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"Are we still who we thought we were?"

"How much do we still value the culture we embraced a year ago?"
 
These are the questions that guided Theater Wit Artistic Director Jeremy Wechsler as he assembled the company's 2017-18 "smart art" season of contemporary, comedic plays: the return for the holidays of Mitchell Fain's tour-de-force This Way Outta Santaland (and other Xmas miracles) (November 24-December 30, 2017), the world premiere of Eric John Meyer's The Antelope Party, a comedy for our times with a My Little Pony theme (January 5-February 24, 2018), and the Chicago debut of Women Laughing Alone with Salad, the Internet meme turned satirical play by Sheila Callaghan (March 9-April 29, 2018).
 
"This has been a year of tsunami-sized cultural change. So many American ideals - media independence, social services, feminism, LGBTQ rights, anti-racism - seem under assault," said Wechsler. "But we have to stay true to ourselves, and that means comedies of reason and compassion. Our 2017-18 season offers three such vantages: the personal story of how a city became a sanctuary, a comedy of ponies and normalization, and a whirling examination of media culture and sexual politics. It's a set of three plays that you won't soon forget, comic works by contemporary artists timed to the exigencies of this moment."
 
Theater Wit is located at 1229 N. Belmont, in the heart of the new Belmont Theatre District in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood. The best way to secure seats to Theater Wit's 2017-18 season is to sign up for a Theater Wit Membership. Wit's Netflix-like "all the theater you can eat" deal lets members see as many plays at they want in any of theater's three spaces for one low monthly fee of $29/$22 for students, along with many exclusive member perks. Single tickets to Wit's 2017-18 season go on sale ten weeks before each show.

To purchase a Membership, inquire about Flex Pass options or to buy single tickets, visit theaterwit.org or call the Theater Wit box office, 773.975.8150.
More about Theater Wit's 2017-18 season

The return of
This Way Outta Santaland (and other Xmas miracles)
Written and performed by Mitchell Fain
Directed by Jeremy Wechsler
November 24-December 30, 2017

After completing an amazing workshop last year, Chicago's favorite holiday performer returns for a mainstage tour-de-force of his unique blend of storytelling, improvisation and cabaret.

This Way Outta Santaland (and other Xmas miracles), written and performed by Mitchell J. Fain, pulls together a host of holiday stories from the audience along with his own autobiographical war stories about how family, drunks, jewelry, funerals, 250 performances and the holiday spirits collide.

Chicago's newest holiday tell-all is this sweet, sentimental evening of hard truths that change night to night, with lovely cameos by Chicago cabaret powerhouses like Meghan Murphy and madcap pianist Julie B. Nichols.

"Highly recommended. A brand new, indispensable tradition, at once hilarious, tragic, moving and profane." - Chicago Theater Review


A World Premiere
The Antelope Party
By Eric John Meyer
Directed by Jeremy Wechsler
January 5-February 24, 2018
It's sometime in the 2010s. The Rust Belt Ponies Meet Up Group for Adult Fans of My Little Pony has gathered in Ben's Philadelphia apartment, but two members have not yet arrived. A new recruit seems unusually shy and curiously paranoid about a local neighborhood watch group. What happened to their Pegasister, Maggie? Why is Brony Doug so paranoid? What does it all have to do with the 9/11 Truthers and an emerging group of "concerned citizens?" In the midst of increasing violence and authoritarianism, how can our heroes see the magic in Everypony? And, even worse, what if they do? 
 
And that's just the first ten minutes of Meyer's amazing and timely new comedy. With its My Little Pony cult prism, Meyer explores the rise of a new social order and how the currents of history, normalization and fear can sweep up even the most Generous ponies of Celestia.
 
Eric John Meyer is a playwright and performer/director/producer based in New York City. His work has been developed or presented by Playwrights Horizons, Clubbed Thumb, Vineyard Theatre, Actors Theatre of Louisville, The Flea, Dutch Kills Theater Company and The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, among others. He is a member of the Actor's Studio Playwright/Director Unit and a recipient of a new play commission from Playwrights Horizons. Meyer is a co-founder of Human Head Performance Group and The Truck Project, both of which he established with his partner, Jean Ann Douglass. He received his MFA in Theater from Sarah Lawrence College.

 

A Chicago Premiere
Women Laughing Alone with Salad
By Sheila Callaghan
Directed by Devon De Mayo
March 9-April 29, 2018
Dangerous, fierce and funny, Women Laughing Alone with Salad bursts out of the bounds of internet meme-dom and onto the stage in a four person comic tour-de-force about friendship, salad, sex, bodies, yoga, salad, men, envy, women, pharmaceuticals, diets, salad and uppers and salad.
DC Theatre Scene called this hilarious satire about how we live with ourselves, or possibly, how we can't, a "fresh, funny play...the poster child for what feminist theatre should be: a great night out on the town watching a slambam comedy which is also a serious conversation about the society we oh-so-currently live in."
 
Devon de Mayo makes her Theater Wit directorial debut with Women Laughing Alone with Salad. Her recent directing credits include Court Theatre's Harvey and Raven Theatre's world premiere Sycamore.

Sheila Callaghan's plays have been produced and developed with Soho Rep, Playwright's Horizons, Yale Rep, South Coast Repertory, Clubbed Thumb, The LARK, Actor's Theatre of Louisville, New Georges, The Flea, Woolly Mammoth, Boston Court and Rattlestick Playwright's Theatre, among others. Callaghan is the recipient of the Princess Grace Award for emerging artists, a Jerome Fellowship from the Playwright's Center in Minneapolis, a MacDowell Residency, a Cherry Lane Mentorship Fellowship, the Susan Smith Blackburn Award and the prestigious Whiting Award. Her plays have been produced internationally in New Zealand, Australia, Norway, Germany, Portugal, and the Czech Republic. These include Scab, Crawl Fade to White, Crumble, We Are Not These Hands, Dead City, Lascivious Something, Kate Crackernuts, That Pretty Pretty; Or, The Rape Play, Fever/Dream, Everything You Touch, Roadkill Confidential, Elevada, Bed and Women Laughing Alone with Salad. She is published with Playscripts.com and Samuel French, and several of her collected works are published with Counterpoint Press. She has taught playwriting at Columbia University, The University of Rochester, The College of New Jersey, Florida State University, and Spalding University. Callaghan is an affiliated artist with Clubbed Thumb and a member of the Obie winning playwright's organization 13P. She is also an alumni of New Dramatists. In 2010, Callaghan was profiled by Marie Claire as one of "18 Successful Women Who Are Changing the World." She was also named one of Variety magazine's "10 Screenwriters to Watch" of 2010. Callaghan is currently a writer/producer on the hit Showtime comedy Shameless and a founder of the feminist activist group The Kilroys. She was nominated for a 2016 Golden Globe for her work on the Hulu comedy series Casual and a 2017 WGA Award for her Shameless episode "I Am A Storm."

About Theater Wit
Theater Wit, Chicago's "smart art" theater, is a major hub of the Chicago neighborhood theater scene, where audiences enjoy a smorgasbord of excellent productions in three, 99-seat spaces, see a parade of talented artists and mingle with audiences from all over Chicago.

"A thrilling addition to Chicago's roster of theaters" (Chicago Tribune) and "a terrific place to see a show" (New City), Theater Wit is now in its seventh season at its home at 1229 N. Belmont, in the heart of the new Belmont Theatre District in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood. 

The company's most recent hits include 10 Out of 12 and Mr. Burns, a post-electric play by Anne Washburn, Naperville by Mat Smart, The New Sincerity by Alena Smith, Bad Jews by Joshua Harmon, The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence and Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England by Madeleine George, and Completeness and The Four of Us by Itamar Moses.

In 2014, Theater Wit was awarded the National Theatre Award by the American Theatre Wing for strengthening the quality, diversity and dynamism of American theater. Theater Wit also brings together Chicago's best storefront companies at its Lakeview home, including 2017-18 resident companies About Face, Kokandy Productions and Shattered Globe.

To receive an "artisanal selection of consonants and vowels from Theater Wit," sign up at TheaterWit.org/mailing for exclusive updates, flash deals and behind-the-scenes production scoop every few weeks.

Published in Upcoming Theatre

Ever wonder what happens behind the scenes leading up to opening night at the theater? Do you have any idea how much detail goes into a stage production? Can you imagine the funny moments that could take place while building a set or rehearsing lines? Do directors really get as frustrated as we hear? 

Theater Wit brings to the stage the latest, and possibly most innovated, work by author Anne Washburn 10 Out of 12. A headset rests on each seat in the theater for audience members to wear as they become engulfed the midst of tech rehearsals just one week prior to a production opening. We hear random chatter and instruction from the stage crew as 10 Out of 12 gives us an in-depth view of the goings on behind the scenes of mounting a show. Burns, known most recently as the playwright behind Mr. Burns, A Post Electric Play that found a successful run at Theater Wit in 2014, delves into the high stress that comes with detailing theater specifics such as lighting, cues and prop placement while also touching on actor stereotypes, tantrums and the desire in some to hold their work to a standard that demands integrity.

“No one in Chicago has ever seen anything like 10 Out of 12. Simultaneously exacting real-to-life and riotously funny, Anne Washburn’s detonation of a single technical rehearsal is promising to be a unique and thrilling viewing experience,” said Jeremy Wechsler, Artistic Director of Theater Wit and director of 10 Out of 12.

We watch as the production team fastens bolts to secure the set, samples the lighting and sound from scene to scene, place each mark to the director’s satisfaction and amuse themselves during down time. We see actors rehearsing their lines, suggesting where changes might be made (usually to the director’s chagrin). In our headsets we get a real feel for the high levels of demand that must be met along within a time crunch that increases by the minute. We also hear stage hands discussing their lunch and such, along with occasional side remarks about what is transpiring on the set. The fourth wall is often broken with actors using the aisles and theater as though an audience were not present, the director and actors often taking a seat amongst us to watch their handiwork from a patron vantage point. 

The production as a whole is a truly inimitable experience and provides an insight to theater that most may not be familiar with, adding a new appreciation for the art. Upon leaving the theater many discuss how they’ve had no idea the work and precision involved in mounting a play, making 10 Out of 12 an informative piece – perhaps also an homage to those behind the scenes.

Star Chicago theater personalities are recruited to provide pre-recorded roles such as John Mahoney, Martha Lavey, Barbara Robertson and Jeremy Wechsler, Mahoney delivering some of the play’s funniest lines. The stage cast also packs a punch with Erin Long, Adam Shalzi, Dado, and Riley McGliveen as the production team, Shane Kenyon as The Director, and Eunice Woods, Gregory Fenner, Christine Vrem-Ydstie, Kyle Gibson and Stephen Walker as the actors. Walker, taking advantage of several moments to shine in only the way he can in delivering highly-charged monologues with just the right amount of entitlement and sardonic flair as the veteran actor brought in to bring credence to the production. Walker’s character questions the truthfulness in his character, conflicted by his passion for honest art, which he feels is losing its grip in modern day theater.  

So what does the title 10 Out of 12 mean? A 10 out of 12 is a day in which, per the rules of Actors Equity, the actors are contracted to work for 12 hours with one 2-hour dinner break. It’s during that time that all the designing elements of the production are united as a whole, as costumes, sound, lighting, projections, set and acting are fine-tuned just prior to a show’s opening. 

When asked why she wrote a play about a tech rehearsal, Washburn descriptively states, “A decade ago most theaters didn’t have Wi-Fi…and no one is more useless in tech than the playwright. So, I began taking notes. I was fascinated by the strange surreal interplay of light and music. I loved the mysterious technical languages being used around me, the rhythmic drone of the calling light and sound cues. I liked watching the actors freed from their normal self-consciousness. I liked the low continual volume of play which bubbled up throughout the tech as a desperate counterpoint to the long periods of tedium and waiting. And the endless snacking, and discussion of snacking.”  

Throughout the production we hear small talk between the techs – everyday musings that are often quite humorous. We also hear the actors talking hopefully about getting their big break, but also turning down roles for the sake of integrity. At one point the leading actress asks the stage manager if she can leave early to audition for a role in a pilot. We have entered the world of theater. 

As much as this often funny and revealing play is a fantastic chance to catch the inner-workings of theater production, it misses a few opportunities that were begging for the injection of timely humor, at points drifting away only to grab the audience again just in time. It would also have been nice if the script called for a larger role from Mahoney, whose well-timed remarks were almost always met with crowd laughter. Notable was the play’s pace, perhaps running about thirty minutes too long (two and a half hours plus intermission), making the thought of a slightly condensed version somewhat appetizing. Washburn's story nicely envelopes the stresses, complications and rewards in theater production. 

Still, there is much to like in 10 Out of 12, the good outweighing the bad by significant measure. One should expect a fun lesson in Theater Production 101 that is coupled with fine acting performances and enough humor that insures an overall pleasant experience. The headsets are a nice touch, giving audience members an opportunity to feel at times as though they were part of the production team.  

10 Out of 12 is being performed at Theater Wit through April 23rd. For tickets and/or more show information click here

 

 

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Filled with clever and rapid-fire dialogue exchanges, The New Sincerity is a fast-moving comedy written by Alena Smith, one of the nation’s top young, up and coming women writers. The play’s title is explained well in its press release - "Erudites among us know "New Sincerity" is an actual term used in music, aesthetics, film criticism, poetry and philosophy, generally to describe art or concepts that run against prevailing modes of postmodernist irony or cynicism." And there is plenty of cynicism and irony to be found in the latest comedy/drama at Theater Wit that deals with millennials and the idealism of the Occupy Movement. 

As co-founder of a highly regarded online political journal, Asymptote, Benjamin, a Harvard literature graduate, is always looking for hard-hitting and thought provoking material to maintain status among their peers and competitors. Just less than a block away from their office is the Occupy Movement where protesters converge in the park all throughout the day and night. Benjamin’s newly appointed senior contributor, Rose, has a strong interest in doing a piece on the protest, but he is insistent she stay far removed for fear of taking sides. Disregarding Benjamin’s direct order, Rose not only checks out the movement firsthand but creates a relationship with one of the protesters, Django. As feared, word gets out about an Asymptote staff member being associated with the Occupy Movement and Benjamin not only takes the criticisms from his co-owner and faithful readers, but he fears how this will affect his fiance's upcoming book release since her last book, Death of the Left Wing clearly believed that the modern protest is dead and ineffective. Furious at Rose for screwing up the journal’s branding, she finally convinces Benjamin to visit the movement, which he reluctantly does. 

The story then becomes that of an opportunist and the hypocrisies that come about as Benjamin realizes the potential afoot and does a complete turnaround to where he can’t get enough coverage on the movement, even to the point that he lies about being involved from day one. We also see the hollowness in Benjamin regarding his relationship with women as he states he does not really believe in love and deep connections, much the opposite of Rose. 

Smart and brutally honest, The New Sincerity offers tremendous acting performances by each of its four cast members. Drew Shirley as is energetic and finely projects the qualities to make a convincing Benjamin who is incapable of fully connecting emotionally. At the same time, Maura Kidwell as Rose is perfectly cast as the grounded one who seems to get it in the play while Erin Long as the very funny tell-it-like-it-is intern Natasha and Alex Stein as the protest because there’s a protest protester Django also provide a huge spark.

I really enjoyed the set which was a cozy two-story office with large windows giving us a peek at New York City. As the scenes changed, large computer monitors would tell us what month it was giving us a nice idea of a time frame.

I liked the direction of this play by Jeremy Wechsler, as I felt he outstandingly captured the essence of millennium living, ideals, social media marketing and stereotypes. The often overly politically correct gender pronoun usage was also addressed when a friend of Django’s insisted on being called dragon as she did not identify with male or female. I wasn’t quite sure if Smith was taking a jab at renaming our own gender to whatever we want or embracing the fact that we can.   

The New Sincerity has plenty of very funny dialogue exchanges and provides a story that is paced very well with plenty of memorable moments. I recommend this fiercely funny play, which is being performed at Theater Wit through April 17th. For more show info visit www.TheaterWit.org.            

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

Use the bathroom before you take your seat at Theater Wit for Joe Mantello’s stage adaptation of David Sedaris’ now-classic holiday essay, Santaland Diaries. Trust me. The show runs one hour 20 minutes without an intermission.

But more to the point, you will laugh your jingle bells off!

Mitchell Fain tears down the fourth wall as “Crumpet,” a dishy, disgruntled, forty-four-year-old elf at Macy’s department store. Dressed in stripy tights and crushed velvet, he deftly channels Sedaris’ wry, acerbic wit and gives us an all-access pass into the underbelly of the North Pole.

Directed by Jeremy Wechsler and performed in the intimate theatre space of Theatre Wit, Fain stars as Crumpet and flawlessly delivers a seventy-five minute monologue that is dark, witty and often will have audience members doubling-over with laughter. Fain's performance is deliciously wicked whether spouting off hysterical dialogue or improvising with the audience in his own, unique and devilish way. Fain is able to get his point across with the tiniest gesture or most subtle facial expression.   

Now returning for over five years straight, Santaland Diaries has become a true Chicago holiday tradition. However, due to its mature content, the show is not recommended for kids, though it will be sure to please the adult crowd.

If you’ve ever wondered what your mall Santa and his elves are really thinking, see Santaland Diaries at Theater Wit until December 30, 2015. A must see, you can order tickets online at https://www.theaterwit.org/plays/santaland/. 

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

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