Random thoughts on Chay Yew; "White Noise" closes

May 10, 2011

A lot of theater news has gone by in just a week since we broke the story about Lookingglass Theatre Company winning the 2011 Tony Award as outstanding regional theater. Later that same day (May 3), Victory Gardens Theater announced the name of its new artistic director, nationally-recognized playwright and director Chay Yew.

Some observers reported that he would be the first Asian-American artistic director of a Chicago theater troupe, or at least of a troupe that isn't ethnic-specific such as Stir Friday Night improv troupe (pan-Asian) or the Rasaka Theatre Company (South Asian; "rasaka" is Hindi for "new art"). They are wrong, of course. They seem to forget that actor and director Anish Jethmalani served as artistic director of the Eclipse Theatre Company from 2002-2007, and that Jamil Khoury continues in his role as founding artistic director of the Silk Road Theatre Project. Khoury is of Syrian descent, so some may exclude him from the Asian pool, but look at a map and you'll see Syria is in Asia.

The importance of Yew's appointment is that it reconfirms Victory Gardens' commitment to the playwright's voice, upon which the company has built its reputation and for which it won the regional theater Tony Award in 2001. With his important career contacts in both New York and Los Angeles, Yew, 46, will be able to expand VG's network of artists in a way that someone from Chicago may not have been able to do.

Also in showbiz news this week was the announcement that the Broadway-bound rock musical White Noise would close early at the Royal George Theatre. Instead of running through June 9 as originally announced, it will close this Sunday, May 15, after a one-month run. Blog posts I've read suggest that business hasn't been great, even at the intimate (450 seats) Royal George. Reportedly the show has made many changes--as a pre-Broadway show should--and perhaps it will hunker down for a while for serious retooling.

It would be incorrect to characterize Chicago as the graveyard for pre-Broadway shows, but we DO have a tendency to cut 'em down to size. Call it a reality check. Often Chicago is the first "real world" stop for a show after lengthy development in readings, workshops and, maybe, a production at a non-profit theater. It can be rough, but if the show has any chops at all it's likely to emerge stronger after being mashed in our Windy City crucible.

At least one show has settled down for what it hopes will be a through-the-summer run: Peter Pan in the tent at Chicago Avenue and the Chicago River. Its next stop is in Boston come October. Peter Pan officially is here only through June 19, but cast members say the hope is to run through Labor Day. A third show, the Bailiwick Chicago production of Passing Strange, continues through May 29 at the Chicago Center for the Performing Arts. Would they like to keep it running longer? Of course. Will they? Depends on business (reviews mostly were quite positive) and whether or not something else already is booked into the space.