Never knowing how long I will be here, this year I wanted to take full advantage of living in Chicago. Not just as a city (although just count the number of plays below!) but also as a base to explore the rest of the country. I think I did pretty well…
I celebrated New Year (Central Time) with frighteningly hot punch at Saujanya’s – a necessary antidote after Randi risked hypothermia walking there with bare legs – and won good luck for 2015 by eating Hoppin’ John at brunch the next day. We also took a day trip to Kenosha, saw Jukebox the Ghost and played a whole lot of board games. Todd hosted a stimulating salon on Wall-E, Michele took us all bowling, and everyone benefited from Katie’s decision to compete in a mac and cheese contest. I also derived a weird amount of fascination from going under general anaesthetic for the first time, which compensated for days of eating soup afterwards.
There was a whole load of Americana in February: a day out at a Monster Truck rally, the Super Bowl, and New York! Despite the chill we saw a great number of touristy sights and were very generously hosted by Melissa, a woman with such good taste that she owns a toy adipose. She was therefore supportive of my mission to take Randi through every series of Doctor Who since 2005, which began this month. The other wallop of Britishness came on pancake day, which Katie joined us for. I also saw a whole lot of plays: A Map of Virtue, Plastic Revolution and post-apocalyptic Mr. Burns.
The first day of March was spent trekking around snowy Chicago to film something for my grandpa’s birthday. Later, there was a wonderful New Glarus weekend of cheese, beer and board games in AJ’s home state of Wisconsin, a financially unrewarding poker night at Todd’s, Four, The Capitano Must Die and a second movie night at mine to watch one of my enduringly favourite films, Four Lions. And let’s not forget the odd afternoon which culminated in eating soap… the less said, the better. But most of all, March was the month of my reunion with Josh and Anna, roadtripping from Austin to the incomparable New Orleans. Amazing people in amazing places.
This was the month I was finally diagnosed as ‘extremely withdrawn’ in an in-person Church of Scientology personality test. It was also the month I made a trip of exploration to a Sunday morning megachurch service, where the music was only slightly less catchy than the Bleachers concert which I also saw. Meanwhile, Caius won University Challenge, Randi and I failed to win Windy City Cafe’s Easter egg competition (surely some mistake) and I saw Balm in Gilead, The Upstairs Concierge and, at the Palestinian film festival, Eyes of a Thief. Let’s also not forget the stressful, stressful night Todd moved out of his apartment… although to compensate, I did end up with some loot.
To be fair to the Scientologists, I probably did become ‘extremely withdrawn’ in May, but only because I was working on Randi’s Campaign Finance Reform Adventure: a video game for the parliamentarian inside. Things went from bad to worse in Britain’s real-life parliament on election night, which rendered weeks of argumentative family emails about how to divvy up our betting pool in various arcane constitutional scenarios completely moot. Beast on the Moon, a moving play about the aftermath of the Armenian genocide, stirred some more sadness into the month. So it was good to escape – and cross off two more states – by visiting Seattle and Portland too!
This is my tenth year of writing annual reviews, and June is always the month which bursts with activity. I think it’s as simple as the sun coming out, really, as it did for the opening day of Chicago’s elevated trail, the 606. You can also do things like picnic to Back to the Future in Millennium Park, once Randi fights off the family who plonked chairs down in front of us. Indoors, we won two mentions for the legendary ‘Randpig’ during Kannan’s improv comedy Fucked Up Family Reunion, were swept away by The Wind Rises, swayed along to Postmodern Jukebox, got severely creeped out by Ex Machina, educated Jatherine in the ways of trashy British TV, and cheered and laughed for Ingrid Michaelson. Travel-wise, there was wine tasting plus intensive sand dune urban architecture in Michigan, while Randi and I had a great time in Hillary-supporting Iowa. But above all, the two highlights of June were my amazing surprise birthday party (complete with TARDIS and quiz!) and Katie’s visit to Chicago, which included a kayak-based tour down the Chicago river. June is great.
I spent the first half of July on a work trip to Warsaw, working with a really great team who were a pleasure to get to know. I was even indulged with a live translation service during Groupon Poland’s anniversary party, as if it were a news broadcast. As beautiful as Warsaw’s Old Town is, I’m also very pleased that Katie and I used our second weekend there to visit Prague. The city is truly stunning, and also home to one of the best walking tours I’ve ever done. (Thanks, Karel!) Back in Chicago, I made the much less beautiful but sadly necessary pilgrimage to IKEA (Schaumburg is no Prague), played giant Jenga with April at Streetfest, and had stimulating drinks with Luis, Marti, Robert and Randi.
In the month Jon Stewart hosted his final Daily Show episode (sniff), I had a good chat with ex-President Lincoln in Illinois’s underwhelming capital, went full-on retro bowling at The Fireside Bowl and said farewell to Katie and Brandon before they left for New York. Randi and I also dragged her friend Rachel to Common Room and Improv Shakespeare, laid waste to wine bottles on my roof with Lauri, and saw Loving Repeating and Fabulation. AND THEN HOME TO THE UK! We packed a lot into our week in London: swimming in Hampstead Heath with Abbi, tours of Broadcasting House and Parliament, a large-scale afternoon tea with the family, drinks with Matt, Laura, Caroline, Charles and Maisie, NewsRevue, Time Run and an overnight stay at the Hurley-Hull’s for Cat’s birthday. And if that wasn’t enough, we set off the week afterwards for our Grand Tour of the UK by rail, heading first to Bury St Edmunds (which re-introduced Randi to sticky toffee pudding) and then Cambridge (which introduced Randi to fish pie… and reunited me with Mandler and Calaresu for drinks).
Our railway journey around the UK continued via Scarborough to Durham (Bill Bryson’s “perfect little city”) in especially beautiful mode, where we stayed with Katie and ate many biscuits. Next was Edinburgh – I had forgotten how stunning the city is – and a climb up Arthur’s Seat, and then finally Windermere in the Lake District (an ideal spot for sheep and stars). Making it back to America in time for Shelby and Benno’s wedding, we enjoyed a boat tour down the Chicago river when Randi’s parents came to visit later in the month, and saw 3033 and TJ and Dave at iO. September was also the month Doctor Who returned, in thrillingly good form, and was keenly appreciated by all the participants in Cat’s WhatsApp chat. In this way, I never fully leave the UK.
October was a turbulent month for fans of the Toronto Blue Jays. If this were Todd’s review of the year, he’d probably just stop there. For the rest of us, there was also fun musical Cholesterock, survival tale The Martian and ‘somewhat recommended’ play Home Before Dark. But why pay good money for theatre when you can get invited by the director to a technical rehearsal, as Randi and I did for The Play About My Dad. We also took her cousins around Lincoln Park Zoo, were perplexed by fiendish codes at a Puzzle Night with Karol, dug astronomy at the Adler Planetarium and saw Alastair Campbell down in Hyde Park. Then I headed back across the Atlantic again, first to Warsaw, then Morocco – fitting in a touristy weekend in Marrakesh before working in Casablanca – and then finally Brussels for dinner and night-time sightseeing with my parents.
Robert and Julie’s wedding in November was wonderful, and a fitting celebration of the people who conspired to bring me to Chicago in the first place (thank you!) before they leave on their own overseas adventures. If I were to guess, I reckon they’ll hold on to Thanksgiving. My third turkey celebration was hosted by Jatherine (so, actually no turkey) but no less wonderful for it. Afterwards, Randi and I toured Indiana and Kentucky, watching Christmas parades and going ziplining in an old limestone mine. I also poked my head around 270’s offices, saw Chapter Two and dissected The Breakfast Club in the third salon of the year.
Finally, in my third attempt, I became part of an Escape Room team which actually escaped a room (and a hungry zombie with it). In December I also saw Backroom Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Star Wars and – at Groupon’s Holiday Party – Salt-N-Pepa. Speaking of holidays, my usual Christmas preparations (bringing home the tree, decorating, listening to Christmas songs on a loop) were joined by Randi’s Hanukkah festivities (including our dreidel drinking game!) and carried over to California, where we spent Christmas itself with Randi’s family. This was a lovely mixture of solid family traditions – opening presents on Christmas morning, playing games, participating in the Regan family quiz – and more Californian innovations such as hiking and walking on the beach. And then to squeeze two more states into 2015, we embarked on a roadtrip to Vegas, where Randi and I saw Britney’s Piece of Me show, and the beautiful Zion National Park in Utah. More on this, of course, in 2016.
Wherever you are, and whatever timezone you’re in, have a very happy new year!
Crystal Lee, Catherine Tarsney, Ellen Wohlberg, Katie Sharing, Allison Norman, Randi Lawrence, Kristina Francisco, Jason Zhou, Daryl Cooper, Susannah Belcher, Abigail Osbiston, Stephanie Francesca Pereira, Helen Hudspith liked this post.