Devastation permeates the set and plot of the Northlight Theatre’s Midwest premiere of By the Water – a powerful and moving production, written by Sharyn Rothstein and directed by Cody Estle, about a Staten Island, New York, family dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
Marty and Mary Murphy (Francis Guinan and Penny Slusher) fight to save in their storm-ravaged home and campaign to keep their neighborhood together even as their life-long neighbors and friends the Carters (Janet Ulrich Brooks and Patrick Clear) vow to leave and family secrets seep to the surface.
“In this play, natural disaster serves as a metaphor for the social and political change that forces generations to confront very real issues about their own lives – lives built on values that have become outmoded,” says Northlight Artistic Director BJ Jones. “Sharyn’s sharp sense of humor built on rich character development is sprinkled throughout, and the themes of justice and family values and loyalties emerge full-throated in her dialogue and her surprising plot.”
The Murphy’s are magnificently played by Guinan and Slusher, who give impressive performances imbuing the blue-collar couple with authenticity, humor and grit as they struggle to survive not only the brokenness of their community but the underlying betrayals within their family.
At the heart of this production is family and the idea that despite the mistakes and disloyalties as exemplified in the tattered relationship of brothers Sal Murphy (Jordan Brown) and Brian Murphy (Joel Reitsma), and the back-and-forth power struggle between Sal and his father Marty, that love and forgiveness can prevail and second chances are possible. Nowhere is this more evident than with Brian, who after a stint in jail, manages to find a second chance at love with Emily (played by Amanda Drinkall).
“[By the Water} is about confronting deep-seated personal problems in the face of a generational divide and finding a way to move forward,” Estle notes.
Rothstein developed the idea for the play after visiting Staten Island after Hurricane Sandy.
“Leaving behind a community, a lifetime of memories, seemed like an enormous leap of faith and an incredibly difficult decision, but the destruction was gut wrenching,” she says. “Yet, in front of one neat, clearly beloved house, a man who looked to be in his sixties was tending his lawn. With his whole neighborhood in ruins, with the majority of his neighbors already gone or figuring out how to leave, here was a man clearly standing firm. The image of him standing there amid so much loss was the genesis of my play.”
And that imagery is so indelibly visible in this production, which manages to peel back so many unexpected and complex layers while remaining thoroughly entertaining from its opening moments with the very effective sound effects to its poignant end. What makes this play so touching is not only the dynamic script and incredibly talented cast but the simple yet powerful stage design that evokes loss and pain as well a sense of home and place.
The creative team behind By the Water includes: Jeffrey D. Kmiec (scenic design), JR Lederie (lighting design), Rachel Laritz (costume design), Lindsay Jones (sound design) and Mara Filler (stage manager).
By the Water is playing at the Northlight Theatre in Skokie, Illinois, until April 23. Tickets are available at online at northlight.org.
Northlight Theatre, under the direction of Artistic Director BJ Jones and Executive Director Timothy J. Evans, announces its 43rd season, opening with the World Premiere of Bruce Graham’s Sanctions, directed by BJ Jones and featuring Mary Beth Fisher. The season continues with the Midwest Premiere of The Book of Will,Lauren Gunderson's new play about the creation of Shakespeare's First Folio, directed by Jessica Thebus; followed by the Chicago Premiere of the third play in Dominique Morisseau’s Detroit trilogy, Skeleton Crew, directed by Ron OJ Parson; and Martin McDonagh’s Tony Award-winning dark comedy The Beauty Queen of Leenane,directed by BJ Jones and featuring Kate Fry. Closing out the season is the Midwest Premiere of the heartwarming, music-filled comedy The Legend of Georgia McBride by Matthew Lopez, directed by Vanessa Stalling.
“Our 2017-18 Season brings back playwrights whose work we have been proud to present over the last few years. We're excited about our next world premiere with Bruce Graham, whose writing never fails to jolt us with topicality and humor. We'll also welcome back Lauren Gunderson, who brought us the wildly successful Miss Bennet; Dominique Morisseau, with the final installment of her Detroit trilogy; and Matthew Lopez, author of Northlight audience favorite The Whipping Man. I will be directing Martin McDonagh's The Beauty Queen of Leenane with the incomparable Kate Fry playing Maureen. It's a play I have always wanted to do, now celebrating its 20th Anniversary,” comments BJ Jones. “What thrills me the most is how generously our audience has embraced our efforts to discover new voices, new work, and new talents. In the last few years we have surprised audiences with work that has found its way into the canon nationwide. Our audience is our collaborator in creating art, and for that we are most grateful.”
The 2017-18 Season includes:
The World Premiere of
By Bruce Graham
Directed by BJ Jones
Featuring Mary Beth Fisher
September 14 – October 22, 2017
As a university nears the end of its probation for past NCAA violations, the athletic department gets back to the big business of college football: recruitment, alumni donations, and games on ESPN. Administrator Claire Torrance is responsible for improving player academics—despite resistance to her methods from the university dean. But when an overeager freshman tutor gets too close to some of the players, a new scandal threatens to blow up the whole program.
This biting world premiere comes from the author of Funnyman, White Guy on the Bus and The Outgoing Tide.
THE BOOK OF WILL
By Lauren Gunderson
Directed by Jessica Thebus
November 9 – December 17, 2017
William Shakespeare wrote some of the world’s most beloved plays – but without his friends, they may have been lost to history! Follow the members of Shakespeare’s own company as they cunningly navigate the production of the First Folio in 1623. They may not have any money or clear-cut rights to his work, but they’re armed with wit, humor, a deep camaraderie and a passion to preserve the plays that shaped their lives. With the help of their wives and colleagues, two actors set out not only to print a collection, but to uphold a legacy for the world.
By Dominique Morisseau
Directed by Ron OJ Parson
January 25 – March 4, 2018
At the start of the Great Recession, rumors of impending closure surround one of the last auto plants in Detroit. The nation’s financial crisis gets personal as each of the workers confronts the life-altering choices they must make if their plant goes under, while the supervisor is torn between allegiances to his makeshift family of co-workers and management’s “cost-saving” demands. When pushed to the limits of survival, how far over the lines are people willing to cross?
The third play in Dominique Morisseau’s Detroit trilogy, Skeleton Crew was named one of Time Magazine’s 10 Best Shows of the Year.
THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE
By Martin McDonagh
Directed by BJ Jones
Featuring Kate Fry
March 15 – April 22, 2018
This Tony Award-winning dark comedy is set in the provincial Irish town of Leenane. Forty-year-old spinster Maureen Folan lives with her manipulative ageing mother Mag, stuck in a caretaking relationship that has them both seething with resentment. When a romantic encounter finally sparks Maureen’s hopes for an escape from her dreary existence, Mag’s interference sets in motion a chain of events that is as tragically funny as it is terrifying.
THE LEGEND OF GEORGIA MCBRIDE
By Matthew Lopez
Directed by Vanessa Stalling
May 10 – June 17, 2018
A down-on-his-luck Elvis impersonator has an overdrawn checking account and a baby on the way. When a drag show takes over the entertainment at the Florida Panhandle bar where he performs, he’ll also be out of a job…unless he’s willing to step into some high heels. This heartwarming, music-filled comedy celebrates the unexpected path to finding your true voice.
Curtain times are: Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m.; Wednesdays at 1:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays at 2:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Sundays at 2:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.
Subscriptions to the 2017-18 Northlight Season are available through the box office, 9501 Skokie Boulevard in Skokie, by phone at 847.673.6300 or online at northlight.org. Renewals are currently available. New subscriptions will be available beginning in May 2017. With its wide range of ticket prices, discounted subscription packages and complimentary parking, Northlight remains of one of the best theatrical values in Chicagoland.
Subscriptions range in price from $99-$250. A limited number of season subscriptions for the Opening Night performances (also includes a reception with the cast) are available for $325, subject to availability. Northlight subscribers will have the first chance to purchase additional tickets before they go on sale to the general public. For more information, visit northlight.org.
Northlight Theatre aspires to promote change of perspective and encourage compassion by exploring the depth of our humanity across a bold spectrum of theatrical experiences, reflecting our community to the world and the world to our community.
Now in its 42nd season, the organization has mounted over 200 productions, including nearly 40 world premieres. Northlight has earned 198 Joseph Jefferson Award nominations and 34 Awards. As one of the area’s premier theatre companies, Northlight is a regional magnet for critical and professional acclaim, as well as talent of the highest quality.
Northlight is supported in part by generous contributions from Allstate Insurance; the Paul M. Angell Family Foundation; Robert & Isabelle Bass Foundation; BMO Harris Bank; Henrietta Lange Burk Fund; The Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation; The Chicago Community Trust; ComEd, An Exelon Company; The Davee Foundation; Edgerton Foundation for New American Plays Award; Evanston Community Foundation; Full Circle Foundation; Illinois Arts Council, a state agency; Kirkland & Ellis Foundation; The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; Melvoin Award for Playwriting; Modestus Bauer Foundation; National Endowment for the Arts; Niles Township; The Offield Family Foundation; The Pauls Foundation; Room & Board; Sanborn Family Foundation; Dr. Scholl Foundation; The Shubert Foundation, Inc.; The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust; The Sullivan Family Foundation; and Tom Stringer Design Partners.
Northlight Theatre follows up the hard-hitting drama “White Guy on the Bus” with another extra-base hit with the charming comedy "Outside Mullinger". Set in the Midlands of Ireland, Artistic Director BJ Jones directs this humorous love story that, though mostly transparent in its direction, offers a handful of fun surprises. Outside Mullinger is written by Pulitzer, Oscar and Tony Award Winning author John Patrick Shanley (Moonstruck and Doubt). Needless to say, Shanley has done it again.
“Having survived to my 60th year, I wanted to express joy,” says Shanley on writing Outside Mullinger. “I wanted to laugh, I wanted to name what is possible and beautiful about being alive.”
Set in the Midlands of Ireland we are introduced to two families that own neighboring farms that have been handed down for generations. Though Anthony and Rosemary have been neighbors for years, the two have secretly longed for each other, neither one the wiser. Despite the fact that they are somewhat outwardly gruff with each other, we see an underlying affection that is just dying to bust out. When Rosemary learns that Anthony's father "Tony Reilly" might not leave him the farm, she intercedes, changing paths in the process and ultimately creating new opportunities to express suppressed feelings.
The story is well written but its very talented cast is what truly makes this show a memorable delicacy. Acting and writing great Bill Norris is simply superb as "Tony Reilly", skillfully dishing out his lines with seasoned prowess and a profound candidness. Mark Montgomery is also right on mark and is highly likeable as Anthony and Kate Fry shines brightly with her razor sharp delivery and unbridled conviction as Rosemary. The chemistry and banter between Montgomery and Fry is nothing short of convincing, making the story as believable as it is cute and funny. Also contributing to the story’s sincerity is a rotating set that switches from one realistic farmhouse kitchen to another.
If you want a love story with just the right amount of laughs, challenges, tenderness and emotional depth, Outside Mullinger is a play with quick-witted and heartfelt dialogue that will certainly be enjoyed.
Outside Mullinger is being performed at Northlight Theatre through April 19th. Northlight Theatre is located at 9501 Skokie Boulevard in Skokie. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.northlight.org.
White Guy on the Bus is a powerful and very well-acted drama that asks several questions about modern day racism. In this highly provocative piece by Bruce Graham, we are met with race issues and opinions based on life’s experiences coming from both sides of the fence. We see how perception of race can be altered as one’s life situation changes or after impactful events occur. In this world premiere taking place at Northlight Theatre, award-winning Graham may have unleashed his best work to date.
Francis Guinan leads a very strong cast in this gripping story that mostly takes place in an upper class suburb. Ray (Guinan) is a successful “numbers guy” who makes the rich richer while his wife, Roz, has declined to teach in a privileged suburban school to work in one that is predominantly black in a tough neighborhood. We see a successful family whose son, Christopher, has recently become engaged to Molly. It doesn’t take long before Roz and Molly are engaged in tension-filled debates on race issues and socioeconomic divide – Roz who often speaks from her experiences of working with inner city school kids and Molly who has led a mostly sheltered life and appears to get most of her opinions from college. As the story continues we see that perspective changes with circumstance. And we soon wonder why Ray ditches his Mercedes to take round trip busses through the inner city on Saturdays. As Ray does this he befriends Shatique, a young black single mother who visits her brother in jail each Saturday.
White Guy on the Bus goes from engaging to intense with little warning. As the story progresses so does its intrigue. Guinan is commanding in a lights out performance as a man who is faced with heavy challenges while Mary Beth Fisher is also impressive in her role as Roz, organically delivering her lines to perfection. Patrice D. McClain makes her Northight debut and is very impressive as Shatique, a role that demands much expression and inner conflict. Also putting out a strong acting performance is Jordan Brown as Christopher in his return to Northlight (Sense and Sensibility).
This is a story that raises curiosity from the get go and builds interest with a sure-footed steady pace all the way to its climactic ending. Artistic Director BJ Jones does a stellar job in this play’s direction quickly moving the story back and forth without big scene changes.
White Guy on the Bus is a terrific piece of Chicago theatre that will certainly stick with you afterwards and perhaps have you questioning your own perspectives towards race issues. White Man on the Bus is playing at Northlight Theatre in Skokie through February 28th. For tickets and/or more information call 847-673-6300 or visit www.northlight.org.
*Photo - Mary Beth Fisher and Francis Guinan in White Man on the Bus
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