WBEZ | Gift Theatre http://www.wbez.org/tags/gift-theatre Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en The Don't-Miss List: Second City on Chicago History, Twyla Tharp and an 'Opus' http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-01-05/dont-miss-list-second-city-chicago-history-twyla-tharp-and-opus-952 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2012-January/2012-01-05/catherine wright generation bitch.jpg" alt="" /><p><div><u><strong>Kelly Kleiman</strong></u></div><p>Starting tonight (Thursday the 5th), the <a href="http://www.thegifttheatre.org/">Gift Theatre</a> will present <strong><em>Ten</em></strong>, a collection of ten ten-minute plays written to celebrate the theater's tenth anniversary by no-slouch playwrights including David Rabe, Eric Bogosian and Stephen Adly Guirgis (whose shows Streamers, Talk Radio and The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, respectively, the company has done in the course of its history). These performances are free to Gift Theatre subscribers, and (if there are any left over) to anyone else who can manage to score tickets by calling the theater at (773) 283-7071. The catch: there will only be guess-how-many performances, so hustle! Thursdays and Fridays 7:30 P.M., Saturdays at 4:00 P.M. and 7:30 P.M and Sundays at 2:30 PM., this weekend and next. (<em>Editor's Note: Jonathan agrees! See his thoughts below.</em>)</p><p><img alt="" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-January/2012-01-05/chicago8.jpg" style="margin-left: 10px; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; float: right; width: 172px; height: 125px;" title="">And<strong> <a href="http://upcomedyclub.com/page.cfm?id=1109#chicago">The Second City's History of Chicago</a></strong>&nbsp;is at UP, its new comedy club, offering two performances this weekend: matinees Saturday the 7th and Sunday the 8th. The show, developed with the assistance of the Chicago History Museum, should be a fine in-joke for Chicagoans, and is rated PG--suitable for those 13 [and UP]. Tickets $30-$35.</p><p><u><strong>Laura Molzahn</strong></u></p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-January/2012-01-05/catherine wright generation bitch.jpg" style="margin-right: 10px; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; float: left; width: 300px; height: 296px;" title="Catherine Wright of Generation Bitch">Fans of Twyla Tharp have caught her Ol’ Blue Eyes choreography long before now, thanks mostly to Hubbard Street—the first company (besides her own) she allowed to perform her 1982 <em>Nine Sinatra Songs</em>, beginning in 1992. Since then, having been set on an additional 25 troupes, it’s become something of a franchise, a franchise she expanded in 2010 with the full-length Sinatra dance-musical <strong><em>Come Fly Away</em></strong>. So, is it a capitalist expansion—or the continuation of a genuine love affair? The national tour of Tharp’s most recent Broadway show, now reportedly shorter by a half hour, <a href="http://www.broadwayinchicago.com/">arrives in Chicago Tuesday</a> for a 12-day run at the Bank of America Theatre.&nbsp;</p><p><a href="http://www.linkshall.org/">“<strong>Generation Bitch</strong>”: love the title.</a> Its three young female choreographers, including Minneapolitan April Sellers, are all from Minnesota. But really, being a bitch is kind of an equal opportunity situation, geographically speaking. At any rate, these artists are questioning traditional gender roles—sometimes in what will at least sound like a bowling alley, thanks to a live drummer. Sellers describes her <em>Instructions to a Fancy Pack&nbsp;</em>as “a bowling team taking a lane, then developing into a showgirl piece.” Friday through Sunday at Link’s Hall.&nbsp;</p><p><u><strong>Jonathan Abarbanel</strong></u></p><p>For the first full weekend of 2012, theater smarty-pants should head for the tiny Gift Theatre in Jefferson Park (stash the car; take the Blue Line or a Lawrence, Foster or Milwaukee bus) for <strong><em>Ten: A World Premiere</em></strong>. In honor of its 10th anniversary (already? My goodness!), the troupe has commissioned 10 short plays by the likes of David Rabe, Eric Bogosian, Craig Wright and Stephen Adly Guirgis (plus several top Chicago authors) which it will offer in 10 performances only (through Jan. 15). What's more, all 10 shows are FREE! But remember: the Gift has only about 40 seats, so you'd better call and reserve your place at the table for <em>Ten: A World Premiere</em>.</p><p><img alt="" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-January/2012-01-05/Production.jpg" style="margin-left: 10px; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; float: right; width: 238px; height: 200px;" title="">For those who enjoy squeezing their booties into tight spaces in order to see top-notch theater, there's also <a href="http://www.redtwist.org/2011-2012Season.html#Opus"><strong><em>Opus</em></strong> </a>at another 40-seat storefront, the Redtwist Theatre in Edgewater. Michael Hollinger's play is slightly predictable and perhaps a bit too glib as it tells the tale of a renowned string quartet on the verge of melt-down, even as it performs at the White House; but the play is witty, the in-your-face acting is pitch-perfect and Hollinger has a knack for making the abstractions of music real. <em>Opus</em> is playing through Jan. 29.</p><p><em>Correction: A previous version of this post stated that The Second City's History of Chicago would be closing on Wednesday the 11th; in actuality, the show has an open run.</em></p></p> Thu, 05 Jan 2012 17:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-01-05/dont-miss-list-second-city-chicago-history-twyla-tharp-and-opus-952 New artistic model for Theater on the Lake http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-12-20/new-artistic-model-theater-lake-95056 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-December/2011-12-20/26493842.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-December/2011-12-20/26493842.jpg" style="margin-right: 10px; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; float: left; width: 300px; height: 225px; " title="(Photo via Google Maps)">An almost-end-of-the-year press release from the Chicago Park District—the kind that often is lost or buried—has announced a most interesting change in the artistic structure of <a href="http://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/parks.detail/object_id/312df49f-8fbf-4e35-8da1-443a4a50e3e8.cfm">Theater on the Lake</a>, the annual Lincoln Park summer theater program which will be 60 years old in 2012.</p><p>For quite a few years now, what officially is called the Chicago Summer Theater Festival has presented one-week revivals of eight Off-Loop theater productions from the regular season, running late-summer through mid-spring. Those shows have been selected by the Festival artistic director, who has been Hallie Gordon for the last six years (Gordon also is director of the Steppenwolf for Young Adults program).</p><p>This year, however, the Park District is adopting a new model for the Festival, replacing the artistic director with two “co-artistic curators” brought on for one season only, and who will be chosen annually through an application process with the Chicago Park District. The pair will select the season, presumably assist in producing the remounts and also will be involved in support and outreach programs, such as proposed post-show talks with the audience.</p><p>The first two co-artistic curators are actor/director Michael Patrick Thornton and director/dramaturge Meghan Beals McCarthy. Thornton is co-founder/artistic director of the storefront Gift Theatre in Jefferson Park, and also an actor well-known for his recurring role on ABC’s <em>Private Practice</em> TV series. McCarthy is the associate artistic director of Chicago Dramatists, with previous literary management experience at the Northlight and Steppenwolf theater companies locally (and with several New York companies before that).</p><p>The 2012 60<sup>th</sup> anniversary season will be announced in the spring. As always, performances are in the little pavilion at the eastern foot of Fullerton Avenue at the lakefront. Now called Theater on the Lake, the historic structure was built in 1910 as a recuperation ward for tubercular babies (there’s nothing like some dry lake air, eh?) and later was used as a USO facility and for barn dances. It’s been used as a summer theater since 1952. The acoustics are terrible and the lighting isn’t very good, but the lake breeze on a hot night <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-07-13/critics-theater-picks-715-717-89111">can be a delight</a> and ticket prices always are modest. A proposal floated several years ago to remodel the pavilion into a truly serviceable theater was shelved without ever becoming an actual plan when the economy tanked.</p></p> Tue, 20 Dec 2011 16:51:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-12-20/new-artistic-model-theater-lake-95056 Director Si Osborne: Playing it on the fly http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-07-06/director-si-osborne-playing-it-fly-88783 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-July/2011-07-06/Si Osborne.jpg" alt="" /><p><p> <style type="text/css"> <!--{cke_protected}{C}%3C!%2D%2D%0A%20%2F*%20Font%20Definitions%20*%2F%0A%40font-face%0A%09%7Bfont-family%3A%22Times%20New%20Roman%22%3B%0A%09panose-1%3A0%202%202%206%203%205%204%205%202%203%3B%0A%09mso-font-charset%3A0%3B%0A%09mso-generic-font-family%3Aauto%3B%0A%09mso-font-pitch%3Avariable%3B%0A%09mso-font-signature%3A50331648%200%200%200%201%200%3B%7D%0A%20%2F*%20Style%20Definitions%20*%2F%0Ap.MsoNormal%2C%20li.MsoNormal%2C%20div.MsoNormal%0A%09%7Bmso-style-parent%3A%22%22%3B%0A%09margin%3A0in%3B%0A%09margin-bottom%3A.0001pt%3B%0A%09mso-pagination%3Awidow-orphan%3B%0A%09font-size%3A18.0pt%3B%0A%09font-family%3A%22Times%20New%20Roman%22%3B%7D%0Atable.MsoNormalTable%0A%09%7Bmso-style-parent%3A%22%22%3B%0A%09font-size%3A10.0pt%3B%0A%09font-family%3A%22Times%20New%20Roman%22%3B%7D%0A%40page%20Section1%0A%09%7Bsize%3A8.5in%2011.0in%3B%0A%09margin%3A1.0in%201.25in%201.0in%201.25in%3B%0A%09mso-header-margin%3A.5in%3B%0A%09mso-footer-margin%3A.5in%3B%0A%09mso-paper-source%3A0%3B%7D%0Adiv.Section1%0A%09%7Bpage%3ASection1%3B%7D%0A%2D%2D%3E--></style> </p><p>“I’ve never taken a directing class,” says Si Osborne. “But as an actor I’ve done, oh, 100 or so plays. So I’ve watched a lot of directors.”</p><p style="text-align: center; "><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-July/2011-07-06/Si Osborne.jpg" style="width: 500px; height: 332px; " title="Si Osborne, director of 'Northwest Highway'"></p><p>Osborne’s the kind of theater artist on whom nothing is lost. His first directing gig, in 2007, was Mary-Arrchie’s acclaimed production of <em>A Prayer for My Daughter</em>. Then came <em>True West</em> for Redtwist. And third: Gift Theatre’s world premiere of William Nedved’s <em>Northwest Highway</em>, which Osborne calls “a story about small people with huge hearts.” The current run is sold-out, but <a href="http://www.thegifttheatre.org/">it’s being extended in August</a>—and those seats are reportedly going fast.</p><p>The most thrilling of the directors he watched, Osborne says, was Peter Wood (Tom Stoppard’s go-to guy) at LA’s Ahmanson in 1988, when Osborne played a bashful naïf in <em>Les Liaisons Dangereuses</em>. As Osborne tells the story, Wood announced that the scene they were tackling that day “starts off flat. So what we’re going to do, we’ll have an empty champagne bottle rolled out onstage, and this courtesan, dressed in very little, is going to run after it.” Instant appeal.</p><p>Osborne brought a similar gift to <em>Northwest Highway</em>: the ability to see what’s going to work onstage whether or not it’s on the page. He calls Nedved’s initial draft “a diamond in the rough—and Will was very amenable to working with it. Unfortunately he was in LA, so we had to do it by e-mail. After rehearsal every night I’d go to him and say, ‘This scene wanders, or this scene is going nowhere, or this scene circles back on itself.’ So paring and shaping the play was a collaboration—a really fun one because the guy is just such a lovely, perceptive person. I’m proudest of the play that you didn’t see—all the changes that Will and I made improved it vastly.”</p><p>“New plays are different animals, particularly if the playwright is there,” says Osborne. As a 22-year-old actor in Seattle, he watched one director who “basically had the playwright chained to his desk in his home, rewriting every night after rehearsal. As an actor it was fun, because you’re playing it on the fly. It’s like being an outfielder, you never know where the ball is going to hit.”</p><p>Osborne cast <em>Northwest Highway</em> with that thought in mind. “I knew in my bones that this kind of paring away and rewriting would happen, and the actors had to be flexible. They weren’t necessarily all of them the right physical type, but that was less important to me than having the chops and the heart to follow me and Will on these changes.”</p><p>Osborne calls directing “scary, because you’re responsible not just for your performance but for all of them.” Still, “I know the heart of a scene and how to get it played,” he says. “I know how to get performances out of actors, simply because I’ve been one for so long.”</p><p>And when Osborne sets his sights on a project, he goes after it relentlessly. After seeing Thomas Babe’s 1977 <em>A Prayer for My Daughter</em> (coincidentally, another play about cops) 25 or 30 years ago in Seattle, “I said to myself, ‘I’m going to be involved in this play, somehow, some way.’ So I sat on it for years, and by 2007 it was ancient history—the script was out of print, it was a forgotten dinosaur. I basically had to audition for the directing position. But I knew the play so well, I knew it nearly line by line, so I could quote chapter and verse to Rich [Cotovsky].”</p><p>Lately, Osborne’s been shopping around town <em>The Last Station Master</em> by actress Corliss Preston, a friend. “It’s beautifully written, a memory play, very careful, gorgeous. It’s got a ghost. It’s rare to come across a new play where you think, ‘Oh my god, it’s near perfect.’ I might produce the dang thing myself, worst-case scenario. It’s that good. It’s Horton Foote territory, but not as verbose, and a bit darker, but the same sweetness.”</p></p> Wed, 06 Jul 2011 14:37:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-07-06/director-si-osborne-playing-it-fly-88783 Dueling Critics take the 'Northwest Highway' http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-06-10/dueling-critics-take-northwest-highway-87695 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-June/2011-06-10/2011_NWHY.jpg" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center; "><br> <img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-June/2011-06-10/2011_NWHY.jpg" style="width: 500px; height: 365px; " title=""></p><p><strong>KELLY:</strong> Everything seems to be coming down at once on Officer John Patrick Moore of the Chicago Police. His partner may have stolen a brick of cocaine from a suspect. His girlfriend has just discovered she's pregnant. His best friend from high school shows up out of the blue.&nbsp; His estranged aunt reappears to quarrel over the sale of the house he lives and grew up in.&nbsp;<br> <br> In short,<a href="http://www.thegifttheatre.org/now.html"> <i>Northwest Highway</i></a> is a combination cop drama, coming-of-age/fear-of-commitment story, abortion debate, and illustration of how you can't go home again even if you're still living there. Though the Gift Theatre's production of ensemble member William Nedved's play does its best to juggle all these components, in my judgment it doesn't succeed because the task is impossible. It's made even more difficult by the playwright's choice to make the central character a complete cipher whose only role in the goings-on seems to be to say "no" to whatever anyone wants him to do. So to me the show's like a hurricane, with lots of force swirling around an empty center. What about you, Jonathan?&nbsp; Doubtless you have a different perspective--after all, you were sitting two seats to my right.</p><p><strong>JONATHAN:</strong> As always, Kelly, you are further left than me, but that doesn't make you more sympathetic to the blue collar working man of Chicago's Jefferson Park 'hood, where this world premiere is set. Actually, of course, there isn't a blue collar guy in the play as even the cops are college-educated. Even more surprising is that I agree with you. John Moore's estranged aunt pretty much sums it up when she says, "My nephew is infantile when it comes to commitment," whether to a knocked-up girlfriend or a real estate agent. But an indecisive, wishy-washy hero maketh not a strong play. The larger problem may be that Nedved needs a longer play if he wants to put so much food on the plate.&nbsp;85 minutes isn't enough. It leads to an ocean of exposition rather baldly laid out in the first of (I think) eight scenes and not enough later on: I don't know how the brick of cocaine--which does finally show up--ended up where it did. What did I miss, Kelly? I wasn't asleep 'cause you kept poking me in the ribs.<br> <br> <strong>KELLY:</strong> You're right (gasp): it's not at all clear who hid the cocaine. But this may be a deliberate choice on the playwright's part, leaving the audience to wonder whether our (anti-) hero is as dishonest in public matters as in private ones. Where I tripped was in an exchange between John and Rayna (the pregnant girlfriend)&nbsp;over her having thrown out a jar of dirt, or was it his father's ashes? Eventually it's resolved, but by that time the thematic point has been covered up by layers of events--most of which take place offstage, another weakness. Unlike most plays whose first draft can stand to lose 20 minutes, this could stand to gain that much. Having a second act would compel Mr. Nedved to pick a focal point and stick to it.<br> <br> No need to beat it to death--let's talk instead about the acting, which is uniformly fine. Only one member of the Gift ensemble is in the show and yet the entire cast maintains the high level of passionate realism for which the company is known. I was particularly impressed by Diane Mair as Rayna, who manages to make persuasive her love of this man-child, right through to the end.</p><p><strong>JONATHAN:</strong> Oh, my goodness, Kelly! You HAVE been listening to me, lo, these many years, and you've learned something about how a play should be constructed. Well done! As for the acting, yes, I agree that Ms. Mair makes Rayna into a believable and complex character.&nbsp; And Boyd Harris grew on me as John, actually becoming more effective and convincing as his character grew more and more unlikeable. Both actors, and their three supporting players, have been well-guided by director Si Osborne, who takes a very good swing at an imperfect new play pitch.</p><p>FYI, it's worth noting that Gift Theatre has several writers and would-be writers within its ensemble and affiliates, and it stands by them, preferring to take the risk of producing new scripts rather than relegating them to endless readings and workshops.<br> <br clear="all"> <strong>KELLY:</strong> Oh, yeah, you taught me everything I know. Just a reminder of how old you are! In any case, while I agree that it's a virtue for Gift to bring new works to fruition instead of condemning new works to a permanent limbo of tinkering, it's clear that this particular play could have benefited from some more work. Its raw feel reminds me of a number of commissioned works we've seen at much bigger theaters, when it's apparent that the schedule took precedence over the imperatives of writing.&nbsp;<br> <br> Let me put in a word of praise for Adam Lucas Verness, the set designer, who has created the perfect rundown Jefferson Park frame house and the perfect backyard to go with it. In a play that's so much about attachment to place, his set is practically another character.</p><p><strong>JONATHAN:</strong> Try as you might to make me angry at you, Kelly, I just can't manage it this week as your foolhardiness is precisely the same as MY foolhardiness, even down to praising the set. The Gift Theatre space is very small, very shallow and very wide, so it perfectly suits a&nbsp;side view of an old house on a long, narrow standard Chicago lot. I bought such a modest frame home in a not-yet-gentrified 'hood in 1978 and sold it 23 years later for 10 times what I paid for it, investing my profits in the international drug market, thereby financing the rich and ostentatious lifestyle I enjoy today, bombing around town in my 2003 Tracker 4x4. Perhaps the cop hero of <em>Northwest Highway</em> has similar ideas. This well-acted play continues at the Gift Theatre, in downtown Jefferson Park, through July 17. P.S. Congratulations to Gift artistic director Michael Thornton, who was married in April!</p></p> Fri, 10 Jun 2011 16:22:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-06-10/dueling-critics-take-northwest-highway-87695