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This group's home on Navy Pier is a visually stunning, state-of-the-art jewel. The centerpiece of the glass-box complex, which rises seven stories, is a 525-seat courtyard-style theater patterned loosely after the Swan Theater in Stratford-upon-Avon. The complex also houses a 180-seat studio theater, an English-style pub, and lobbies with commanding views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline. But what keeps subscribers coming back is the talented company of actors, including some of the finest Shakespeare performers in the country.

The main theater presents three Shakespeare plays a year; founder and artistic director Barbara Gaines usually directs one show. Chicago Shakespeare also books special short-run performances and events, such as a production of Hamlet by acclaimed British director Peter Brook. Shakespeare Theatre subscribers are loyal, so snagging tickets on weekends can be a challenge; reserve in advance, if possible. If you have a choice of seats, avoid the upper balcony; the tall chairs are uncomfortable, and you have to lean way over the railing to see all the action onstage -- definitely not recommended for anyone with a fear of heights.