Theatre

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 thegifttheatre.org.

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 http://thegifttheatre.org/ or call 773-283-7071.

Published in Upcoming Theatre

David Rabe’s Visiting Edna is everything you expect from Steppenwolf Theatre: a work of depth and significance, actors rendering studied characters, and production values of the highest order. 

Rabe’s writing also displays another Steppenwolf hallmark: plays that mine the power and drama in the ordinary language of daily life. Edna (Debra Monk is sensational) is an Iowa widow soldiering through a litany of ills – heart failure, colostomy, colitis, diabetes and cancer – all conspiring to come in for the kill. Her middle-aged son Andrew (Ian Barford gives what will surely be a definitive performance) visits to check in on her, and decides to see if better medical advice might improve her condition. 

This may sound grim, or even boring. It is anything but. Though Edna babbles endlessly - as mothers may – her almost hypnotic patter is laced with incisive reflection and homespun wisdom, engaging her son (and the audience). She also begins settling accounts, handing off possessions and revealing scars from her own upbringing from which she sought to shield Andrew and his sister. Edna vividly relates the impact on her own childhood of the fraught circumstances of her older sisters’ teenage miscarriage and battle with tuberculosis. 

Edna’s end of life scenario affords moments of reflection, recall, and bonding with Andrew. Edna, born in 1926 to a world devoid of social media - or psychotherapy, for that matter - regrets in hindsight the physical discipline she inflicted on Andrew, and worries over her own careless decision to bring Andrew, age four at the time, to watch a hotel fire at which guests jumped to their deaths.  "It's just so different now, that's all," Edna says. 

The play also hums with a magical realism, as the dying Edna is pulled between two polarities familiar to anyone who has tread the path of serious illness: a distracting television, and the illness itself. In Visiting Edna, Actor One (Sally Murphy in a beautifully crafted and inspired performance) plays a channel-flipping Television, breaking the wall to address the audience in her opening monologue. She even relates the playwright's reflections on whether to wear rabbit ears or a dish antenna.)

Tim Hopper as Actor Two, plays Edna’s cancer through most of the play. (Note to Hopper fans: this is one his best roles.) Hopper’s knowing, insidious cancer recounts Edna's ailments, and telsl the audience, "Yet, she is desperate to live." Cancer offers gloomy reminders to Edna ("It's a dark hole you're in.") and competes mightily with Murphy’s sprightly Television for attention. In fact, neither wins it. As Actor Three (in a stunning walk-on role), Michael Rabe is at once frightening and believable as an angel of death. 

The stage itself is quite awesome: a sky tunnel right out of Magritte hovers above a split level living room. Stormy weather was so convincingly portrayed I was surprised the streets were dry when I left the theater. Kudos to David Zinn for set design, Marcus Doshi on lighting, Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen for  music and sound design. Artistic director Anna Shapiro, famed for August: Osage County, oversaw the show and guides this season at Steppenwolf. 

This wonderful production has just one drawback: the ending, which seems to drag, as Andrew addresses the audience in a lengthy, tearful soliloquy about Edna’s final moments. 

That aside, Visiting Edna is as good as it gets on stage. It runs through November 6, 2016 at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre.

Published in Theatre Reviews

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 www.thegifttheatre.org. 

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

 

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