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Once a pioneer of bare-bones guerilla theater, Steppenwolf has moved firmly into the mainstream with a state-of-the-art theater and production budgets that rival those in any big city. The company has garnered many national awards and has launched the careers of several respected and well-known actors, including John Malkovich, Gary Sinise, Joan Allen, John Mahoney (of Frasier), and Laurie Metcalf (of Roseanne). Famous for pioneering the edgy, "rock-'n'-roll" style of Chicago acting in the 1970s and '80s -- characterized by such incendiary tours de force as Sam Shepard's True West and Lanford Wilson's Balm in Gilead -- Steppenwolf was reinvigorated with the triumph of August: Osage County, a harrowing but hilarious drama that got raves when it moved to New York and won multiple Tony Awards in 2008. While shows here can be hit or miss, the acting is never less than powerful; Steppenwolf's ensemble of performers is the best in the city.

Under artistic director Martha Lavey, Steppenwolf has drawn upon its star power, bringing back big names to perform or direct from time to time. But don't come here expecting to see John Malkovich or Joan Allen on stage; most of the big-name actors are too busy with their movie careers. Smaller theater troupes often perform at Steppenwolf's smaller studio theater, which stages more experimental fare.