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Twelve great performances in Chicago theater 2011

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We just can't stop raving about this amazing year in Chicago theater. These dozen performances, presented in no particular order, stood out from the pack.

Chinglish, Goodman Theatre: In David Henry Hwang's comedy, Lim broke out as a Chinese vice minister of culture who "gives a convincing bilingual master class in what Hwang presents as the Chinese ability to compartmentalize."

Dan Waller, The Pitmen Painters, TimeLine Theatre Company: TimeLine's production of Lee Hall's play was "anchored by an intense performance from Dan Waller as Oliver Kilbourn, beautifully capturing the character’s frustration and fear as he considers an artist’s life after years in the pits."

Carrie Coon, The Real Thing, Writers' Theatre: As passionate actress Annie in Tom Stoppard's play, Coon was sly and searching in a richly textured performance.

Caroline Neff, Port, Griffin Theatre Company: The "absurdly appealing" Neff found another high point in a character who's at her lowest, anchoring Simon Stephens's drama about a young woman careening from disappointment to disappointment with "open-faced fearlessness."

Harry Groener, The Madness of George III, Chicago Shakespeare Theater: In a masterful performance in Alan Bennett's play, Groener "brings a musicality to the rhythms of George’s desperate, babbling descent and eventual reemergence. [Penny] Metropulos’s handsomely appointed staging sags when Groener’s offstage; when he’s on, it sings."

Bethany Thomas, Porgy and Bess, Court Theatre: In the supporting but hopefully star-making role of Serena, Thomas routinely brought down the house with her "harrowing, majestic" rendition of the mournful "My Man's Gone Now."

Janet Ulrich Brooks, A Walk in the Woods, TimeLine Theatre Company: Lee Blessing's talky 1983 two-hander remained a glib take on the Cold War, but Brooks's wily performance as the Soviet negotiator—the first time the playwright authorized the role to be played by a woman—made it "hard to imagine any other way."

Barbara Robertson, The Detective’s Wife, Writers' Theatre: Keith Huff's new solo play contained plenty of holes, but Robertson's remarkably engaging, plucky performance as a woman determined to solve the mystery of her husband's death kept them hidden till after the fact.

Kelsey Brennan, Romeo and Juliet, First Folio Theatre: Brennan's "masterful" turn as Juliet eschewed the usual character choices, crafting a captivating portrait of an ecstatic, undelicate and ultimately tortured teen.

Jeremy Myers, Pussy on the House, Hell in a Handbag Productions: In Ryan Landry's genderbending spin on Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Myers delivered an astonishing recreation of Elizabeth Taylor's famous performance; "his slinky, cajoling Maggie transcends cross-dressing and approaches reincarnation."

Jennifer Blood, The Sound of Music, Drury Lane Oakbrook Terrace: As Maria in Rachel Rockwell's terrific Rodgers and Hammerstein revival, Blood was "a comedian with a kangaroo’s spring and maternal sense—she grows up before our eyes, and her expressive singing voice soars."

Billy-bot, Aunt Julie-bot, Hans and robot ensemble, Heddatron, Sideshow Theatre Company: Working with volunteer help from members of the Chicago Area Robotics Group, Sideshow created a remarkably sophisticated set of mechanical actors for its production of Elizabeth Meriwether's cheeky riff on Hedda Gabler. Human actors shouldn't feel worried—or should they?