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Writers Theatre, under the leadership of Artistic Director Michael Halberstam and Executive Director Kathryn M. Lipuma, concludes its 2016/17 season with the musical Parade, with book by Alfred Uhry and music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, co-conceived by Harold Prince.  The Writers Theatre production of Parade is directed by Gary Griffin and features musical direction by Michael Mahler and choreography by Ericka Mac.  Parade runs May 24 – July 2, 2017 in the Alexandra C. and John D. Nichols Theatre at 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe. 

 

This stirring, Tony Award-winning musical explores the endurance of love and hope against seemingly insurmountable odds, telling the true story of Leo Frank, a Brooklyn-born Jewish man falsely accused of murder in 1913 Atlanta. Innovative and daring, and filled with soaring music, Parade is a moving love story, a riveting murder mystery, a gripping courtroom drama and a powerful exploration of innocence and naïveté coming face-to-face with ignorance and prejudice.

 

Acclaimed director Gary Griffin, who directed the original Broadway production of Jason Robert Brown’s Honeymoon in Vegas and the world premiere of his The Trumpet of the Swan at the Kennedy Center, stages an intimate revival of this celebrated musical. With a book by playwright Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy) and a score by Brown (The Last Five Years, The Bridges of Madison County) that combines folk, rock, R&B and gospel, Parade ends WT’s 25th Anniversary Season with spectacular impact.

 

“I had the pleasure of being directed by Gary in a Writers Theatre production of Joe Orton's Loot. He is one of my favorite directors and one of my closest friends, and it is a privilege to be in collaboration with him again,” said Artistic Director Michael Halberstam.  “I have enjoyed many, many years of conversation with him over copious glasses of wine discussing masterwork musicals and how best to make them work. I cannot express how happy I am then to be working on supporting Gary’s vision for Parade, a musical that has suddenly become disturbingly relevant given the deeply unsettling swell of anti-semitism.  The Anti-Defamation League recently announced that cases of anti-semitism have spiked 86% in the first quarter of this year, proving the old adage that ‘the more things change the more they stay the same.’

 

“Gary has assembled a first-rate cast with breathtaking vocal prowess and a first-rate design team to create the world in which they bring Mr. Brown and Mr. Uhry’s bravura masterwork to life.  Parade is a fully cohesive musical voyage into the triumph of love and the dangers of what can happen when the fires of hatred are irresponsibly stoked within an unhappy and angry populace. Musically, it defies simple definition while maintaining accessibility and a deep emotional core. It is a fitting way to close the season and it passes a symbolic baton to Trevor, a brand new musical which opens next season and strikes open a whole new adventure of its own.”

 

The cast of Parade includes: Larry Adams (Old Soldier/Judge Roan/Ensemble), Patrick Andrews (Leo Frank), Brianna Borger (Lucille Frank), Jonathan Butler-Duplessis (Jim Conley), McKinley Carter (Mrs. Phagan/Sally Slaton), Devin DeSantis (Britt Craig/Young Soldier/Ensemble), Kevin Gudahl (Hugh Dorsey/Ensemble), Derek Hasenstab (Governor John Slaton/Ensemble), Nicole Michelle Haskins (Minola "Minnie" McKnight/Angela), Caroline Heffernan (Mary Phagan/Essie/Ensemble), Zoe Nadal (Monteen/Ensemble),Jake Nicholson (Frankie Epps/Ensemble), Jeff Parker (Tom Watson/Ensemble), Leryn Turlington (Iola Stover/Ensemble), andJonah D. Winston (Newt Lee/Riley).

 

The creative team includes: Matt Deitchman (Associate Music Director & Piano/Conductor), Scott Davis (Scenic Designer), Mara Blumenfeld(Costume Designer), Christine Binder (Lighting Designer), Ray Nardelli (Sound Designer) and Scott Dickens (Properties Master). Bobby Kennedy is the Dramaturg, David Castellanos is the Production Stage Manager and Nick Moran is the CFM Contractor.

 

Single tickets for Parade, priced $35 - $80, are available online at www.writerstheatre.org, by phone at 847-242-6000, or in person at the box office at 325 Tudor Court in Glencoe.

 

PARADE On-stage Seating

For adventurous theatregoers who want to be part of the action, Writers Theatre is offering a limited number of special on-stage seats for every performance of Parade!

 

These special on-stage seats, reachable via curved staircases, will be on a raised platform at the back of the stage so that the audience will fully surround the action on stage. This exclusive vantage point provides audience members an immersive experience of Parade, as the area will be located near the orchestra and will also be used by actors during the performance…

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

There is an expectation when one sees a play that they will be taken on a journey. Audiences want to get lost in a story line, lose all sense of time enjoy the escapism. When an audience is reminded that they are watching a play, however, and that play goes on seemingly for ages, it ceases to become escapism and becomes a classroom lecture. “Arcadia” is just such a play. Written by Tom Stoppard, it is not an easy play to describe in brief. It confusedly intertwines the past and present with multiple story lines following intellectual theories that verge on the point of being arrogant and difficult to grasp in a play like setting.

 

The play bounces between the early 1800's and the present day in a stately manor in England. At the core of play, the present day is trying to uncover what took place at the manor in the 1800's. In the past, a gifted 13-year-old girl, Thomasina, delves into deep theoretical analysis of higher mathematics and physics, jotting down her theories and equations, unknowingly for the future to see. Paralleling that story line is her tutor, Septimus, who cheats with the wife of a visiting poet while pinning for the master of the manor’s wife, and who was somehow-possibly-connected to the famous Romantic poet, Byron. Flash forward to the present day where an academic hopes to uncover if the tutor, Septimus, might have had some involvement with the death of that visiting poet, and that his possible connection to Byron might mean that Byron was involved in this death as well. But wait! There’s more! Paralleling that story line in the present day, one of the family members of the estate combs through old hunting logs and notes to see that the young girl, Thomasina might have been a genius on the brink of an intellectual breakthrough, and seeks to dive deeply into her notes to potentially uncover her genius and the work during her young and short life.

 

Underneath all of these story lines is the running theme of “Arcadia,” named for a pair of 17th century paintings that picture shepherds around a tomb with the words “Et in Arcadia ego” on it. The incorrect Latin phrase translates to “Here I am in Arcadia” but it’s more accurate translation is “Even in Arcadia, here I am” the “I” being death. Stoppard is quoted by his biographer as saying he “wanted the presence of death in the title.” Spoiler alert, death does happen and is one of the core subplots, a sort of “who-done-it,” but it is just another element to this complicated play. Another reach for the “intellectual stimulation.”

 

Cliff notes would have a tough time summarizing this play. The play has witty, smart, and biting dialogue, well delivered by an articulate and charismatic cast. But look away, or miss a line and you might miss an introduction to a key character, or their relation to the other characters, or their purpose of being in the play at all. If not for the clothing change and syntax you might get lost in which time period you are in. The audience is obligated to follow along with every line and process all the information rapidly in order to keep pace with this play. With a run time of 2 hour 55 minute and only a brief 15 minute intermission that is a tall order for an audience, and even tougher story to convey for the actors. But the new multi-million dollar Writer’s Theater wants just that, for the audience and actors to meet as one, to journey together and become fully immersed with the story. The immaculate theater is nestled in the cozy tree lined streets of downtown Glencoe, and will be a wonderful location for future high-quality theatrical productions on the North Shore.

 

Overall, “Arcadia” would be better as a novel, where a reader can pause to examine the characters, read internal monologues and gain an understanding of the characters’ motivations and thoughts. It would be easier to follow the time changes and carefully consider the many complex theories being presented and explored. I think the length of such a book would rival a Tolstoy novel, though nothing would be lost to the wings. A play that requires such rapt and intense concentration from an audience for such a long duration makes it unapproachable to someone looking to get lost in a story. Watching “Arcadia” audiences do get lost, but for all the wrong reasons. “Arcadia” runs through May 1st. Tickets are available at http://www.writerstheatre.org.

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

When a play is produced as often as “Doubt,” each theatre company must ask of itself, why now? What can our company give to this work that another has missed? Over the past decade or so, it’s becoming nearly impossible to open a newspaper and not read a headline about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. This play is endlessly topical, but can a play lose its punch if it’s overly produced? In Chicago alone we’ve seen several noteworthy companies take on “Doubt” and Writer’s Theatre is no exception.

Director William Brown has a unique vision for John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer Prize winner, and it’s remarkably effective in distinguishing this production. Staged in the Glencoe Union Church, this marks the first occasion Writer’s has done a site-specific engagement. It seems borderline blasphemous, but at the same time there’s nothing in the script that either supports or condemns organized religion. The highly atmospheric quality created by Brown even serves to underscore the authority of Sister Aloysius.

That said, Karen Jane Woditsch’s performance as the aggressive school principal is downright scary. Woditsch’s sharp features are constantly at work. There’s a contemplative, calculating look in her eyes throughout the show. It’s as if she sees right through you, just like she instructs naïve teacher, Sister James (Eliza Stoughton) to do. Her intensity in movement and severity in diction are on an entirely different level than the rest of the cast.

There’s a degree of ambiguity in Shanley’s text. Is Father Flynn guilty? It’s a choice the director and the actors must make. Without an actor’s certainty the role comes off as weak. Steve Haggard’s Father Flynn is very convincing, a fascinating choice considering so often Flynn’s character comes off as guilty from the get-go.

The well-being of a child is the central conflict in this briskly-paced work. The problem is the inherent coldness in this play. It’s beautifully worded, but highly mathematical in its structure. It’s too easy to be swayed by Sister Aloysius. Sister James exclaims that the school is run like a prison, and she’s right. It’s a different kind of child abuse. Given all the headlines and the tendency to be drawn to the salacious, it’s easy to overlook the lasting effects of educational system without warmth and life without grey area.

Through July 19th. Writer’s Theatre at Glencoe Union Church – 263 Park Avenue. 847-242-6000

Published in Theatre Reviews

The Diary of Anne Frank - Writers Theatre

According to legend, when Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich's Pulitzer Prize winning stage adaptation made its German premiere, audiences sat in a state of silent shock after the play ended. Nearly sixty years, countless productions, several films and hundreds of books about Anne Frank and the secret annex have made this story one of the most accessible pieces of Holocaust literature. In 1997, Wendy Kesselman adapted the original script for a Broadway revival that heightens intensity and includes more reference to the family's Jewish faith and to Anne's burgeoning sexuality.

Under the suburb direction of Kimberly Senior, Writers Theatre's production of Kesselman's "The Diary of Anne Frank" is as intimate as a story of this nature must be. Inventive staging immediately places the audience within the confines of the attic, fantastically designed by Jack Magaw. The Writers Theatre book store space is already intimate enough, but what Magaw has done to replicate the secret annex is nothing short of theatre magic. The tight quarters of this set paired with the vibrancy of the cast create an atmosphere in which emotional reaction is impossible to avoid.

What Senior extracts from her actors is a perfect storm of the best and the worst of humanity backed into a corner, in which the stakes really are life and death. Heidi Kettenring has the challenge of turning a mostly unlikeable character, Mrs. van Daan, into one of the show's strongest assets.  Kettenring balances warmth and tension in moments so electrifying that its current is contagious.

The title role is played by fourteen-year-old Sophie Thatcher who is the actual age of Anne Frank at the time of her internment. Thatcher plays the role with such surprising honesty and eloquence for an actress of her age. All her choices seem based on genuine instinct rather than what other historical documents tell us about the person Anne Frank was.

Despite the fact that everyone going into this play knows the tragic ending, and the unfortunate irony that Europe was liberated just a few months after their betrayal, it's easy to catch the show's infectious message of hope. The reason why this story lingers in our minds throughout the generations is its optimism. That no matter how dire the circumstances, faith in the good of people is what keeps the world in balance even when all seems lost.

The Diary of Anne Frank at Writers Theatre. 664 Vernon Ave, Glencoe. 847-242-6000. Through June 28th. 

Published in Theatre Reviews

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