatre, through April 30, name your price ($20 suggested). lifelinetheatre.com

“The Plane That Took a Train”

I don't usually write about kids stuff, but this six-episode podcast by Milwaukee psychiatrist and musician Bob Druker and Chicago singer/songwriter Steve Dawson is so charming, it should delight adults, too. A kitten, a dog disguised as a cat, a one-armed dog with freckles, a little plane that can't fly, a train named Joe and more join forces and undertake an arduous journey to save their homeland, Zintaurus, from an evil king. Along the way, they — and we — learn about trauma, depression, substance abuse, loss and healing. The folksy songs are a plus.

Open run, free theplanethattookatrain.com

“The Summer of Daisy Fay” 

Charlie Irving returns to her 2016 Jeff Award-nominated role of spunky southern girl Daisy Fay Harper in this one-woman inaugural production of New American Folk Theatre's “season of audio theatre” showcasing new recordings of three of the company's past shows. Based on the novel “Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man” by Fannie Flagg, the script is written by Ed Howard and directed by co-artistic director Anthony Whitaker. It's as much like an audiobook as like theater, and though I didn't see the original, I suspect something is lost here.

New American Folk Theatre, open run, $10. newamericanfolktheatre.org.

“Last Hermanos”

Under development so not available for review, this audio translation of Exal Iraheta's play concerns Miguel and Julio, who are fleeing “an America where being Latinx is a life sentence” and find themselves sequestered in a Texas state park. The arrival of a sympathetic deserter, Shepherd, brings the conflict between Julio’s desire for revolution and Miguel’s need to return to normalcy into sharp focus. Directed by Melanie Queponds and set in the near future, the work features Sebastian Arboleda, Eduardo Xavier Curley-Carrillo and Steve Schine.

A Red Orchid Theatre, through May 16, $15. aredorchidtheatre.org

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