WBEZ | Kimberly Senior http://www.wbez.org/tags/kimberly-senior Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Kate Buddeke's comic turn in 'North Plan' http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-02-29/kate-buddekes-comic-turn-north-plan-96829 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//blog/photo/2012-February/2012-02-29/Kate Buddeke 2_Molzahn.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Tanya Shepke is your white-trash everywoman. Locked up for drunkenness in her hometown of tiny Lodus, Missouri, she pours forth a nonstop torrent of profanities, abuse, innuendo, and half-baked excuses for her bad behavior.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-February/2012-02-29/Kate Buddeke 1_Molzahn.jpg" style="width: 200px; height: 305px; float: left; margin: 5px;" title="Kate Buddeke stars in 'The North Plan' at Theater Wit. (Liz Lauren/Theater Wit) ">She’s an unlikely heroine—yet that’s her role in Jason Wells’s <a href="http://www.theaterwit.org/"><em>The North Plan</em>, an odd blend of dark political satire and murder-‘n’-mayhem farce</a>, directed by Kimberly Senior, that just opened at Theater Wit.</p><p>And that’s what Chicago favorite Kate Buddeke makes Tanya: a heroine. I think. This veteran not only of Chicago stages but of Broadway, TV and film somehow hints at the tiny kernel of moral responsibility that might or might not be at Tanya’s core.</p><p>Asked whether she resembles Tanya, Buddeke says, “Let’s hope not. I don’t swear as much. And I like to think that I think a little more than Tanya. She’s a real motor mouth.”</p><p>“But, with every character, I think there’s a bit of me in it. With this one, it’s her balls!” (At the final preview, the audience broke into cheers after one of Tanya’s triumphant exits.)</p><p>Wells’s 90-minute two-act, which debuted here in 2010 as part of Steppenwolf’s First Look series, breaks in half at the intermission—which seems to exist mostly to allow an elaborate switch of Jack Magaw’s ingenious set. The relatively serious first act sets up a culture-wars situation and the political context: federal bureaucrat/Jewish liberal Carlton, in the pen next to Tanya’s, has been jailed under a repressive, lawless new regime.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-February/2012-02-29/Kate Buddeke 3_Molzahn.jpg" style="width: 400px; height: 266px; margin: 5px; float: right;" title="Buddeke and castmember Kevin Stark (Liz Lauren/Theater Wit)">But Buddeke says she doesn’t think of Tanya—the seeming representative of poor white southern females everywhere—in terms of politics. “She’s so non-political. Truly, as I’m in this play, I have no idea what’s gonna happen, certainly not on a political level.”</p><p>That’s partly because all hell breaks loose in the second act, which takes a hairpin turn into farcical violence. “It gets really comic and crazy,” says Buddeke.</p><p>“I’m not known for comedy,” she adds. “And that was intimidating at first. It’s black comedy, of course, and the comedy I usually do is more realistic, not so out there. I was a little scared of it.”</p><p>“But it’s freeing. The first 15 to 20 minutes go by so f**king fast, you don’t have time to worry about anything—just do it!” Tanya’s opening tidal wave of words is so repetitive too that “there’s always a moment where I think, ‘Where am I?’” says Buddeke.</p><p>Comedy aside, Tanya does make a distinct shift between the first and second acts. “Part of that is that it’s her choice to walk into that room,” says Buddeke. “She’s making choices—it’s a different situation: ‘I’m not leaving.’”</p><p>Believe me, the room wouldn’t be the same without her.</p></p> Wed, 29 Feb 2012 15:14:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-02-29/kate-buddekes-comic-turn-north-plan-96829 Usman Ally on identity politics in ATC's 'Disgraced' http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-02-08/usman-ally-identity-politics-atcs-disgraced-96199 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//blog/photo/2012-February/2012-02-08/disgraced_ATC.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><img alt="" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-February/2012-02-08/usman ally.jpg" style="margin-right: 10px; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; float: left; width: 300px; height: 275px;" title="">“Being Muslim these days is like being public enemy number one,” says actor Usman Ally. “Our voices are not being heard.”</p><p>“In a way, it’s a dangerous play,” he says of Ayad Akhtar’s <a href="http://www.atcweb.org/"><em>Disgraced</em>, which had its world premiere at American Theater Company</a> last month. At a dinner party, every imaginable prejudice gets laid on the table by corporate lawyer Amir (played by Ally), his blond American wife, a Jewish gallery owner, and his African-American wife, also a lawyer. But that danger, Ally says, “has brought us as a cast together.”</p><p>An ATC ensemble member, Ally has experienced some irrational reactions to earlier performances as a Muslim. He played an Indian-American character, VP, in <a href="http://www.victorygardens.org/onstage/chad-deity-reviews.php">Victory Gardens’ <em>The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity</em></a>—another “incendiary” show, he says, that toured to New York and L.A.</p><p>“Audience members would come up to me afterwards and call me a terrorist—even though I was playing a spoof of a terrorist! Because my character was multilingual, they’d tell me, ‘I think everyone in this country should be speaking English.’ They directed their political outrage at me.”</p><p>Muslims’ reactions after seeing <em>Disgraced</em>, Ally says, have varied a lot. “Some were like, ‘This is so important that this play is being done, because Muslims need to think about this sort of stuff, too.’ Others were just outraged because they thought it would fuel more of the negative stereotyping of Muslims in this country.”</p><p>A violent scene between Amir and his wife sparked a lot of conversation among the cast, playwright Akhtar, and director Kimberly Senior--Ally says it went through 17 iterations. Though originally scripted to take place onstage, it’s now a noisy offstage altercation, a decision Ally approves of partly because it’s “more gut-wrenching to imagine what’s going on.”&nbsp;</p><p>“My biggest fear, to be honest,” he says, “was that if the audience sees a large, dark-skinned man beating a small white woman, they will turn on him.” Everyone involved in <em>Disgraced</em> has had to tread a fine line between acknowledging the validity of ethnic stereotypes—and reinforcing them.&nbsp;</p><p>“There is anti-Semitism in the Muslim community,” says Ally. “Everything that Amir says—whether it’s about his mother, who tells him he’ll end up with a Jewish girl ‘over my dead body,’ or whether he’s saying white women are whores—those ideas are not pervasive, but it’s there. I heard it growing up, not from my parents but from people in the community. [Playwright] Ayad heard it as well.”</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://www.wbez.org/sites/default/files/blog/insert-image/2012-February/2012-02-08/disgraced%20Ally%2C%20Arenas%2C%20Stark%2C%20Foster%20-%20V.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 432px;" title="A scene from American Theater Company's 'Disgraced.' (Courtesy of ATC)"></p><p>Ally, 29, was raised in a Muslim family originally from Pakistan, where he lived for about a year when he was 10. But he was born in Swaziland and grew up in Botswana, Kenya and Tanzania. After living in Africa for 18 years, Ally moved to the States to attend college, then got an MFA in theater. “Especially in our culture and community,” he says, “it was like, ‘You’re going all the way to America so you can sing and dance?’”</p><p>Ally says his parents come from “a very, very humble background.” His mother’s family “had to leave everything behind when they were forced from their homes” after the India/Pakistan partition. His father was raised in a small, impoverished village outside Islamabad but eventually got a master’s degree in economics and became, Ally says, “involved in trade between African countries—textiles and things of that sort.”</p><p>Like his character, Ally is married to a white American. “It was neither of our intentions to fall in love,” he says. “But we did. And people will project certain ideas onto us—we have to battle that quite a bit.”</p><p>“I always identified as a Muslim as a child and as a young adult. But practicing the dogma of religion was never something that my parents enforced on us. They said, ‘You are Muslim—that means that you should be good to people.’” He learned Arabic well enough to read the Koran but never understood what he was saying. During Ramadan, he’d sometimes fast, sometimes not.</p><p>Also like his character, Ally has clearly learned to negotiate cultures of all kinds. “I believe that my identity is porous,” he says. “I should be willing to allow my identity to shift and change based on what I experience in my life. But it’s all rooted in who I was. I start off from where I was, and I work from there.”</p><p>“But Amir has literally divorced himself from who he was, and it’s all brand-new. It’s based in nothing. He’s not rooted in anything. He has to whitewash himself in a way. Ayad very succinctly says that the play is about a man identifying with a false sense of self.”</p><p>“Identity is a very American issue—understanding who you are and where you fit in this massive jigsaw puzzle.”</p></p> Wed, 08 Feb 2012 15:44:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-02-08/usman-ally-identity-politics-atcs-disgraced-96199 The best Chicago theater directors of 2011 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-12-20/best-chicago-theater-directors-2011-95051 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//blog/photo/2011-December/2011-12-20/_78.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Some theater folk hold that 90% of the work of a really good director is casting the show. Certainly, there are times when the quality of the talent on stage is such that a gifted director simply gets out of the way and makes him/herself invisible. But not always. Sometimes concept or interpretation make all the difference and then the director becomes the star of the show in the best sense, or at least a co-star. There were several strong examples in 2011.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-December/2011-12-20/Kimberly-Senior-Headshot-300.jpg" style="margin-right: 10px; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; float: left; width: 300px; height: 200px; " title="Director Kimberly Senior">At Next Theatre Company last winter, the time-tested director <strong>Kimberly Senior</strong> again demonstrated her skill with J. T. Rodgers’s <em>Madagascar</em>, a three-person monologue play about a missing person that offers audiences a conundrum inside a puzzle. Senior guided her actors knowingly through every inch of this poetic, rich and layered work of direct address to the audience, resulting in a spell-binding piece where one might have had mere drone.</p><p><strong>Dexter Bullard</strong>, highly regarded as a director of physical theater, was at the top of his game with the February world premiere of <em>The Big Meal</em> at American Theater Company; a fast-paced and multi-scene comedy by Dan LeFranc that was both verbally and physically complex. All actors played multiple roles and ages in portraying four generations of a family (or was it five?) meeting across the holiday dinner table. Vastly entertaining and meaty as well, the play and the performances gained critical mass as the show progressed.</p><p>Director <strong>Jonathan Wilson</strong> long has been one of Chicago’s under-appreciated treasures, who combines nuanced understanding of text with a firm hand and—always—clear vision. Wilson’s merits were fully on display in <em>Yellowman</em>, produced in September by Greentree Productions. Dael Orlandersmith’s prize-winning drama has been seen in Chicago before, but never in such a funny, tender and terrifying production. A tale of love, discovery, racism and class conflict, the play is too long, but it didn’t matter this time.</p><p>September also brought us one of America’s top directors in top form as <strong>Robert Falls</strong> staged John Logan’s <em>Red</em> at the Goodman Theatre (of which Falls is the long-time artistic director). This witty two-man work about artist Mark Rothko and a fictional young assistant is surprisingly physical, and Falls made the physical business dazzling (although not unnecessarily so). However, his real contribution was an interpretation radically different from the New York/London original production; one which brought more meaning out of the text and, therefore, out of the characters.</p><p>Also in September, Seanachai Theatre tackled the great Sean O’Casey’s first important play, <em>The Shadow of a Gunman</em>. It’s a play of character and “crack” (Irish slang for talk and banter) rather than plot—which O’Casey telegraphs miles away—and Seanachai was fortunate to have <strong>John Mossman</strong> as director. Himself an actor and teacher (he and his wife run The Artistic Home), Mossman took the often-purple and poetic prose of O’Casey and turned it into intimate speech deeply rooted in the personality of each character, without ever losing the Irish charm or O’Casey’s passion.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-December/2011-12-20/_78.jpg" style="margin-left: 10px; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; float: right; width: 300px; height: 200px; " title="Director Ron OJ Parson">Finally, I can’t let the year wind down without citing the astute comedic glory of what <strong>Ron OJ Parson</strong> and three superb actors are doing with Harold Pinter’s <em>The Caretaker</em> at Writers’ Theatre in Glencoe (running through next March 25). Parson’s high concept puts the audience—all 40 or so of them—<em>inside</em> the set, which is a complete four-walled room built within the already-tiny theater space. Within the confines of this space, the audience becomes one with the three distinct personalities of the characters, whom Parson and company bring to crystal-clear life.</p></p> Tue, 20 Dec 2011 16:08:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-12-20/best-chicago-theater-directors-2011-95051 Tracy Letts's 'Bug' up close http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-06-14/tracy-lettss-bug-close-87840 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//blog/photo/2011-June/2011-06-14/Grandt copy.jpg" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center; "><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-June/2011-06-15/Grandt copy.jpg" style="width: 500px; height: 332px; " title=""></p><p>Last weekend, Pulitzer-winning playwright Tracy Letts took in a show: his own <em>Bug </em>at tiny Redtwist Theatre. “He loved it,” says Jacqueline Grandt, who plays sleazy, tough-talking waitress Agnes. “He was very kind to all of us, the whole cast. We went out to the lobby, and he gave me a big hug. It was cool!”</p><p>Lett’s 15-year-old play, made into a film in 2006, is still very much a work for our time: though the objects of paranoia may have shifted, conspiracy theories live on. That hook, and the knife-edge balance between comic hysteria and tragic horror maintained in Redtwist’s intimate production, makes <a href="http://www.redtwist.org/">the play’s extension (through July 31) </a>no surprise. Most of that time it plays in repertory with <em>That Face</em>, which also features Grandt. “I actually have never done two shows at the same time,” she says. “It’s freaking me out a little bit.”</p><p>Though the script calls for Agnes to be nude at times, Grandt wasn’t comfortable with that—and director Kimberly Senior thought the audience might be uncomfortable too, sitting just inches from the performers. Most of the tiny venue is taken up by Jack Magaw’s brilliant set, designed with Senior. “Initially Kimberly wanted only 30 people in the audience,” Grandt says. “She wanted everyone to feel enclosed and locked in. She wanted the audience right on top, so they could feel everything we feel.” It works. This production’s a pressure-cooker.</p><p>“This is probably the closest, the most intimate I’ve ever been with the audience,” says Grandt. “It’s really wonderful, because even though you are in your moments, you still feel the audience member there. Every movement you make, every eye contact you have with your fellow actor—it’s all seen. It’s almost like doing a movie because you’re so close up.” A few audience members are seated virtually onstage. “But I think they enjoy it,” Grandt says. “They wouldn’t have picked those seats if they didn’t want to be involved.”</p><p>A lot of people laughed at <em>Bug</em>’s crazed ending when I saw the show, and Grandt says responses vary from performance to performance. “It can be silence, it can be laughter. We actually expected uproarious laughter when the pizza guy comes, right? And the first couple nights it was dead silence. I’m like, oh no! When did I order a pizza? I mean, come on! But however the audience reacts, you have to take it in and say, ‘As long as I’m playing this truly, people are going to react how they’re going to react.’ I mean, you take out of it whatever you want, because there’s no answer in this play. No answer.”</p><p>Of her character, Grandt says: “She hasn’t had anybody treat her with an iota of respect. I’m sure the customers where she works just don’t see anybody, just a person serving them. But I love Agnes, she’s become one of my favorite roles. Some of that is to do with her compassion. So many people may think of it as ignorance or oversights, but I see it as compassion, how much she really loves Peter.”</p><p>Grandt’s character in <em>That Face</em>—the mother in Polly Stenham’s 2007 family drama, which Stenham wrote at age 19—is harder to like. “She’s a very disturbed woman, a divorced alcoholic, a sad character who’s 100 percent dependent on her 18-year-old son,” Grandt says. “But the play is amazingly written. The verbiage, it’s eloquent. She speaks from the heart, but it’s just horrible things.”</p><p>After eight rehearsals (previews start June 29), Grandt says, “I’m on a good path about [my character’s] past, but I haven’t gotten it all yet. And there’s a lot to get, so it’s gonna take some work. But honestly, I’ve never not liked any of my characters because I don’t think you can go into it like that. You have to somehow find the good in them, because otherwise the audience can’t find the good in them.”</p><p style="text-align: center; "><img alt="" class="caption" height="400" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-June/2011-06-15/1BugMineWeb.jpg" title="" width="600"></p></p> Tue, 14 Jun 2011 20:08:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-06-14/tracy-lettss-bug-close-87840 Morning Rehearsal: Chicago theater 5/7 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-06-07/morning-rehearsal-chicago-theater-57-87513 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//blog/photo/2011-June/2011-06-07/img_pho_home.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>1. The <a href="http://www.jeffawards.org/Nominees/recipients_nonequity.cfm">2011 Non-Equity Joseph Jefferson Awards</a>&nbsp;(Jeff Awards) have been announced, with repeat wins by&nbsp;<em>Cabaret </em>by The Hypocrites, <em>The Three Faces of Dr. Crippen </em>by&nbsp;The Strange Tree Group,<em> </em>and&nbsp;<em>Cats</em> at Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre. Also notable: Redtwist's <em>Man from Nebraska</em> won best production. There were more than <a href="http://timeoutchicago.com/arts-culture/theater/14797961/hypocrites-redtwist-take-top-honors-at-2011-non-equity-jeff-awards">a few awkward moments</a> at the award ceremony; Director Brenda Diddier <a href="http://leisureblogs.chicagotribune.com/the_theater_loop/2011/06/2011-non-equity-jeff-award-winners.html#more">was announced</a> as winner for Best Director of a Musical, when it was actually to be awarded to Matt Hawkins. Diddier even gave an acceptance speech, before Hawkins said&nbsp;"Brenda, look at your plaque. This is not really awkward at all." Jonathan Abarbanel has more <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-06-07/robots-invade-jeff-awards-martians-next-87512">on the Jeff Award wins</a>&nbsp;(and robots)!</p><p style="text-align: center; "><img alt="" class="caption" height="292" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-June/2011-06-07/img_pho_home.jpg" title="" width="253"></p><p>2.&nbsp;The world premiere of&nbsp;<em>A Girl with Sun in Her Eyes</em>&nbsp;starts at Pine Box Theater on June 25. The play, by Joshua Rollins, looks into a police officer who has been reported missing on the South Side. They're billing it as "<em>The Shield</em>&nbsp;meets&nbsp;<em>Memento</em>," so if you have watched those, you'll know what it's about.</p><p>3. Yesterday, Florida Stage announced they were filing for bankruptcy. Notably, it was the largest theatre company in the nation producing new work. "The South Florida Theatre Community is grieving right now," <a href="http://www.2amtheatre.com/2011/06/06/the-loss-of-florida-stage/">wrote Andie Arthur,</a>&nbsp;a theater administrator in South Florida. "All day I’ve been having phone calls where with clipped conversations and long periods of silence, reminding me of the awkward conversations at a funeral. After any major arts organization fails, you need to have difficult conversations&nbsp; – but right now we need to grieve."</p><p>4.&nbsp;<a href="http://timeoutchicago.com/arts-culture/theater/14796595/bug-at-redtwist-theatre-theater-review" style="color: rgb(2, 122, 198); text-decoration: none; ">Speaking of&nbsp;<em>Bug</em>'s director Kimberly Senior</a>, TimeOut's John Beer says that "she might just be our theatrical version of Kathryn Bigelow." You'll recall that Kathryn Bigelow won an Oscar for Best Director in 2010 for <em>The Hurt Locker</em>, and was the first woman to do so.</p><p style="text-align: center; "><iframe frameborder="0" height="225" src="http://player.vimeo.com/video/22786489?title=0&amp;byline=0&amp;portrait=0" width="400"></iframe></p><p>5. New Leaf Theatre's <a href="http://newleaftheatre.org/current.php"><em>Lighthousekeeping </em></a>opens&nbsp;in previews tomorrow at the DCA Storefront Theater. The video above elaborates, but its about&nbsp;&nbsp;an "epic journey of love, longing, and light explores the gambles and gifts of choosing to change from one life to the next." I just like the title.</p><p>Questions? Tips? Email kdries@wbez.org.</p></p> Tue, 07 Jun 2011 14:32:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-06-07/morning-rehearsal-chicago-theater-57-87513