Monday, April 16, 2012

Lots of Theatre Coming Up in 2012-13 at IWU School of Theatre Arts

So far this Spring, we've talked about what ISU and Community Players are doing in 2012-13, as well as a few Chicago theater companies. Now we turn our attention to Illinois Wesleyan University and their 2012-2013 School of Theatre Arts season.

IWU's School of Theatre Arts always manages to surprise me. After going for provocative, darker musicals like Stephen Sondheim's "Passion" and Michael John LaChiusa's "Hello Again," IWU is taking a more cheerful, straight-down-the-middle-of-the-plate approach to its big musical, plus offering a Shakespeare comedy and two well-regarded "sister" plays that seem just right for the college theater setting. And then there's the last choice, a three-playwright collaboration reflecting on the New Orleans hurricane and devastation. It's fairly new (2008) and completely new to me. As I said, IWU continues to surprise!

They will open their season in McPherson Theatre with "A Shayna Maidel," Barbara Lebow's 1985 play about two Polish Jewish sisters torn apart by the Holocaust. Rose White and her father have been safe in New York since she was a toddler, but her sister was left behind. Rose (original name: Reyzel Weiss) has been acclimated and assimilated, but it's all new to her sister Lusia, just now able to come to America after surviving the concentration camps. "A Shayna Maidel" means "a pretty girl" in Yiddish. As it happens, one of my grandmother's sisters was named Shayna but called Sophie in the U.S; until we found her birth records on the family tree, the only "Shayna" I knew was in the title of this play. The 1992 TV movie version of the play was titled "Miss Rose White," looking to the American side of the character rather than the Yiddish one. Professor Nancy Loitz will direct "A Shayna Maidel" for IWU.

The fall musical will be the bright and breezy "9 to 5," directed by Assistant Professor Scott Susong in McPherson Theatre. The original "9 to 5" was a Dolly Parton/Lily Tomlin/Jane Fonda chick flick, with Dolly writing the hit title song. Parton wrote a bunch more songs to turn it into "9 to 5: The Musical." Allison Janney took on the Lily Tomlin role, while Megan Hilty (now a smash on "Smash") created the role of Doralee, who is very much like Ms. Parton, for the stage, with American Idol's Diana Degarmo taking Doralee on the national tour. "9 to 5" is about three women toiling at a large company in the early 80s, trying very hard to keep their wits about them even when treated terribly by a creepy sexist boss. When their problems with the boss escalate, they undertake a crazy scheme to keep him tied up and hanging from the ceiling of his own home, and then they run the company (beautifully) in his absence. Patricia Resnick co-wrote the screenplay and wrote the book for "9 to 5: The Musical," which was nominated for 4 Tony Awards and 15 Drama Desk Awards in 2009. And here's the "9 to 5" story in under ten minutes, if you'd like to see what Janney and Hilty looked like in the roles.

Also in McPherson, Assistant Professor Thomas Quinn will direct Shakespeare's "As You Like It," the romantic comedy with the lovely Rosalind on the lam in the forest of Arden, dressed as a boy and supposedly teaching Orlando, the boy she has a bit of a crush on, how to woo like a man. There are accompanying rustics, Rosalind's jester Touchstone, a gloomy philosopher named Jacques who gives the famous "Seven Ages of Man" speech, and a couple of Dukes, one who usurped the other's position. "As You Like It" will also be part of this summer's Illinois Shakespeare Festival, if you would like to see both and compare/contrast.

The annual Faculty Choreographed Dance Concert rounds out the McPherson schedule, this one directed by Associate Professor Jean McFarland Kerr, who recently did such fine work on "Promenade."

Over in the E. Melba Kirkpatrick Laboratory Theatre, you'll see Shelagh Stevenson's "The Memory of Water," directed by undergrad Kristyn Kuzinar. "The Memory of Water" looks at three sisters gathering for their mother's funeral. The title's "memory" comes into play both because their mother suffered from Alzheimer's and because they each remember the events of their childhood differently, as siblings often do. Memory is a hazy, unreliable issue for each of them. There is another play I often confuse with this one, demonstrating my own unreliable memory. But, no, this is not Lee Blessing's "A Body of Water," which is also about people who struggle with what they do and do not remember.

The other play they've scheduled for the Lab Theatre is "The Breach," a 2008 play by Catherine Filloux, Tarell McCraney and Joe Sutton. The three playwrights wrote three different intertwined stories to tell what happened to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It's not just about devastation on the human level, but about heroism, politics and water. There is a lot of water in "The Breach." This play will be directed by Raven Stubbs, also an undergrad in IWU's Theater program.

That leaves one or two titles still to be announced for the Kirkpatrick Lab Theatre. I'll report back as soon as I hear. In the meantime, you can read up on these shows and get ready for what you'll see in the fall.


  1. As You Like It sure gets done a lot. And there have been a lot of different production concepts over the years. There was a famous "Watteau" version by the Old Vic c. 1940, in which Edith Evans was apparently a Rosalind for the ages (opposite Michael Redgrave). In the 80s there was an all-male production (Adrian Lester as Rosalind). Flower-child productions were big in the 70s. I saw a production in Pittsburgh that went for a Teddy Roosevelt atmosphere, "living outdoors is good for you, and now we'll go for a hike and then sing a jolly campfire song."

    In the movies there's that early B&W one with a German-accented Rosalind and Laurence Olivier while he was still a callow fellow. And tons of peasant galumphing. The BBC series filmed theirs outdoors on location (near Glamis Castle, which is actually very pretty and storybookish -- you could never use it for Macbeth), which they stopped doing after that first year; Helen Mirren was Rosalind. And then the fairly recent Kenneth Branagh film, set in a European enclave in 19th-century Japan (though in fact filmed in the UK!), so that's an especially weird concept. Kevin Kline, Bryce Dallas Howard, Alfred Molina, Janet McTeer, Brian Blessed are in it. The best thing in that (for me) was the Epilogue, which struck me as brilliant.

  2. I'd really like to see the Ken B one -- so far, I haven't managed to locate it. AYLI is done a lot around here at various colleges and high schools and professional companies. I saw a Watteau-look production at U of I (in their big theater) in the early 90s and a Flower Child one at U of I (in their black box) in the early 2000s. I guess there are no new ideas under the sun!