The Gift Theatre is proud to announce Adithi Chandrashekar's Open Season as the first play chosen to pilot 4802 - the new play research and development wing of The Gift named after its storefront address located on N Milwaukee Ave in Jefferson Park. Director Mara Stern and Chandrashekar will be given residency in the Gift Theatre's 40-seat storefront and provided with dedicated tailor-made time, space, and support for their work. The residency will take place over a span of 6 weeks and will be supported with a budget of $7,000.  Performances for Open Season are free and open to the public from September 15-17.

Open Season has been in development since December 2015 and explores the abuses of power and the universal nature of loneliness in all creatures, large and small. In 4802, The Gift will serve as the artists laboratory where they can experiment, explore, and broaden the boundaries of their work.

A young deer is struck and badly injured on a dark, suburban road one winter night. The sheriff-a new mother, only recently back to work after her maternity leave-arrives on scene. After some assessment, the sheriff decides she must put the deer down and shoots it in the head. Whether the shooting was just, we're not quite sure. One thing is for certain, deer, in general, have become a problem in society. They are reckless, bread constantly and threaten human safety. But when the humans design laws to regulate "population control," nature's course is disrupted.

"The 4802 residency is an exciting opportunity to bring the strange story of a deer and a sheriff to life," says Chandrashekar. "We're experimenting with a few different storytelling devices-from live performances to video and sound elements-and we know some of our ideas will work, and some may not. We're so grateful to have support and encouragement from The Gift to tell this story, test ideas, learn from mistakes and hopefully, innovate."

Stern adds, "The Gift has given us this amazing opportunity to collaborate on this non-traditional piece that focuses on creation by the ensemble. They have given us the room to try what none of us has done before in a safe and incredibly supportive environment. This is a rare jewel in theatre that makes the folks at The Gift so special."

Since opening its storefront in 2005, The Gift has defied preconceptions of what's possible in an intimate space. Their production of Grapes of Wrath, the world premieres of David Rabe's Good for Otto, Mat Smart's Royal Society of Antarctica, ensemble member Laura Marks' Mine, as well as Caryl Churchill's Cloud 9, Stephen Adly Guirgis' Last Days of Judas Iscariot, ensemble member Will Eno's Oh, the Humanity (and other exclamations), and Marco Ramirez's Broadsword are projects that have challenged rational storefront logic in terms of size, scope, cost, and ambition. With the development of 4802, the Gift will pioneer the boundaries of storefront theater even further.

"The vision and challenge of 4802 is to invest in artists we believe in, and to provide them with the opportunity to stage the impossible in a storefront space. We're thrilled to work with Mara and Adithi, and to have Open Season launch our 4802 program. This is a highly ambitious piece, innovative in storytelling and form - and we're deeply inspired by Adithi and Mara's passion. We're thrilled to provide them a lab space where they can experiment, innovate, and challenge the constraints of the storefront theater," said 4802 Producer Monty Cole.

Performance schedule
Friday, September 15 at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, September 16 at 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, September 17 at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets for Open Season are FREE And are available by calling the Gift's box office at 773-283-7071 or visiting

About The Gift Theatre

The Gift's 16th season consists of three world premieres and kicked off in February with Mona Mansour's war-torn drama Unseen, directed by ensemble member Maureen Payne-Hahner, followed by Claire Kiechel's Pilgrims, co-directed by ensemble member Michael Patrick Thornton and guest artist Jessica Thebus (June 2-July 30). The season closes with Janine Nabers' time-hopping love story A Swell in the Ground, directed by guest artist Chika Ike (October 13-December 10). Season subscriptions are available for as little as $75. The Gift subscribers ("Gifters") receive admission to three shows, free parking at Gale Street Inn, free admission to all Wednesday night "Natural Gas" improv shows and invitations to special subscriber-only special events. Subscribe at or call 773-283-7071.

Published in Upcoming Theatre

As soon as I saw the warm, rich lighting of a luxurious futuristic bedroom on the Space Ship Destiny lit and decorated by designers Heather Gilbert and Christopher Kriz and the set design by Arnel Sancianco, where the entire action of the play takes place, I thought this is going to be an interesting show. To the right of the set was a spaceship departure board with the names and photos of the passengers, along with their assigned room number, as they were headed to a planet three months away from Earth. The other ships had names like Fortune, Kismet, Prospect and Horizon suggesting that the people leaving earth are doing so willingly and must have enough money to do so. Smooch Medina’s spaceship flight calendar and wall projection also counts down the number of days the passengers have spent locked on this room together, which is a great tension builder as well. 

There are just three characters in the play. One a soldier who is suffering from PTSD from a previous mission in which he witnessed the killing of civilians that haunts him still in a variety of deep emotional ways. He has requested a private room because he cannot sleep well while struggling with his inner demons but somehow an attractive young woman passenger has been placed in the room with him, much to his disapproval. Ed Flynn portrays this sensitive, journal-writing soldier (previously referred to as “Grant”) who is also prone to violent mood changes and outbursts with great feeling and a sweaty intensity that is frightening at times. 

When you consider that he is locked into this “hotel room" for three full months due to a quarantine placed on certain sick members aboard the ship with a petite young female to whom he objects, it’s not difficult to imagine the strain that gradually surmounts. Janelle Villas does a wonderful job of showing the audience her fresh-faced bubbly enthusiasm while hiding a dark past that includes at least one rape, which has also left her in a state of PTSD. 

Co-directed by artistic director Michael Patrick Thornton and guest artist Jessica Thebus, the “Pilgrims” moves along quickly yet with subtle changes in the characters that seem very satisfying and real with a lot of emotional suspense and tension. We the audience wonder if these two characters will ever bond, or even reach their destination safely. We also ponder what will become of their edgy, ever-changing relationship once they are finally released from this artificial and close-quartered isolation into the general population of the new planet.  

The third character is a robot named Jasmine played with a great sense of humor and also an eerie, smiling menace by Brittany Burch. Jasmine has been programmed not only to answer all their questions and provide all their meals and cleaning services. She is also one of the older forms of “human-like robots” known for their ability to satisfy without any compunction - either member, male or female, with oral sex or intercourse if the human need arises.

The universality of two people meeting for the first time, learning about each other's baggage and foibles and being forced to overcome them in order to at least be friends if not lovers cannot be denied. This is a love story set in outer space plain and simple, even though it is suggested in the play that couples may have been placed together purposely to repopulate the new planet. 

I highly recommend this production for its unique retelling of a tale as old as time, when Fate meets Destiny and two very "human" human beings struggle to please each other while being true to their own individual dreams of the future but must in the end reveal the dark, undesirable places of their souls in order to overcome them and move into a deeper union free of mistakes or tragedies of the past.

Excellent performances and an imaginative script make Pilgrims a compelling and often humorous sci-fi love story that resonates. Pilgrims is being performed at Gift Theatre through July 30th. For more show information or to purchase tickets visit

Published in Theatre in Review

The Gift Theatre’s artistic director Michael Patrick Thornton, co-founder William Nedved and associate artistic director Paul D'Addario are proud to announce Tony Award-winning playwright David Rabe has joined the ensemble. Conceived in 1997 by Michael Patrick Thornton and William Nedved, The Gift Theatre’s mission was to grow and nurture an ensemble while laying roots in an artistically underserved Chicago neighborhood. Today, The Gift Theatre thrives in Jefferson Park as Chicago’s most intimate Equity theater, home to a nationally respected ensemble and daring new plays.


Rabe received a Tony Award for Best Play in 1972 for Sticks and Bones and also received Tony Award nominations for Best Play in 1974 for In the Boom Boom Room, 1977's Streamers and 1985's Hurlyburly. His critically acclaimed play Good for Otto received its world premiere at The Gift Theatre in 2015.


“Working with The Gift on Good for Otto, holed up in a hotel, pouring over text, and forging many more rewrites than I'd anticipated, more than anything I'd ever written before on a play already in rehearsal, I went into our ongoing rehearsals every day knowing that the actors of the ensemble would be there ready to take an enthusiastic run under Mike's simpatico eye at whatever I'd come up with,” says Rabe. “And then at a recent reading of a play whose scary, elusive tone escapes many actors, the ensemble members seated at the table with Mike and me found that tone within a few pages so effectively that their performances prompted such contagious laughter in all of us that it brought things to a halt more than once. It was some time ago that Mike invited me into the ensemble, but I'm hesitant to join anything other than unions or guilds. But a few days ago, remembering the reading, I thought: David, wake up. What are you waiting for? I wrote Mike to see if the door was still open. He checked with the cocker spaniel who he said makes these decisions, and I was told he approved. I'm ready to go.”


Similarly thrilled, Thornton comments, “Today marks the culmination of over a decade of producing and collaborating with David Rabe and his stunning works of art. From the earliest days of The Gift, David’s ouevre—powerfully searching, poetic, magical, haunted, and yearning—has always felt absolutely central to the emotional and ethical heart of The Gift. He has been such an aesthetic north star for us for so long that we are humbled and vivified to call David Rabe an ensemble member of The Gift. We’re excited to get to work.”


The ensemble is composed of actors, directors, writers and improvisers. For more than 15 years, The Gift Theatre has earned and deepened its reputation as an ensemble dedicated to acting of the highest caliber and a welcome home for new plays.


The now 32-member ensemble also includes:  Danny Ahlfeld, Maggie Andersen, Cyd Blakewell, Brittany Burch, Hillary Clemens, John Kelly Connolly, Paul D’Addario, Jenny Connell Davis, Brendan Donaldson, Will Eno, James D. Farruggio, Ed Flynn, Gabriel Franken, John Gawlik, Andrew Hinderaker, Marti Lyons, Alexandra Main, Laura Marks, Kenny Mihlfried, Benjamin Montague, Darci Nalepa, Keith Neagle, William Nedved, Lynda Newton, Sheldon Patinkin (in loving memory), Maureen Payne-Hahner, Mary Ann Thebus, Michael Patrick Thornton, Erica Weiss, Jay Worthington and Kyle Zornes.


About the Gift Theatre


TEN, The Gift’s annual kickoff celebration of ten-minute plays curated by artistic director Michael Patrick Thornton and associate artistic director Paul D'Addario took place in January. The all-new season consists of three world premieres and kicks off in February with Mona Mansour’s war-torn drama Unseen, directed by ensemble member Maureen Payne-Hahner (February 10–April 9), followed by Claire Kiechel’s futuristic Pilgrims, co-directed by ensemble member Michael Patrick Thornton and guest artist Jessica Thebus (June 2-July 30). The season closes with Janine Nabers’ time-hopping love story A Swell in the Ground, directed by guest artist Chika Ike (October 13-December 10). Season subscriptions are available for as little as $75. The Gift subscribers ("Gifters") receive admission to three shows, free parking at Gale Street Inn, free admission to all Wednesday night “Natural Gas” improv shows and invitations to special subscriber-only special events. Subscribe at or call 773-283-7071.


Published in Buzz Extra

I was expecting a great work of art from David Rabe, the American Tony Award-winning playwright, screenwriter and author, famous for his Vietnam trilogy (“Sticks and Bones”, “The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel”, “Streamers”), as well as other notable plays, like “Hurlyburly” and “In the Boom Boom Room”. I was not disappointed.


In “Good for Otto”, Artistic Director Michael Patrick Thornton does a fantastic job directing this three hour long presentation, which literally squeezed actors into every nook and cranny of his tiny but acclaimed stage at The Gift Theatre in Jefferson Park. 


David Rabe's writing is so enchanting, so spacious, and much like prose poetry at times that it lulls the audience into a type of trance which makes it possible to watch your own demons and thoughts even as the play is unfolding before you. 


Rabe tackles just about every aspect of mental health care including the maddening difficulty of getting treatment at all from insurance companies in this country!


Good for Otto is set in a small town based on the Northwest Center for Family Services and Mental Health in Torrington, Connecticut, where the psychotherapist Richard O'Connor worked and whose work, "Undoing Depression," is the main inspiration for the characters in this play.


Whether your problem is growing old and depressed in your 70's or cutting yourself at the age of 12, or even reliving your own mother's suicide when you were nine (which the psychologist/ narrator struggles with), Rabe shows that life can't just "go on as usual" unless you actually receive and accept professional help. 


Yes, the play is still in a type of workshop phase partly because Rabe's writing is all so lush, so poetic I can see where he is having trouble cutting any of it, yet it needs cuts because some of the minor characters just end up floating around, unfulfilled and confusing in what should be a cannonball of a play on the lifelong importance of treating mental illness - instead of a shotgun which scatters these powerful messages like buckshot. 


The entire fifteen member ensemble cast did a great job with a couple standouts. 


The beautifully sensitive and expressive twelve-year-old named Frannie and played by Caroline Heffernan was a very heartfelt yet real performance from someone so young. 


The other character who both made the audience laugh the most yet at the same time made all of us young, or old and in between, feel the genuine pit and hopelessness of geriatric depression came from Rob Riley.


The scene where the psychologist argues with an ice cold double talking insurance rep who flatly denies his multiple urgent requests for one on one treatment for a suicidal child is so common and written in way so true to life it actually sickened me. 


Given the fact that so many mentally ill people are now taking their illness to the street and killing innocent people time and time again in this country just shows that we have got to stop making it so difficult to get therapy. After all, therapy is cheap. It doesn't involve multi-million dollar machinery. It's just two people or a group of people talking it out, encouraging each other to keep on living in this crazy world. 


It was a great honor for David Rabe to choose both Chicago and The Gift Theater for the first staging of this very important and empowering play. I look forward to seeing it in its polished and more laser-like form here in Chicago again or on Broadway in the near future. 


“Good for Otto” is being performed at The Gift Theatre through November 22nd. For tickets and more show information visit 


Published in Theatre Reviews

Title and Deed is a one man show, a 65 minute monologue delivered on a bare stage with a few subtle lighting changes and the gentle rolling of the lead actor’s wheelchair to signal movement throughout the play.  Will Eno’s writing is often compared to Beckett but I found Eno’s work to be much more sensitive, compassionate and outright funny than Beckett’s plays. 

Chicago actor, Michael Patrick Thornton, (one of the founders of The Gift Theatre Co.) is brilliantly cast in the role of the “Traveler” from another world who is traveling feeling estranged from his own homeland, hoping that “the change of locale that comes with international air travel will somehow change him”.

Thornton is confined to a wheelchair - although the play does not call for the use of a wheelchair, and once seeing the play with him at the helm, one cannot imagine the play succeeding as well in its message without the lead character being disabled. Thornton has a remarkable sense of humor and a sad voice, rough with heartfelt regret, which lobs Eno’s long poetic sentences at the audience with a casual yet thoughtful pinpoint accuracy that evoked laughter and sometimes tears in a way that a lesser actor could not achieve. I was totally surprised to find out that the play was not written to be played by an actor in a wheelchair because much of the understanding we feel towards the Traveler comes naturally from seeing a young-ish man confined to a wheelchair - not from seeing a poor wanderer describing his mother’s death and his alienation from the world now that he has no real connection to his home and it’s joyful traditions.

 We all know instantly when we see the young man rolling up the small hill to the stage that because he is in a wheelchair he has suffered permanent and irreversible losses regarding his own lifestyle.  It almost doesn’t make sense to me to see this play cast with an actor without the wheelchair because so much of the truth about the character is implied and is true about the alienation from daily life, the shrinking of your whole world and fortune, which occurs when you are permanently disabled.

I absolutely adored Eno’s sparing, yet lyrical use of words.  What rolls off Thornton’s tongue like ear candy, comes off as true poetry, prose poetry, and paints vibrant, multidimensional scenes in your mind without the use of any set pieces, a painted backdrop or even additional characters.

Eno describes life as basically a “series of funerals” and perfectly describes the universality of how human life begins, “We all come from blood and saltwater and a screaming mother begging us to leave." I actually nodded in agreement and sensed a strong group nod from the entire audience - or as the traveler called us “a clump” of humans gathered to hear him speak - when he said we all know that feeling that life begins triumphantly, but as we lose more and more of the people who constitute our memories of what “home” is, we experience"the human cannonball feeling at the beginning; the sickening thump at the end."

Before the play, I had recently flown to attend the funeral of a very close immediate family member and was not in the mood for something that addressed the issue of death in any way - but I was won over and in the end transformed by the self denigrating humor, common sense and hopeful poetic beauty of this piece.

There was a tremendously universal line in the script, just a heartbreaking and truthful line when the traveler describes the last moment of his mother’s life in the hospital room, “her voice made this sound, this horrible raspy sound and … she just wasn’t my mother anymore.”

I literally walked in to this production feeling shaken with grief, trembling inside, feeling all alone while trying to make sense of my sudden and recent loss but  left feeling that everyone in the mostly middle aged or older audience and indeed everyone in the world must be suffering from many of the same deeply depressing feelings and thoughts.

I highly recommend seeing this extraordinarily written and performed production especially when you are feeling that “life is a series of funerals until the last funeral which is your own” because Eno has created a powerful and profoundly funny monologue about self acceptance, life and compassion which has a very healing effect.

Title and Deed is being performed at Lookingglass Theatre through May 3rd. For tickets and/or more show information visit

Published in Theatre Reviews



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