Madkap Productions Season Announcement ,

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie closes this weekend at the Skokie Theatre. I saw the production last weekend and there are two phenomenal performances that make the trip worth it. Megan Wells as Jean Brody and Josephine Longo as Sandy. Tickets are still available.

Additionally, Madkap Productions has announced the 2016 - 2017 Season and I will be directing The Seven Year Itch in February. I am excited to continue to work with Madkap Productions and Skokie Theatre and this challenging, fun, and renowned script!

 

 

 

 

Afterthoughts: Where Did We Sit on the Bus?, written and performed by Brian Quijada, directed by Chay Yew, and produced by Teatro Vista

Where Did We Sit on the Bus? is an autobiographical, live-mixing, theatrical journey of the senses. Brian Quijada bears his soul onstage for 90 minutes speaking, rhyming, and singing about American culture, growing up in Chicago, and imagining the life experience of his future child. This is a one actor tour-du-force of a performance that envelopes the audience through Quijada’s charm and talent. These melodies and beats will get stuck in your head and the spoken bits will incite your thoughts.

Chay Yew directs Quijada with a softness, allowing the actor’s natural charm to radiate from the stage and into the hearts and minds of the audience. The central question of the play is, of course, Where Did We Sit on the Bus?, but that only scratches the surface of Quijada’s thought provoking piece. Through beat box, charango, harmonica, and vocals, Quijada paints a vivid world of a young boy caught in between cultures and representing an American story.

Brian Quijada’s album, Where Did We Sit on the Bus?, is available on Spotify and for sale. You can enjoy most of the content found in the live show, as the production has closed.

Afterthoughts: Recent Tragic Events, by Craig Wright, directed by Georgette Verdin, and produced by Interrobang Theatre.

Recent Tragic Events, by Craig Wright, is a play that is sort of about 9/11. With national tragedy as his backdrop, Wright weaves together strands of 9/11, fate, chance, and puppets. Directed with deftness by Georgette Verdin, Interrobang Theatre’s recent production of Recent Tragic Events hits all the required marks for a solid production and evokes curiosity and intrigue without relying the fifteen year old event.

Together with the intimate stage of Athenaeum Theatre’s studio theatre, Recent Tragic Events invites the audience into the living room of Waverly (Laura Berner Taylor) on the unfortunately scheduled blind date of 9/12. This realistic setting is prefaced by the stage manager asking an audience member to flip a coin, and the result will propel one of two different versions of the script forward as tonight’s performance. These variables, the coin and the realistic setting, play with the familiar realism present in Wright’s script. The cast does an admirable job of handling Wright’s language and archetypical characterizations. This is to set up the reversal in act two, in which the stage manager is revealed to be an actor, the device of the coin false, and the final character introduced as a puppet. It is really a lot to process, but Verdin’s careful direction of the first act transitions the audience into a state of gleeful curiosity.

The play deals with tragedy and the web of a person’s choices. If we look at someone’s life in a telescopic manner, then none of the embroiled everyday decisions matter. Recent Tragic Events successfully deals with this nihilism by smothering it in absurdity. Puppets, coins, and crazy neighbors successful distract Waverly and the audience from the sense of impending doom about her missing sister.

Recent Tragic Events closed on April 10th. You can find out more about Interrobang Theatre and the upcoming production of Rajiv Joseph’s The North Pool on their website.

Afterthoughts: Hillary and Clinton, by Lucas Hnath, directed by Chay Yew, and produced by Victory Gardens Theatre.

The melding of our current political arena with multiverse theory, Lucas Hnath’s Hillary and Clinton inspires the mind to wander and wonder within a special existence. The play is set in a world not much unlike our own, yet different. The stage is set as a hotel room in Iowa, before the 2008 Democratic Presidential Caucus, in which a woman, named Hillary, is running. The play dabbles in our own reality while diverging in fascinating ways. The aim of the play is not to create a replica of Hillary, the Clintons, or our presidential process; rather, it is an exploration of a person in a single time and place. This intriguing premise perhaps sells the play as Hillary Clinton magical realism, but what is presented onstage is quite different than expectations would have you believe.

Chay Yew directs Hnath’s piece with a clinical aesthetic, examining the world of the ultra-polished, career politicians and their henchmen. The set design (William Boles) reflects this sterile environment and offers a completely white hotel room framed by an exposed stage. Perhaps the color of the piece was to be the intense characterizations or colorful science behind the play. The characterizations were disembodied from the text and often felt directed to be sterile or inhuman; however, the science successfully transformed the audience’s imagination. In a time in which Americans are inundated with election theory and editorial, it’s disconcerting to see a clinical approach to a woman the media tells us we know (or we don’t know). Hnath’s piece succeeds in these moments where this glimpse into the multiverse challenges the woman, our imagination, and the politico, and shakes our collective conscious.

Hillary and Clinton runs until May 1st, tickets can be found at Victory Garden’s website

Afterthoughts: A Phase, by Elise Spoerlein, directed by Spenser Davis, and produced by Broken Nose Theatre.

A Phase, by Elise Spoerlein, examines a young woman’s life post-breakup in the shiny and scary new landscape of Chicago. It is successfully reminiscent, poignant, and funny. Spoerlein deals with the cliché of a young girl discovering herself in the big city in an inventive and fresh way. Her dialogue is witty, her characters are human, and she pounds society’s crude expectations and prejudices of young women in this successful and beautiful new play.

A Phase is about someone transitioning to a new environment. This is something most people associate with; therefore, many plays attempt to deal with these situations. Many new plays fail to move past the navel-gazing of young urbanites dealing with personal issues and challenge the theatrical form with inventive storytelling and perspectives. Spoerlein captures the excitement of moving into Chicago for the first time (punctuated by the nostalgic and inventive use of video and projections) and navigating the opportunity of reinventing oneself without this short-sightedness. In fact, the play is built upon subverting the expectations of a relationship drama.

Spoerlein also plays the main character in the production. As she is onstage the entire time, the audience experiences Sam’s world through both her eyes and the four men that come onstage each scene. These men are only present for one scene each and, on the surface, could be considered stereotypes or gross representations of maleness. And they are. But those gross people exist in real life. And it is important to note the similarity between Spoerlein’s treatment of male characters to that of a play such as Neil LaBute’s Some Girls.

Sharp direction, poignant and witty dialogue, and fantastic actors make A Phase successful on every level. Sadly, I saw the closing performance. But please support Broken Nose Theatre in their next endeavors and the brave decision to become a Pay What You Can company.

A Phase closed on March 26th. For more information about Broken Nose Theatre and Elise Spoerlein.

Afterthoughts: The Adding Machine: The Musical, produced by The Hypocrites

Based on the original play by Elmer Rice. Musical by Joshua Schmidt & Jason Loewith, Directed by Geoff Button, Choreography by Katie Spelman, Musical Direction by Matt Deitchman, and Produced by The Hypocrites.

Musical theatre is often associated with sing-along refrains, catchy melodies, and heartfelt lyrics. When a subversive musical comes along, it takes some time to adjust. The Adding Machine: The Musical explores the dark side of technology and capitalism in this musical version of the 1923 play of the same name. The music, lyrics, and staging of this production remain topical in our uncertain 2016.

The production has a mechanical aesthetic that was present in the final piece of stagecraft and successfully informed the choreography (Katie Spelman) and movement (Director: Geoff Button). The choreography was fittingly discordant, as the actors chaotically moved furniture around the bare stage, mechanically moved to the staccato, and punctuated the discordance with movement slightly askew from nature.

I was disappointing that I didn’t see more of the inventive stagecraft in the vain of the maw of gears near the end; however, it was fascinating to see the choreography and direction handle the minimalistic aesthetic while simultaneously navigating the tough music, book, and lyrics.

This is a hard musical to produce and successfully publicized. I applaud The Hypocrites for undertaking the piece and successfully reflecting our current political and social consciousness into the mechanical boom of the 1920s. Corporations are currently working on methods to replace falsely secure workers with algorithms. As Mr. Zero saw his discipline replaced by an adding machine, blue and white collar workers today will experience this eventuality. How we deal culturally with this in the coming years will be worthwhile study. These questions, combined with the chaotic and discordant aesthetic, sound, and energy, make The Adding Machine: The Musical a worthwhile night at the theatre.

The Adding Machine: The Musical runs until May 15th. You can purchase tickets at The Hypocrites

Afterthoughts: Mai Dang Lao, by David Jacobi, directed by Marti Lyons, and produced by Sideshow Theatre Company

The moment you walk into the theatre for Sideshow Theatre Company’s production of Mai Dang Lao you are overwhelmed by a greasy craving of familiarity. David Jacobi’s new play takes place at your neighborhood McDonald’s. The set and costumes lovingly flirt with copyright infringement as this play explores the monotony, absurdism, and authoritarianism of fast food corporate culture. Directed by Marti Lyons, this production dissects a world that is often looked down upon by the average American. The stigma of a fast food career is looming over the characters as they navigate personal, business, and criminal relationships while dealing with the worst person in consumerism: the entitled fast food customer.

The play is based on real events. Without spoiling, I will applaud Jacobi’s subtle dialogue and characterizations as he emphasizes the parallels between corporate and authoritarian cultures. This play is hard to watch at times because of the despicable coercion that happens between manager and employee. This is driven home by the fact that these were real events. This is a point that Jacobi emphasizes during the final monologue, perhaps a tad heavy-handedly, but forgivable due to the sheer amount of shame present. Sarah Price deserves special attention for her overwhelming character arc: ending the piece with the aforementioned monologue. Also, Matt Fletcher’s strong performance as Roy, the assistant manager, is of special note. His performance evokes a combination of rage and pity that one only finds in the career assistant managers of the service industry. Having worked for several versions of “Roy” before, I can say that everything from the creepy touching of female subordinates to the attempts to socialize using Metallica seemed to be pulled directly from my own work experience.

Strong performances, solid directing, and a brave script make this a production with a lingering grasp on your thoughts. Best of all, it’s only 85 minutes. Mai Dang Lao runs until April 10th at Victory Gardens. Buy your tickets here. Recommended.

A brief end note: I read this play for a competition a few years back. It’s always fascinating and wonderful to see how new plays develop and surface in different areas. 

Afterthoughts: Jerusalem, by Jez Butterworth, directed by Joe Jahraus, and produced by Profiles Theatre

UPDATE: On June 8th, 2016 Chicago Reader published an exposé on abuse at Profiles Theatre. The theatre has since closed due to the deserved negative reactions among the Chicago theatre community. The space has recently reopened as a home for Pride Film & Plays. The allegations of decades of abuse taints Darrell Cox's performance in Jerusalem, as well as the artistic choices of Joe Jahraus. Please read the article as a companion piece to this review, it is important. 

***

Profiles Theatre’s currently running production of Jerusalem has all the sex, drugs, and trailer-raves one can hope for. Directed by Joe Jahraus, the play revolves around Rooster, a charming degenerate who spends his days in a drug and alcohol induced haze and his nights partying and misbehaving with the town’s adolescent population. Rooster spins tall tales about his origin and adventures and is a reluctantly accepted local legend. This doesn’t stop him from being in legal trouble regarding his hovel of debauchery.

The striking elements of the production were the superb scenic design (Thad Hallstein), framing the trash and the trailer with an ornate St. George’s illustration; the fairy-rave style outfits and general disarray of clothing (costume design: AmarA*jk); and, the blood-pumping, glow-stick thrusting, outrageous vignettes of party culture (lighting design: Mike Rathbun, sound design: Brandon Reed).

The ensemble, led by Darrell W. Cox’s disgustingly magnificent Rooster, tackles small town England with a stunning ease. Each character is a small part of the town (a pivotal character itself) and each actor adds a healthy amount of curiosity and intrigue to the village of Flintock.

All of these elements are brought together beautifully by director Joe Jahraus. The play is long but never tedious as the pacing switches between capturing the thrill of a never-ending night of partying and the numbness of the glorified hangover.

Jerusalem runs until April 24th at Profiles Theatre. Recommended.   

Afterthoughts: 2666, adapted and directed by Robert Falls and Seth Bockley, based on the novel by Roberto Bolaño, and produced by The Goodman

It takes a brave soul to see a five and a half hour long production on a weeknight. That was me on Wednesday night. It takes an unparalleled artistic bravado to tackle a sprawling, enigmatic, 900 page novel (1100 in the original Spanish) and adapt it into a compelling and unforgettable night of theatre. That was Robert Falls and Seth Bockley doing just that for The Goodman’s epic production of 2666, based on Roberto Bolaño’s novel. The stage and its inhabitants are transformed throughout the piece with beautiful effects, costumes, and acting, all guided by suburb direction. Marathon theatre is an increasingly popular choice in Chicago and it runs the risk of just not being good enough to sit and not cough for five or more hours. The Goodman and its lucky audiences are not going to run that risk.

The action of the play takes place in Europe and Mexico throughout the 20th century as a group of 1990s professors attempt to track down the elusive author that they have dedicated their lives studying. Meanwhile, in Mexico, young women are being murdered and a scholar is being haunted by his father’s voice. Later, but earlier in the play’s timeline, the elusive author’s life is presented in the style of a strange Prussian fairy tale (it looks as strange as it sounds). All of these stories (and the many branching stories) converge and diverge over the course of five and a half hours. The final effect is a connection to both the human characters, the strange worlds, and the voice of Bolaño, echoing posthumously through the piece.

Of particular note was Walt Spangler’s morphing and evolving scenic design. The high tech displays (Projection Design: Shawn Sagady) juxtaposed against the low tech gravel strewn across the stage is only one example of how the elements combined to create a magical sense of suspense and awe. Additionally, Richard Woodbury and Mikhail Fiksel’s music and sound design were unforgettable and instantly transported the audience into the haunting world of 2666. This was a good thing because the piece has three intermissions.

There was not a weak actor in the ensemble, performing 6 days a week and completely committed to the story and the world. The ensemble never stopped moving as a unit through space and time to express Bolaño’s beautifully frightening world.

Falls and Bockley have directed a production that will be remembered for its bravery and innovation. The use of screens, film, and voiceover seamlessly integrated alongside mime, slow-motion, and direct-address mark this as a successful display of low and high tech theatrical capabilities. I am most interested in what happened offstage, during the pre-production and rehearsal periods. How did this come together? How is it mapped to unfold each night? Or, maybe it I should keep this information as mysterious as Bolaño’s novel.

2666 runs through March 20th. Highly recommended. You will regret missing this theatrical feast. Purchase tickets here.

Afterthoughts: The Glass Menagerie, re-imagined and directed by Hans Fleischmann, and produced by The Hypocrites

The Glass Menagerie (producer: The Hypocrites) is an often produced piece of beautiful and gritty American playwriting. This new production, re-imagined and directed by Hans Fleischmann, has become the one to aspire towards. I cannot imagine producing this play without taking into account the absolute artistry and risk in this production. The changes seem simple in hindsight and are all rooted in the text. This was not a drastic deconstruction of Williams, but rather a honing and focusing of the issue and struggle beneath the story.

Tennessee Williams’ plays exist in a duality of beautiful language and gritty, human relationships. Because of the beautiful prose, his plays are most often directed to be pretty, period pieces about flawed (yet pretty) people in strange situations. Fleischmann’s philosophy was to get to the root of the human struggle and deep relationships that cause the world of the play to exist. The entire play is refocused as Tom (played by Fleischmann) is now a homeless, schizophrenic, pariah, bent on recapturing and retelling his memories. Laura (Joanne Dubach) is somewhere on the autism disorder spectrum, or, perhaps like Williams’ own sister, has been partially lobotomized. Amanda (Kate Buddeke) is overflowing with Southern charm and manners, as a cover for her desperate attempts at overcoming shame and regret. Jim (Zach Wegner) is shiny on the outside, yet filled with turmoil about the expectations of others. The four characters are stripped down onstage to their darkest secret in front of us, and use Williams’ prose to skillfully cloth themselves.

The noteworthy design aspects that augmented the sharp direction: the simple and haunting music (Daniel Knox), the empty bottles that doubled as the menagerie (Scenic: Grant Sabin; Properties), and the eerie projections thrown onto the rags hanging around the stage (Paul Deziel). The most magical moment of the production came at the end, when all the bottles lit up as Tom was saying goodbye to his family and his audience.

This production will serve as the measuring stick for not only The Glass Menagerie, but all work by Tennessee Williams. 

Post-Mortem: Beau Jest by James Sherman, directed by Stephen Genovese, and produced by MadKap Productions,

Madkap Productions’ Beau Jest, by James Sherman, ended a lucrative run at Skokie Theatre on February 21st and I was delighted to be part of the journey as the Assistant Director. This was my second time working with Madkap -- last year I had the same role for Same Time, Next Year. I admire the work ethic and dedication the company has to successfully running the Skokie Theatre and building a theatrical community.

Beau Jest was the first non-musical that managed to sell out in Madkap’s Skokie home. This was the result of building an audience for the past 2 and a half years and successfully marketing to a new audience. James Sherman’s play is the story of Sarah’s relentless pursuit of approval from her Jewish parents, so much so that she hires an escort to act as her new, Jewish boyfriend. The escort, of course, turns out to not be Jewish (when she specifically asked for a Jew!) and hilarity ensues. It’s formulaic, it’s heartwarming, and it’s a pleasant night at the theatre. You leave the theatre having laughed and reminisced about your own family.

Having worked with the Stephen Genovese last year allowed me to communicate and assist without having to navigate a new working relationship. Our discussions about the material and process before and after the rehearsals were invaluable to the process. Directing is a lonely profession and it is pivotal that we speak to each other about our processes and concerns. Much of what we do is depended on interpreting an actor’s thoughts and actions while managing our own expectations. It can be tough andit’s nice to have someone in the room who understands this.

Beau Jest was a beautiful collaboration between all the artists involved and audiences roared with laughter. There isn’t much more you can ask for. I’m looking forward to continuing my relationship with Madkap Productions and Skokie Theatre.

Afterthoughts: The Things We Keep by Mark Boergers, directed by Natalie Sallee, and produced by The Arc Theatre

Family tends to evoke feelings of belonging while simultaneously being able to summon uncertainty and disgust. Every family has stories about recluses and broken relationships. Mark Boergers, in his new play, focuses on family relationships and the promises that ebb and flow through the decades. The Things We Keep explores the expectations of returning home, ghosts (emotional and physical), and an artist’s decay into solitude. The play is directed by The Arc Theatre’s Director of New Works, Natalie Sallee, and marks the company’s debut production in their new Evanston home.

Of special note is Alec Long’s scenic design, which transformed the space into a hoarder’s attic, filled to the brim with boxes of knick-knacks, awards, and half-completed artistic endeavors. The boxes framed the walls and windows, evoking claustrophobia.

While the production values of the piece were admirable, the script itself could use more development. What did work was the relationship between the two brothers (Rob and Tom) and their aunt (Marie, the artist), who willingly paid for their college tuition and mysteriously broke ties with her niece (Evelyn). The dialogue between the brothers themselves was subtle and built suspense about familial history. Although the actors tried, Boergers’ dialogue intermittently slipped into an overly-poetic prose that caused disconnect between the subtext and action. Heavy exposition took the place of action in several scenes while, in the case of Marie, she was allowed too many pedantic artistic musings.

Natalie Sallee made great use of the space and scenic design and directed a competent ensemble of actors, who rose to the challenge of this script. It wasn’t until late in the play that I noticed the lightbox in the corner of the stage displaying the year the action was taking place (it switched between three years). This could have either been more prominently placed, ensuring all sightlines adequate view. Additionally, in what was a beautifully realistic set, it was distracting to see the cast mime going up and down the attic staircase.

This was a difficult production and The Arc Theatre rose to the challenge. I’m looking forward to their next production in their new home.

 

Response: "Goodnight, and Good Luck" by Tony Karon, Al Jazeera America

This is a response to Al Jazeera America's farewell: "Goodnight, and Good Luck" by Tony Karon

In a time in which our social and political differences are violently smashed together along a faultline, televised in the style of reality TV by way of national marketing campaigns for sound bite driven would-be presidents, championed by a news system that is increasingly oglioarch-ized and disgustingly sensationalized, it was nice to have a mainstream news source looking at the stories behind the clickbate, examining the ideas and power structures underneath what is making our news.

In short: it was nice to have journalists.

Do yourself a favor this morning and read their farewell.

Response: "Why Hamilton is Not the Revolution You Think it is" by James McMaster

The article I am responding to can be found here: "Why Hamilton is Not the Revolution You Think it is" by James McMaster on howlround.com.

Hamilton is an amazing musical and does not proclaim to be the miraculous cure for diversity and inclusion in the arts. I don't agree with this piece as a whole, but this gem about audience inclusion and capitalism deserves a second read:

"Remember who actually gets to witness Hamilton in the flesh. The exorbitantly high ticket prices coupled with the perpetually sold-out status of the production prohibit most working class people of color from attending the show. Given that the production’s audience, then, is overwhelmingly white and upper-middle-class, one wonders about the reception of the show’s racial performance. How many one-percenters walk away from Hamilton thinking that they are on the right side of history simply because they exchanged hundreds of dollars for the opportunity to sit through a racialized song and dance? My guess: too many."

Writing: The Lumberjack’s Friends, a One Act by Ryan Bruce

I originally wrote The Lumberjack's Friends about 8 years ago when I was in need of an original monologue. I discovered it was hard for me to write the monologue without completing the world around the piece. So I wrote a play. It was pretty bad at first. I’ve learned in the past 8 years that’s how it works. Words need to be forced out and stringed into stuttered coherence until a refinement comes along in the way of editing and rewriting. I’ve always loved the idea behind the piece. And that’s what has stuck around in the years since inception.

Originally, the piece was set on an elevator, because, as I like to point out: everyone needs to write a bad play set on an elevator at one point in their artistic career. The biggest step in the right direction was when I moved the action into an office.

So what’s the play about?

Claudia claims she speaks to inanimate objects. Jessica works a boring day job. The already fading friendship suffered a blow when Jessica saw Claudia speak to a strange object outside of an engagement party. Claudia believes she needs to kill Jessica now. But will the voices stop her or urge her to complete the murder? Claudia arrives in Jessica’s workplace afterhours and holds her hostage while combating her own intentions, desires, and destiny.

I wanted to create a piece that 1) questioned assumptions and prejudice against schizophrenia, 2) had the possibility of gender bending in casting, and 3) provided laughter from pitch dark chasms. The gender thing eventually morphed into female characters and a note that they could be male. The schizophrenia, if produced well, will successfully question social norms on the disorder. If done badly, well, there’ll be a huge stereotype onstage. But that’s the sort of beauty in drama: interpretation, be it horrendous or fantastic.

I’ll be putting the play up on the New Play Network and a sample here on my site soon. 

Post-Mortem: Directors Lab West 2014, Pasadena Playhouse

It occurred to me that I never wrote about my thoughts on Directors Lab West from last May. During the Lab, I spent 10 days immersed in master classes, workshops, discussions, and panels focusing on director development. The Lab is presented each year in 4 locations (NYC, Chicago, Toronto, and Los Angeles) and focuses on artistic and career development for early and mid-career directors. I was among approximately 50 directors chosen to participate in the LA based Lab.

The focus of the lab in 2014 was Thinking Globally. There were workshops in Siamese Dance, Kabuki Theatre, Hip-Hop Theatre, Laban Movement, and so much more. Panels and discussions included guests within the SDC leadership, artistic directors from the LA metropolitan area, and intense discussions within the group about appropriation, casting, mentorship, pitching, and self-production.

To say that those 10 days awed and invigorated me would be an understatement. I felt alive and I rediscovered my sense of artistic outreach, activism, and courage. I befriended theatre makers whom I will collaborate with in future projects, which were conceived due to our proximity to Directors Lab West.

The Los Angeles theatre community is one of the most surprising and engaging communities in the United States. I was floored by the level of work being done both in the large institutions and the tiny storefront theatres. LA Theatre now holds a special place in my heart as an arts community that is vibrant, resound, and intelligent. I have rebutted ignorance several times about LA theatre and the presumption that it doesn’t exist due to the overwhelming film industry. My firsthand experience at Directors Lab West proves it is a great place to make some theatre.

Among the productions I was able to see were a fantastic staged reading of Extraordinary Chambers by David Wiener, The Tallest Tree in the Forest directed by Moises Kaufman, Beijing Spring a new musical at East West Players, and Tartuffe at A Noise Within.

I eagerly await the chance to apply to the other three Labs.

Announcement: Directing Punk by Michael Harris at arciTEXT 2015

I am pleased to announce that I will be directing Punk by Michael Harris at Arc Theatre’s 10 minute play festival, arciTEXT 2015. The theme for the festival is mortal sin and an eclectic group of 12 plays have been selected to be produced this April.

Punk centers on a heterosexual man’s attempt to infiltrate a prison unit for gay and transgendered inmates. The piece is loosely based on an actual unit in the Men’s Central Lockup in downtown Los Angeles. It’s quite a progressive endeavor for a large and historically violent prison.

The production is cast and we have already had a first read and discussion. The piece will be presented along with the other 11 plays on April 11th and 12th at the Frontier Theatre in Chicago.

Speaking of the first read: one of my favorite activities is discussing and parsing a new play with a playwright and actors. I love sitting around a table and dissecting the play’s world while asking tough questions that gets blood flowing. It gets even better when we move into blocking and building the world physically onstage. As a director, I strive to never let go of this creative, world-building ideal in my process. It is rewarding both in process and product.

Post-Mortem: Same Time, Next Year by Bernard Slade, MadKap Productions

This winter I was happy to be involved as the Assistant Director for Same Time, Next Year, produced by MadKap Productions. This was my first official Chicago area theatre credit. And therefore, it will always have a special place in my heart.

The production ran for three very successful weeks at the Skokie Theatre. For those not familiar with the play, it is a visceral trip down the memory lanes of the 1940s through 1970s, as told by an adulterous couple meeting every year in the same place. Each scene takes place five years apart. These are the two elements that still work beautifully for this play: nostalgia and the idea that you are not the same person you were five years ago. There are ups and downs during this affair, a predictable pregnancy scene, a timely hippie scene, and some archaic dialogue, yet, the morsel of honesty and humanity at the center shines.

Assisting Directing is a strange job. Until one establishes a working relationship with the director, it is hard to predict how little or how big one’s influence in the rehearsal room will be. Directors often work in indirect ways in order to ultimately influence or coach an actor or production into unfamiliar territory. So as an assistant, I find that I am at my best directly before and after a rehearsal. Those are the periods in which I am discussing with the director the quirks of the rehearsal and the shortcomings being foreseen. Usually this pre and post rehearsal moment is needed to organize thoughts before diving in or going home to the impending barrage of emails. Directing is a lonely profession. We rarely co-direct (it’s great when we do though!) and having an experienced assistant who knows the nuances of the craft is a relief. That’s what I try to be when I assist. A resource both in and out of the rehearsal room 

Same Time, Next Year was a wonderful experience that allowed me to do the aforementioned things. Plus, it was great to be in a rehearsal room with only two actors, witnessing that relationship develop over the short rehearsal time. The four of us in the room could focus on the nuances of the dialogue, 180 degree character shifts, and complexity of telling a story from 40 years ago about 70 years ago. This was a great experience and I hope my next assistant position is just as fulfilling. 

 

Afterthoughts: finding gräfenburg, written & directed by Graham Brown, produced by trip

The theatre company trip seeks to “bridge the gap between artist and audience.” Graham Brown, writer and director of the latest trip experience, finding gräfenburg, creates an entanglement of sexual exploration, innocuous flirtation, and office politics in a beautiful gallery space at Hairpin Arts Center, overlooking the bustling intersection of Milwaukee and Diversey.

There is minimal lighting, no central playing space, no seating, and anyone around you could be an actor. This is part of the joy of witnessing this theatrical experience: it feels both familiar and unexpected. This was the feeling of a veteran theatregoer anticipating the unexpected, but being blindsided while waiting.

That is the surface allure of finding gräfenburg. And it works. Ultimately. I will admit having some issues with the first phase of the piece, in which the jump cuts between scenes suffered from partial realized dramaturgy, akin to a poorly conceived long-form improvisation. Space and time were marginalized by relationship and wit. The wide open ground plan of the gallery did not help. Once the play shifted into longer, more focused scenes, I enjoyed the story being told in addition to the marvelous theatrical event I was witnessing.

Sure it is an old trick to hide actors within the audience, but this production blurred that line. What if that actor in the audience was eyeing you the entire time and then began to speak lines? What if there were actors in the audience that never spoke any lines? finding gräfenburg entices one to think like that. This is what succeeds. It’s not just a play. You can go to any theatre in town and sit in a dark room and watch, or, you can go and take a trip.