Wednesday, February 26, 2014

FACING OUR TRUTH at the Goodman -- Playwrights Respond to Trayvon Martin

When the world doesn't make sense, writers look for ways to deal with the insanity. Novels, documentaries, investigative journalism... And plays. Playwrights use the forum of the stage to poke and prod at the issues, to turn them over and ponder them. They don't necessarily provide answers. But they do offer questions.

The Trayvon Martin case -- where a gun-toting man named George Zimmerman shot and killed an unarmed kid and then used Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law as an excuse -- sparked debate and horror in a lot of quarters. It comes as no surprise that the issues of racism, privilege and injustice in our neighborhoods and in our legal system illuminated by the Trayvon Martin debacle have prompted a response on the dramatic front.

New York's New Black Fest, "a gathering of artists, thinkers, activists and audiences who are dedicated to stretching, interrogating and uplifting the Black aesthetic," commissioned Facing Our Truth, a collection of short plays responding to the Trayvon Martin case written by some of America's hottest and most exciting theatrical voices. The playwrights include Marcus Gardley (Every Tongue Confess, dance of the holy ghost), Tala Manassah and Mona Mansour (they co-wrote After, while Mansour is the author of That Hour of Feeling, a Humana Festival play, among others), Winter Miller (In Darfur), Dominique Morisseau (Detroit ’67), Dan O’Brien (The Body of an American) and A. Rey Pamatmat (Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them, another Humana Festival hit).

When Facing Our Truth premiered last December in New York, there were six total pieces, including Pamatmat's "Some Other Kid," Morisseau's "Night Vision," Miller's "Colored," "No More Monsters Here" by Mansour and Manassah, and "The Ballad of George Zimmerman," a folk opera written by O’Brien with composer Quetzal Flores.

Facing Our Truth: Short Plays on Trayvon, Race & Privilege is slated to play various places around the U.S., including -- next Monday -- a performance at Chicago's Goodman Theatre. This special reading of the plays in Facing Our Truth begins at 7 pm in the Goodman's Owen Theater on March 3. Reservations are required, but you will not be able to make them online. You'll need to call the Goodman directly at 312-443-3800.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

THE FROGS Opens Tonight at Eureka College Theatre

Are you ready for some amphibian action? The classical Greek comedy The Frogs opens tonight at 7:30 pm at Pritchard Theatre on the campus of Eureka College. The original involves a journey to the Underworld and a verbal duel between playwrights Euripides and Aeschylus, but director Holly Rocke and her cast are making it look and sound a bit different for Eureka. Rocke characterized the production as "eclectic, zany and pretty to look at" when I asked her to sum it up in seven words or less.

The pretty part comes from some over-the-top wigs and puppets, as well as a set that looks like a big pool of water even if it isn't really wet. Some pictures have been shared on the Eureka College Theatre Facebook page that show off the wiggy stuff nicely.

Rocke's cast includes Anna Dabrowski as Pluto, Belle Grober as Dionysus, Hannah Lane as Xanthais, Kelli Robison as Aeschylus, Kevin Wickart as Euripides, Prabhu Venkataraman as Heracles, Hattie Standridge as a snake charmer and member of the chorus, and Ashleigh Feger as a ribbon twirler and member of the chorus. Wickart appears in the far left in the image below, with a sort of red mohawk wig. Ought to be entertaining to find out what that's all about!

 Tickets are $5, and they are available by calling the box office at 309-467-6363 or emailing

Tonight's performance begins at 7:30, and the doors open at 7 pm. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances are also scheduled for 7:30 pm, with a Sunday matinee on March 2nd at 2 pm.

You can check out the event page for more info.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Co-Host Switcheroo at DWTS -- Will It Help?

I admit it -- I used to watch Dancing with the Stars. It was fun and silly in its early seasons, until reality show rejects and political pariahs started to proliferate, the deck seemed to be stacked to keep the same pros winning season after season, and good dancing pros were dismissed in favor of members of the Hough and Ballas families. I'd rather have Edyta, Alec and Jonathan, thanks.

Tom Bergeron and Brooke Burke-Charvet
And there have also been issues in terms of the cast. Although host Tom Bergeron has been fine, if occasionally too smarmy, his cohosts have not. In fact, the irritants known as Lisa Canning, Samantha Harris and Brooke Burke-Charvet have served as a big reason not to watch as far as I'm concerned. Canning never seemed to have a handle on her lines, Harris was an airhead with no "there" there, and former winner Brooke Burke seemed to have the IQ of a toaster. A one-slot toaster.

Erin Andrews

As Dancing with the Stars' once formidable ratings have sunk, the producers have made changes, like combining performances and results into one show, changing things around the studio, and more recently, firing music director Harold Wheeler. As they move closer to announcing this year's "stars" on March 4, the producers have also made a significant change. Finally, after way too many ridiculous comments and mistakes, Brooke Burke-Charvet has been fired. As fans speculated that they were getting rid of the co-host position completely, the news broke that a different former contestant, NFL sideline reporter Erin Andrews, will replace Burke-Charvet.

It's an improvement, to be sure, to replace a bimbo with a smart cookie. And Andrews is an experienced reporter and interviewer, so she has more way more skills than are necessary to do the DWTS job. But still... Will it make a difference? Is Dancing with the Stars too far past its prime, too bereft of actual "star" possibilities, too much The Derek Hough Show at the expense of the other pros, too mean, too easy, too... Stale?

We'll see. My guess is that the show peaked a long time ago, and the addition of Erin Andrews, a new band, a more compact show, and all the spray tan, sequins and fringe in the world cannot put it back the way it was. We're more cynical now. It's hard to embrace concepts like

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Bring & Sing Till It's Brung & Sung... February 22 at Players

I don't exactly know what "Bring It and Sing It" means, but Community Players is doing it. Or, you know, bringing it. And singing it. On February 22nd.

We know it costs $10 if you want to sing or $5 if you just want to watch, it takes place at Community Players' theater on Robinhood Lane, and the doors open at 7. The "bring" refers to sheet music and the "sing" refers to what's on the sheet music.The good folks at Community Players explain it this way: "You bring sheet music, we supply the audience and accompaniment. Just a fun get together of like minded Musical Theatre geeks."

Is that clear? If your dream is to belt out "Defying Gravity" or "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" and you've just never had the chance, this may be your best opportunity ever.

Organizer Kelly Slater is available for questions at or by phone at 217-440-8239 and that's also the way you would reserve a spot in the singing line-up. You can also check out the Bring It or Sing It event page on Facebook.

Sing out, Louise!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

What's Ahead on ISU Stages in 2014-15

Illinois State University's Department of Theatre and Dance has announced what will be on stage in the Fall of 2014 and Spring of 2015. And it's an ambitious and intriguing lineup, with lots of new work, lots of female playwrights, and lots of roles for actors of color.

The first play on the schedule will be Sarah Ruhl's funny, provocative take on women, sexuality, and the birth of the vibrator in the 19th century. In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) will be directed for ISU's Center for the Performing Arts by David Ian Lee, an MFA director who earned rave reviews for his production of Perestroika last semester. The Vibrator Play was originally directed by Les Waters, the current Artistic Director at Actors Theatre of Louisville, for Berkeley Rep in California; Waters then took the play to Broadway with a production that starred Laura Benanti and Michael Cerveris and earned Tony nominations for the play, David Zinn's Victorian costume design, and featured actress Maria Dizzia. The play was also a nominee for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Lynn Nottage, the playwright behind By the Way, Meet Vera Stark, also slated for the CPA this Fall, is no stranger to the Pulitzer Prize. Her play, Ruined, was the 2009 winner of that prestigious prize. Vera Stark is more humorous and more lively than Ruined, telling the story of an African-American woman who works as a maid for a Hollywood diva. But then Vera gets a role on screen as a maid -- the maid to her boss's Southern belle in some epic historical romance film -- and the fact that her sparkling performance upstages everybody does not go unnoticed. She had a career. She had suitors. She went to the best parties. So what happened to Vera Stark? Nottage's play is irreverent and a little wacky, and it will serve as the Crossroads production for the season. Don LaCasse is on tap to direct the ISU version of By the Way, Meet Vera Stark.

And here's that Pulitzer word again. The third play on ISU's schedule is a Pulitzer winner from yet another female playwright. Water by the Spoonful is Quiara Alegría Hudes's second play in a three-play series about a soldier named Elliot who has issues when he comes back to the U.S. The first play, Elliot, a Soldier's Fugue, was nominated for a Pulitzer in 2007, while the third Elliot play, The Happiest Song Plays Last, premiered at Chicago's Goodman Theatre last year. Elliot, his cousin, his biological mother and an online circle of recovering addicts populate Water by the Spoonful, a lyrical, innovative play about connections, guilt and forgiveness. Third-year MFA candidate Leah Cassella will direct Water by the Spoonful in Westhoff Theatre.

Going from Quiara Alegría Hudes to Noel Coward is quite a jump. Although Illinois Wesleyan just did Hay Fever last semester, ISU director Sonja Moser is going to go for her own take on the Coward classic. Instead of Spoonful's disconnected cyberworld of 2012, Hay Fever is all about the 1920s during a weekend at an eccentric family's country house. Tennis, anyone? It's lighter than air, fizzy and charming. What in the world will Moser do with it? I guess we'll find out next Fall in Westhoff Theatre!

The last piece of the 2014 puzzle is the annual Fall Dance Concert, under the direction of Sara Semonis, Artistic Director of Illinois Dance Theatre.

As we move into 2015, ISU assistant professor Duane Boutté will bring the Kander and Ebb musical Cabaret, based on the Joe van Druten play I Am a Camera, itself based on Christopher Isherwood's autobiographical novel Goodbye to Berlin, to the Center for the Performing Arts. The original Broadway Cabaret and its decadent view of life in Berlin in the 1930s won eight Tony Awards back in 1967, including Best Musical, Best Composer and Lyricist for John Kander and Fred Ebb, Best Director for Hal Prince and Best Featured Actor for Joel Grey, who played the seedy, scary Emcee. Grey reprised his role and won an Oscar for his role in the 1972 movie directed by Bob Fosse, a film that took home eight Oscars, including Best Director and Best Actress for Liza Minnelli. That's Liza at the top of the heap in the movie poster shown here.

Moving back in time and somewhere in the neighborhood of a thousand miles to the east, Anton Chekhov's The Seagull will take the stage at the CPA later in the Spring semester. The Seagull was written in 1895 and its first production was a famous flop. But Stanislavski's 1898 production for the Moscow Art Theatre turned it into a sensation. It's about the interaction and complications between and among a fading actress named Arkadina, her lover Trigorin, who is a writer; her would-be playwright son Treplev; and a young woman named Nina, as well as various other characters who live on the country estate owned by Arkadina's brother Sorin. The Seagull was last performed at Illinois State University as part of the 2004-05 season. This time out, Lori Adams, who heads up the Acting program at ISU, will direct.

Second-year MFA director Jonathan Hunt Sell will twist and (gender-bend) Moliere's classic comedy The School for Wives for Westhoff Theatre, giving Moliere the "Drag and Breeches" treatment with men playing the female roles and women playing the male ones. So the gents will be in dresses -- fancy 17th century French couture -- and the ladies will be in breeches. That should upend and refresh this tale of a creepy guy named Arnolphe and his attempts to keep his innocent ward, Agnes, cooped up and stupid so she won't fall in love and he can marry her himself.

Sell's colleague Jessika Malone, the other second-year MFA candidate in directing, also looks outside the U.S. for her play. She has chosen Selkie: Between Land and Sea, a mystical, mythical Scottish piece by Laurie Brooks, for her Spring production in Westhoff. The legend of the selkie is a cross between a mermaid story and the Swan Princess, with a girl who becomes a seal when in the sea, but a woman when on land. Laurie Brooks has also written a book version of her story, simply called Selkie Girl, and that's the image you see here.

All the details on Illinois State University's schedule will appear here and here once the current season is finished. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

OTHER DESERT CITIES Opens Thursday at Heartland

When Other Desert Cities opens at Heartland Theatre this week, it will not be the first Jon Robin Baitz play to grace that stage. It won't even be the second. As a matter of fact, Other Desert Cities completes a Baitz hat trick for Heartland.

Like Three Hotels and A Fair Country before it, Other Desert Cities is about family and the responsibility we owe to the people we're related to. Should a person do what's best for him (or her) if that isn't what's best for the family as a whole? Should blood trump one's own judgment, values and needs?

Baitz was born in the United States, but his father, a high-level exec at Carnation, the big evaporated milk/instant breakfast company, took his family to exotic places like Brazil and South Africa when Carnation sent him there. Jon Robin, also called Robbie, returned to the US for high school at Beverly Hills High School, but his time abroad certainly informed his later work as a playwright.  

Three Hotels involves a man very much like Baitz's father, a businessman whose company sells baby formula, but a formula that has resulted in illness and death for children in third-world countries. The three hotels in the title show the man, his wife, and then him again, in different places around the world, as they muse on the distance in their marriage, the compromises they've made, and the corrupting influences of ambition and money.

A Fair Country expands on those issues, looking at the family of a diplomat stationed in South Africa and charged with bringing American "culture" -- like a production of "Idiot's Delight" put on by convicts -- to people living under Apartheid. He is desperate to get out of there and bring his family to a better posting in Europe, but his wife is falling apart before his eyes, and his sons -- one an intensely political counterculture journalist and the other a vulnerable, Quixotic type who hopes to save his mother -- have major issues with the way the family operates.

You can see those same political conflicts in Other Desert Cities, with once again a family in crisis. In this one, the mother, Polly, played for Heartland by Connie de Veer,  is tougher and sharper, more of a verbal warrior, and the father, Lyman Wyatt, played by Joe Penrod, is sweeter and more kind, an actor who had a decent career in Western movies before he took a political turn and became an ambassador under his friend Ronald Reagan. But they are still conservative and traditional, on the other side of a huge political divide from their oldest son, a golden boy who took a radical, self-destructive turn as a teen, and from their daughter, a talented writer who had a mental breakdown but has now tried to write her way into understanding what happened between her parents and her brother. And then there's Trip, the youngest Wyatt, a TV producer who does his best not to get involved in the family warfare.

When daughter Brooke, played by Jessie Swiech, comes home with the memoir she's written, one that exposes all sorts of things the Wyatt parents do not want to discuss, things get dicey very quickly. Aunt Silda, played by Carol Scott, sees herself as a free-spirited knight in shining armor, and she is firmly on Brooke's side, even though Silda is living on the generosity of her sister Polly. Trip, played by Joey Banks, has always kept his head low and stayed out of trouble. But this time, lines are being drawn in the desert sand. Nobody is willing to back down, not fierce, vicious Polly, loopy Silda, well-meaning Lyman, not even Brooke, who seems so fragile.

The issues are really very interesting as Baitz unspools them in his play. Is Brooke's first responsibility to herself and to the memory of her beloved brother? Or should it be to her parents, who live in a privileged world that they are loathe to lose, one that will be shaken to its core with the revelations in Brooke's book?

You'll have to watch Other Desert Cities to make up your own mind, but Baitz is careful to give both sides their due. Other Desert Cities was nominated for five Tony Awards and was chosen as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, winning a Tony and a Drama Desk for Judith Light, who played eccentric Aunt Silda in the Broadway production.

Sandra Zielinski directs the Heartland Theatre production, which opens February 20 with a 7:30 pm "Pay What You Can" preview performance. Performances continue through Sunday, March 9, and there will be a panel discussion of those same issues -- the right to be heard, to own one's memories vs. family peace and compromise -- following the matinee on Sunday, March 2.

For all the details, visit Heartland's Show Times or Reservations pages, or check out the Now Playing page.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Romantic Entertainment for Valentine's Day?

I love a good romance, but I go for comedy, not weepers, which means on Valentine's Day, I do not turn to the four-hankie choices like An Affair to Remember, now playing at the Normal Theater, or whatever it is they've made of  Mark Helprin's epic novel Winter's Tale that they're trying to pass off as a Valentine's date movie.

Chocolat, the French romantic comedy from 2000 that stars Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche, is a better option in my book. After all, chocolate and romance are a perfect match, and Swedish director Lasse Hallström has a deft touch with the lighter-than-air material about a magical chocolate shop that brings freedom and sensuality to a repressed little town in France. Chocolat comes to the Normal Theater on Saturday and Sunday. so if you're snowed in tonight, you may want to defer your Valentine's plans till tomorrow to be able to take advantage of that one.

The Art Theater Co-Op in Champaign is going with the classic Casablanca as its Valentine offering. Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman will share the memories of Paris and "As Time Goes By" today at 5 and 7:30 pm as well as 11:30 am tomorrow. If you prefer your True Love with humor, adventure and a little castle storming, The Princess Bride may be a better choice. The Art is offering it with quote-along group participation tonight at 10 pm, or without the quotes tomorrow at 10 pm and Sunday at 11:30 am. The beauty of this movie is how it manages to be both romantic and cynical at the same time, with generous portions of both heart and smarts.

What else is out there? ABC is counter programming the Olympics with Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown at 7 pm Central time, and the TV Guide Network is betting on Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan and Sleepless in Seattle, also at 7.

Otherwise, TCM is in the midst of its ramp-up to the Oscars, with a few movies with "heart" or "love" in the title today, like The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter -- not at all a romance in any way, shape or form -- at 4:45 Central time, and Love Me or Leave Me, a 1955 bio-pic about the turbulent life of singer Ruth Etting starring Doris Day, at 11 pm Central.

Netflix is releasing an entire season of its original series House of Cards today, too. The political machinations and evil-doing on display in this Washington DC based potboiler make for some twisted romance, that's for sure.

Plus, of course, there's always the Olympics. Maybe the luge, curling and a little figure skating are the perfect route to your heart?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Shirley Temple, 1928-2014

Shirley Temple was a huge part of my childhood. I was a movie-obsessed kid, anyway, and for some reason, I was most compelled by black-and-white movies from the 1930s. Maybe it's because the ones I liked best -- Fred and Ginger, "screwball" comedies, and, of course Shirley Temple -- served in the first place to entertain and distract people during the Depression, so they were really good at creating a world of their own. I was a child with a vivid imagination who loved books and movies that did exactly that.

For many of us, Shirley Temple's later films like The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer or That Hagen Girl, and even her career as a diplomat in later life (when she was Shirley Temple Black) just didn't make an impact. It was the precocious, bright-eyed, bouncy little girl in Stand Up and Cheer!, Little Miss Marker, Baby Take a Bow, The Little Colonel, Captain January, Heidi and The Little Princess who tapped her way into our hearts.

Shirley as Little Miss Marker
Yes, her dimples (and there was a movie called Dimples) and her golden curls (and there was a movie called Curly Top) were part of her appeal. And yes, her costars were first-rate, with stars like Adolphe Menjou (Little Miss Marker), Spencer Tracy (Now I'll Tell), Gary Cooper and Carole Lombard (Now and Forever), Lionel Barrymore (The Little Colonel), Joel McCrea (Our Little Girl), Guy Kibbee (Captain January), Frank Morgan (Dimples), Robert Young (Stowaway), Jean Hersholt (Heidi), and Jimmy Durante (Little Miss Broadway) floating through as the ne'er-do-wells, cranky grandparents, show-biz aunts and uncles and other folks eventually charmed by Shirley, with John Boles, Alice Faye, Jane Darwell, Randolph Scott and, of course, dancer Bill Robinson showing up more than once. But only Robinson really rivaled her on the screen. Otherwise, Shirley's effortless charm and amazing ability to knock out choreography stole the spotlight every time.

Her world was one where orphans found all kinds of parental figures waiting around the corner, show-biz was an easy nut to crack, and singing and dancing could fix just about anything. Songs like "On the Good Ship Lollipop" and "Animal Crackers in My Soup" helped form her film identity. And her movies were so popular they spawned not just the music, but a flood of merchandise, including dolls, paperdolls, dresses, books, toys, accessories, dinnerware (or at least breakfastware) designed for children, and a nonalcoholic cocktail -- ginger ale or 7-Up with grenadine to make it pink, and a maraschino cherry on top -- still on the menu in dinner theaters and supper clubs. She won a special Oscar -- a tiny one -- and got a life-size bronze statue on the Fox studio lot.

Yes, she grew up, and a grown-up (even teenage) Shirley was not the same dancing darling. She retired from films in 1950 at the age of 22, although she did continue to show up on television, narrating and appearing in her own show, Shirley Temple's Storybook, till 1961. Through two marriages and a new persona as a conservative politician, she managed to project grace and intelligence, and she never lost her trademark sparkle. Or her dimples.

Shirley Temple, the curly-haired tot, was magical to me, just as she was to generations before and after me. I had a picture of her looking feisty (seen above) in Little Miss Marker on the wall in my dorm room in college, and it seemed strange when my nieces, born 50 years after all those films from Fox, were just as captivated by the Shirley Temple ethos as I'd been. It probably seemed weird to my mother, who saw Shirley's movies in theaters when they were first released, that I was as captivated as she had been.

But that's the thing. Shirley Temple, movie star at the age of 4, dances on in our imaginations.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

It's a Date: SUBMISSIONS ONLY Comes Back March 3

Not only do we FINALLY have a start date for season 3 of the web series Submissions Only, but we also got a nifty trailer to tease what's coming!

If you want to see the new trailer, you can see it on Youtube here. Excitement!

So what is Submissions Only and why am I so anxious for it to start again? It's billed as an "online sitcom about auditioning in New York City. Submissions Only follows a group of friends as they navigate the trips and falls, callbacks and train-wrecks experienced while working in this glorious business we call show."

It was created by Kate Wetherhead and Andrew Keenan-Bolger, and Weaherhead writes and stars as Penny Reilly, an actress who also works as a reader for auditions. Her pal Tim (Colin Hanlon) runs a casting agency, so Penny works for him, reading scripts opposite people trying out for whatever show they've been hired to cast. And Penny's agent, Steven (Stephen Bienskie), tries to get her roles so she won't be a reader her whole life. Steven is also Tim's ex, which can make things sticky, but Steven has a new boyfriend, the impossibly gorgeous Cameron (Max von Essen). We also see director Linda Avery (Anne Nathan) fairly often, as she hankers after male characters who are invariably gay, annoying Broadway star Serena Maxwell (Donna Vivino), Randall Moody (Jared Gertner), the most cheerful and fizzy Broadway boy ever who also works as a reader for Tim, a woman we know only as Adorable Girl (Annaleigh Ashford) and a snotty casting assistant named Donny, played by Andrew Keenan-Bolger, the co-creator who also serves as the show's director, editor and director of photography.

And that brings us to Aaron Miller, played by the adorable and wonderful Santino Fontana, who made a splash in shows like Sons of the Prophet and the current Cinderella on Broadway. Aaron shows up initially as a reader, a self-effacing sort of regular guy, but it soon becomes clear he is a very good actor, and he gets a major gig and a major girlfriend -- Serena Maxwell -- before Penny can really move on the fact that she likes him. As in likes him likes him. At the end of season 2, his big show had flopped and Serena was getting tired of him, moving him closer to Penny. Maybe.

Kate Wetherhead and Santino Fontana are two of the things that are very right about Submissions Only. It's also fun to see the star-studded cameos that pop up all over the place, most frequently as bad auditions. Danny Burstein, Kerry Butler, Bobby Cannavale, Kristin Chenoweth, Lea DeLaria, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Harvey Fierstein, Joel Grey, Cady Huffman, Brian d'Arcy James, Kristen Johnson, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Marc Kudisch, Linda Lavin, Beth Leavel, Judith Light, Rebecca Luker, Audra McDonald, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Adam Pascal, Mary Beth Peil, Condola Rashad, Roger Rees, Chita Rivera, Michael Urie, and a whole bunch of Newsies including Evan Kasprzak... They're all there somewhere!

If you need to catch up on the previous seasons or just refresh your recollection, including what went down with Aaron and Penny when last we saw them, all the episodes are available here. You can also check out who's who, read their press clippings, or tell them you like them on Facebook.

When March 3 finally rolls around and we get to see Season 3, it will once again be available at Thank you,!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Auditions Sunday at 7 for IRON at Heartland Theatre

Heartland Theatre and director Christopher Connelly will be holding auditions on Sunday, February 9 from 7 to 9:30 pm for the upcoming production of Rona Munro's Iron. Munro is a Scottish playwright whose works have dealt with astronauts, kings, witches, class, culture, murder, violence, and a wide array of women.

Iron involves a woman named Fay, who has spent the last 15 years of her life in prison for murdering her husband. Although it's clear she did kill him, she chose to keep silent at her trial, not even trying to defend herself, and she has never revealed why she did it or what exactly happened. Her daughter Josie went to live with her dad's mom right after the crime, and she hasn't visited or communicated with her mother in the ensuing years. But now her grandmother has passed away and Josie is interested in reaching out, in finding out who her mother is and what happened all those years ago. She has almost no recollection of her father or what it was like when they were a family. When Josie enters the world of the prison to see her mother, she learns more about her mother, and she also begins to remind Fay of what it was like to live outside. Their visits are closely watched by prison guards George and Sheila, decent people trying to do their best to keep the peace and follow the rules. Fay certainly doesn't appreciate their presence, however. There are no easy answers in Munro’s wrenching look at the justice and injustice in crime and punishment.

Connelly has cast Lori Adams in the role of Fay, and he will be looking for two women and one man to fill the other roles. Here's how those roles are described:

JOSIE, 25. A smart and somewhat serious woman who has been successful professionally, but she doesn’t have much of a personal life. She was ten when her father was killed and was raised by her fraternal grandmother since the murder. She has very little memory of her father or his murder.

GUARD 1, 53. (George) Married to a “lovely, gentle” woman, with three daughters. He is taking online classes in Moral Philosophy and Theology in his spare time. He has been a prison guard for a long time and understands the world of the prison very well.

GUARD 2, 24. (Sheila) A single mother. She is not without sympathy for the prisoners she guards, but is also a realist about them. She is definitely unsentimental when it comes to Fay.

Only one night of auditions is scheduled; Connelly has indicated that he will hold callbacks at another time if necessary.

No monologues or specific material is required. Auditioners will be asked to read from the script.

Performances of Iron will begin April 17 and run through May 4, 2014. For more information, click here to see Heartland's Auditions page or here for the scoop on the entire season.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

FreeStage Fringe 2014 Ventures Into Face Off, Five Women, Shakespeare and Tuck

Illinois State University's Freestage Fringe Festival, the event created by the FreeStage student organization to promote "artistic growth and development for Illinois State University students through theatrical performances," offers a slate of student-produced, directed, designed, acted and sometimes written pieces to Centennial West this week

I'm afraid I missed the kick-off event in the Airport Lounge at Centennial last night, but there's still time to get to Shakespeare's Suicide Hotline, "a dark comedy written and directed by Larissa Strong," at 6 pm in Centennial West 202 and Alan Ball's Five Women Wearing the Same Dress at 7 pm in the same space. You may know Ball from his later successes American Beauty, True Blood and Six Feet Under. He's a Georgia boy, which lends a Southern Gothic flavor to Five Women, a comedy about bridesmaids directed for FreeStage by Arif Yampolsky, and starring Julia Besch,

Wednesday brings Face Off: Illinois State University Edition, which appears to be a local version of the Syfy competition show where special effects makeup artists vie to see who can create the best monsters, aliens, fairies, walking wounded, zombies and other exotic beings. For ISU, China Hawkins, Allison Kmichik, Josh Pennington and Sam Peroutka will be pulling out all the tools in their makeup kits at 7:30 pm on February 5 in CW 202.

Also on Wednesday, a group interp version of Tuck Everlasting will begin at 9:15.

Dance Inventions is the lone Thursday offering in a location to be named later, while all four shows -- Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, Shakespeare's Suicide Hotline, Tuck Everlasting and Dance Inventions -- come back on Friday. Five Women is up first at 5:30 pm, followed by Dance at 7, Tuck at 9:30 and Suicide at 10:30. They'll do it again Saturday, with the Face Off finals at 3:30 pm, then Shakespeare at 5:30, Tuck at 6:30 and Five Women closing out the Fringe Festival with a 7:30 performance.

To see the whole lineup, click here for the FreeStage Fringe Festival 2014 schedule posted on Facebook. You can also check out the main FreeStage page for more information on what it is and what it aims for.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Cabin Fever? Get Out and Find February

I've been on a little vacation and away from my blog, but I know there are all kinds of February things happening that I need to tell you about before it's too late. February be a short month, but it has Groundhog Day, Valentine's Day, Presidents Day, African-American History Month, and this year the Olympics. That's a lot to squeeze into 28 days. Especially when you consider these entertainment options:

Lost Lake, the new David Auburn play getting a try-out under the auspices of the Sullivan Project, opens February 5 at the University of Illinois Krannert Center in Urbana. Tony Award-winning director Daniel Sullivan will be at the helm of this new work from Auburn, the playwright behind Proof, a Chicago-based play about a math genius and a supposedly unsolvable problem that won Auburn the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. This time, Auburn is writing about a woman named Veronica (Opal Alladin) who is looking for an escape from the city by way of a vacation home in the middle of nowhere. But when she comes into contact with Hogan (Jake Weber), the man who owns the place, she finds that her idea of escape may be more complicated than she envisioned. Lost Lake begins its short run of performances on the 5th, but last time I looked, that one was sold out. It continues on the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th at 7:30 pm, with 2 pm matinees also on the 8th and 9th. For ticket information, click here.

Champaign's Art Theater Co-op is offering Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell and their furry friend in wonderful Groundhog Day on February 5 at 10 pm. If you don't own a copy on DVD -- or even if you do, but you want to revisit Groundhog Day on the big screen -- it's definitely worth a look at the Art in downtown Champaign. They're also offering Bogie and Bergman in Casablanca, one of the most romantic films of all time, as a Valentine's Day treat, along with The Princess Bride, that wry and wonderful fairytale from director Rob Reiner, with a screenplay from William Goldman based on his book. And that is some fine Valentine's fare. Check with the Art for showtimes.

On television, the Winter Olympics begin on the 7th on NBC, the same night Jay Leno bids goodbye (or perhaps au revoir) to The Tonight Show. Jimmy Fallon starts his Tonight Show on the 17th, Seth Myers takes up the reins of Late Night on the 24th, and The Walking Dead (9), House of Cards (14), The Amazing Race (23), The Voice (24) and Scandal (27) all come back. The numbers in parentheses are the dates you can expect to find them. Note also that Downton Abbey finishes up its season on the 23rd. Phew. Better fire up the DVR now.

On stage, Illinois Wesleyan welcomes 2014 with Caridad Svich's Twelve Ophelias (a play with broken songs), directed by Assistant Professor Dani Snyder-Young, with Sarah Menke as the No. 1 Ophelia. 12 Ophelias will be performed at McPherson Theatre from February 11 to 16, showcasing Svich's unique take on Hamlet, where the central Ophelia is reborn from her drowning pool into a mysterious pseudo-Appalachian world with rock 'n' roll, a Rude Boy who just may be Hamlet and a woman named Gertrude who runs a brothel. Svich's "mirrored world of word-scraps and cold sex" definitely represents a refocused and unexpected way to look at Shakespeare.

Heartland Theatre has performed the work of playwright Jon Robin Baitz very nicely in the past, so Baitz's newest piece, Other Desert Cities, should be a perfect fit. This one looks at the cracks forming under the foundation of a wealthy family in Palm Springs, California. The Wyeths have ties to the entertainment world as well as politics, since patriarch Lyman was a movie star back in the day, before he got an ambassadorship courtesy of his pal Ronald Reagan. Lyman and Polly had three children: wild child Henry, fragile daughter Brooke and easy-going Tripp. Henry is gone, Tripp is happily working on a TV judge show, and Brooke... Well, Brooke has come home with a memoir she's written, a tell-all that may just tear the family apart. Sandra Zielinski directs Other Desert Cities with a cast that includes Joe Penrod and Connie de Veer as Lyman and Polly, Carol Scott as Polly's free-spirited sister Silda, Joey Banks as Tripp, and Jessie Swiech as Brooke. The show opens February 20 with a special pay-what-you-can preview, followed by performances through March 9. Click here for reservation information.

Illinois State University opens its winter theater season with Diana Son's Stop Kiss, opening February 20 at Westhoff Theatre, and the Benjamin Britten/Peter Pears opera version of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, opening February 21 in ISU's Center for the Performing Arts.

Stop Kiss, which involves a couple violently assaulted when they share a kiss on the street, was first performed at New York's Public Theatre in 1998. Its premiere cast included Sandra Oh (Grey's Anatomy) and Jessica Hecht (Breaking Bad, Friends) as Sara and Callie, the couple at the center of the storm. Leah Cassella directs Stop Kiss for ISU, with Nina Ganet and Bethany Hart as Callie and Sara, Eddie Curley as Callie's friend George, Jimmy Keating as Sara's ex-boyfriend Peter, Matt Hallahan as the detective assigned to the case, Angie Aiello as a witness, and Lauren Partch as a nurse who tries to help Sara when she is hospitalized.

A Midsummer Night's Dream as interpreted by composer Benjamin Britten couldn't be more different, taking audiences into a whirl of fairies, amateur actors and mismatched lovers inside the Athenian forest. ISU has been celebrating Britten's centenary since last October, and this production, directed by ISU Professor Paul Dennhardt, serves as another piece of the celebration. Britten's musical styles separate the fairies and their magical world from the simple folk (the Mechanicals) and the romantically inclined lovers, with more focus on the fairies than in Shakespeare's original. The part of Oberon, the King of the Fairies, was written for a countertenor, an unusual occurrence in opera. For ISU, Landon Westerfield will sing Oberon, with Kristin Moroni as his queen Tytania and Colin Lawrence as his impish servant Puck. Michael Guttierez and Adriana Ladage will play Theseus and Hippolyta, whose royal wedding brings the players together, while Audra Ferguson, Robbie Holden, Sidney Megeff and John Ramseyer form the quartet of young lovers. As Bottom, Josh Ramseyer leads the Mechanicals, joined by Eric Rehm, Lucas Tuazon, Ben Wright and Jeff Wright. Add a company of 30+ fairies, and you have the world of this Midsummer. I haven't seen a poster for it yet, so I will offer a pretty image from the Lyric Opera of Chicago's recent production (up there at the top of this paragraph).

Click here for more information on ISU's winter season.

The Illinois Symphony Orchestra will join with performers from the Illinois Shakespeare Festival to create "Shimmering Shakespeare" on Friday, February 21 at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts and on Saturday, February 22 at Springfield's Sangamon Auditorium. Actors from the Illinois Shakespeare Festival will perform short scenes between movements of Prokofiev's opera Romeo and Juliet. The evening will also feature Silk Road Ensemble percussionist Joseph Gramley performing Chen Yi's Percussion Concerto. Tickets for the Bloomington performance can be purchased at the BCPA box office at 309-434-2777, while tickets for the Springfield performance are available at the Sangamon Auditorium at 217-206-6160. For more information, you can also visit the Illinois Symphony Orchestra online at

Eureka College Theatre did Aristophanes' The Birds a few years ago, so it's only fitting they would take on The Frogs, also by Aristophanes. Holly Rocke directs this classical Greek comedy updated for Eureka with puppets. Performances begin February 25 and finish up March 1. Please note that this is Aristophanes, not the Stephen Sondheim musical (see image at left) set in a swimming pool. For Aristophanes, it was Euripides battling Aeschylus for Best Poet honors. For Sondheim and Shrevelove, it's Shaw vs. Shakespeare. Plus, of course, music. And a pool. Eureka will be going Greek with this one.

And that's just a sampling of February's many options. With the Oscars coming March 2, you will also want to take in a few movies here and there. If you have time!