Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Sarah Ruhl has become a major player in American theater over the past few years. Since The Clean House in 2004 -- a Susan Smith Blackburn Prize winner and a Pulitzer finalist -- Ruhl has hit the big time with Eurydice, Passion Play and Dead Man's Cell Phone and In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play), her first play on Broadway. The Vibrator Play was nominated for three Tony Awards, including Best Play, and it, too, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

In each of these plays, Ruhl wraps her poetic, distinctive voice around issues big and small, from love to death, from passion to religion, connection, power, humor and gender politics. Her work is fresh and different, with liberal helpings of fantasy, wit and intelligence and some seriously interesting female characters.

Locally, you could've seen The Clean House at Heartland, Eurydice at the Station Theatre in Urbana, Passion Play in the Center for the Performing Arts at Illinois State University and Dead Man's Cell Phone at Eureka College. Now director David Ian Lee brings In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) to the CPA at ISU, as well, completing the Ruhl picture.

In the Next Room is lighter, both in tone and situation, than some of Ruhl's other works, tackling the invention of the vibrator as a medical device to cure hysteria in women in the 19th century. Ruhl's story isn't fact-based in terms of the real inventor. Instead, it gives us the fictional Dr. Givings, who is a proponent of using this new technology to bring relief to his unhappy patients. This is all for the good of science, you understand, or for therapeutic reasons, not erotic or prurient in the least.

But his own wife is quite curious about what exactly is going on behind the door into his office, curious enough to talk to his patients and even to sneak into his exam room when he's not there to see what the brouhaha is about. In fact, the image of Catherine Givings with her ear pressed to the door graced the cover of the published script.

At its heart, The Vibrator Play is about more than just vibrators. It's about freedom and repression, about taking ownership of one's own body, about loosening both literal and figurative stays.

Grad students Natalie Blackman and Colin Lawrence will play the Givings for ISU, with Allison Sokolowski as Mrs. Daldry, one of Dr. Givings' patients, Graham Gusloff as Mr. Daldry, Dario Carrion as a male patient who also benefits from the good doctor's ministrations, Kelly Steik as the doctor's helpful office assistant, and Brandi Jones as a wet nurse who provides a different point of view when Catherine Givings needs it.

Performances of In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) begin Thursday, October 2 at the ISU Center for the Performing Arts. For more information on all of ISU's upcoming performances, click here. To find out about buying tickets, click here.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Lori Adams Announces Cast for FALLING

Director Lori Adams has announced her cast for the play Falling by Deanna Jent, to be performed at Heartland Theatre from November 6 to 23, 2014.

For Heartland, Adams' cast will feature Karen Hazen, who played the lead roles in Middletown and Earth and Sky, as Tami Martin, and Rhys Lovell, who starred opposite Hazen in Middletown and most recently directed and acted in My Fair Lady for Prairie Fire Theatre, as her husband Bill. Illinois State University students Daniel Esquivel and Ashley Pruitt will play their children, with Esquivel as Josh, the Martins' severely autistic son, and Pruitt as Lisa, the daughter who wishes her family life were not quite so challenging. Ann Bastian White, who created the senior acting troupe Young at Heartland and recently appeared in New Plays from the Heartland, will portray Grammy Sue, the relative whose visit precipitates change and disruption in the Martin's carefully balanced household.

Jent has often noted that the play's central question is how you love someone who is extremely difficult to love. Falling is semi-autobiographical, in that Jent herself has an autistic son and has confronted first-hand the tangle of educational, legal and medical issues for a family dealing with autism. And every autistic child is different. As she says, when you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism. There are no easy answers and no simple remedies that suit every family, no sure-fire way to catch a mother or father who fears falling down on this parenting job.

Adams directed the world premiere of Falling at the Mustard Seed Theatre in St. Louis in 2012, as well as the play's off-Broadway production at Minetta Lane later that year. Falling was named Outstanding New Play at St. Louis's Kevin Kline Awards in 2012. At Minetta Lane, the play was nominated for three Drama Desk awards, including Outstanding Play for Jent, Outstanding Actress in a Play for Julia Murney, who played Tami, and Outstanding Actor in a Play for Daniel Everidge, who played Josh.

For more information on Falling at Heartland Theatre, click here. For reservation information, click here or email boxoffice@heartlandtheatre.org

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Playwrights Anonymous Goes to the Circus

We may not have Playwrights Horizons or the Playwrights Lab here in Bloomington-Normal, but we do have Playwrights Anonymous. This group spun off from the Young at Heartland acting troupe for seniors, originally as a way to generate material for that group, but now giving members of Playwrights Anonymous a broader forum for their work.

Bruce Boeck (at left), founder of Playwrights Anonymous, stands with Herb Eaton of the Herb Eaton Studio & Gallery
Earlier this year, Playwrights Anonymous staged It's All About Me and then Rejects, in which they performed work that had been previously rejected in other venues. Both events pulled in good audiences, which can also be expected of their newest collection of short plays on a circus theme. The official title of their October production is Fear, Folly and Finesse: The Circus Plays, and it's scheduled for two shows, one at 6 pm and one at 8 pm, on Wednesday, October 8 at the Herb Eaton Studio & Gallery in Bloomington.

Eaton's circus-themed artwork will accompany the dramatic pieces in this one-of-a-kind event.

Local playwrights and a local artist finding inspiration in the circus seems like a natural when you consider Bloomington-Normal's storied connections to the big tent. Way back when, area barns served as a popular off-season rehearsal space for aerialists and flying trapeze artists, and Milner Library at ISU has an extensive circus collection to celebrate that. Maureen Brunsdale and Mark Schmitt, both of whom work in special collections at Milner, wrote a book about that very topic. And, of course, the Gamma Phi Circus has been a staple at ISU, aerialists have shown up in the Discovery Walk at Evergreen Cemetery, and the McLean County History Museum has done special exhibits on the subject. 

Members of Playwrights Anonymous
Because earlier Playwrights Anonymous shows ended up Standing Room Only, reservations are well advised. Call 309-828-1575 to make sure you have a spot.

Click here for more information on Playwrights Anonymous in general or here to see The Circus Plays' Facebook event page.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Witty and Eccentric, HAY FEVER Makes a Mad Dash at ISU

It's tough for today's young actors to pull off the sly and sardonic insouciance that oozes out of a Noel Coward play. Blithe Spirit, Design for Living, Private Lives... The characters live in a sophisticated, droll world where everyone is excessively witty, excessively self-involved and excessively crazy. These people don't talk, they banter or speechify. They don't walk, they saunter or stroll or float. And they don't sit -- they pose languidly against the nearest chaise longue.

All of those eccentricities are in full force in Sonja Moser's production of Coward's Hay Fever for the Illinois State University School of Theatre and Dance. Moser has put her cast through the paces to bring to life the swoony, swanny postures that signify Coward's world.

Hay Fever is set in the early 20s, in a country house a few hours from London. The Bliss family -- former theatre diva Judith; her husband David, a novelist; and their balmy children Sorel and Simon -- have taken up residence here, amusing themselves by bickering and fussing, playing parlor games, maybe indulging in a bit of tennis or punting up the river. Each Bliss has invited a guest from the the city for the weekend without telling each other or their put-upon maid Clara, who used to be Judith's dresser when she was on the stage. So into their midst stumble athletic young Sandy Tyrell, vampish Myra Arundel, proper diplomat Richard Greatham and sweet young flapper Jackie Coryton. At the mercy of the Blisses and their whims, each of the four guests get kissed by someone unexpected, some of them get accidentally engaged, and almost no one gets breakfast.

Among the cast, Bethany Hart stands out with her take on Judith, whose amazing eyelashes and histrionics land her somewhere in the area of Norma Desmond by way of Carol Burnett. Or maybe Alexis Carrington. Kaitlyn Wehr is perfect and perfectly lovely as Sorel, a fresh-faced Judith, Jr., while Colin Trevino-Odell knows exactly what to do with Richard, the stuffy diplomat who is way over his head in this bunch. The rest of the cast keeps the humor afloat, from Kyle Chandler Fitzgerald's goofy Daniel-Radcliffe-esque Simon to Eliza Palumbo's naive ingenue, Alejandro Raya's hale fellow well-met, Gabriela Rivera's sloe-eyed vamp, Lauren Sheffey's clumpy housekeeper and Nico Tangorra's twitchy novelist who doesn't know his Rue St. HonorĂ© from his Rue Boissy d’Anglas. Special mention should be made of Anne Olsen, who comes on board with the world's least flattering headgear as Amy, an extra maid who is generally not on stage. Olsen gives this new character a real spark of insanity in just the right places.

Overall, this Hay Fever is funny and fresh, with a frisky pace that serves it well. Katie McCasland's charming, wrap-around scenic design puts some of the audience smack-dab in the action, properly framing the show and supporting its hijinks, while Jess Ray's costume design is both stylish and flashy in shades of red and purple, with especially entertaining looks for Judith and Sorel Bliss.

It looks great and moves well, and Pete Guither's piano playing as well as Wehr's performance of a pair of Gilbert and Sullivan ditties add to the atmosphere. I'd do away with the extended song that closes the show, however. It brings absolutely everyone back on stage to make fun of show biz and that doesn't really work in the context of the show or the action we've seen, even if it does give all the actors a chance to sing.

Opening night of Hay Fever was sold out, so you are advised to make a reservation for the remaining five performances.

by Noel Coward

The School of Theatre and Dance at Illinois State University
Westhoff Theatre

Director: Sonja Moser
Scenic Designer: Katie McCasland
Costume Designer: Jess Ray
Lighting Designer: Kyle Techentin
Sound Designer: Caisa Sandburg
Stage Manager: Marissa Talarico

Cast: Kyle Chandler Fitzgerald, Bethany Hart, Anne Olsen, Eliza Palumbo, Alejandro Raya, Gabriela Rivera, Lauren Sheffey, Nico Tangorra, Colin Trevino-Odell and Kaitlyn Wehr.

Remaining Performances: September 25, 26 and 27 at 7:30 pm, September 27 and 28 at 2 pm.

Running time: 2:10, including one 10-minute intermission

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Attend the Tale of SWEENEY TODD (Friday on PBS)

When the New York Philharmonic produced an all-star concert version of Stephen Sondheim's Company, they filmed it to show in movie theaters across the country to widen the audience and share the joy. Last March they did Sondheim's Sweeney Todd as a starry concert, and once again, we're in luck. This time they're bringing it to PBS and Live from Lincoln Center -- Friday the 26th at 8 pm Central time on WTVP or WILL -- to let the rest of us see what it was like when opera star Bryn Terfel and movie star Emma Thompson took on the roles of Mr. Todd, the murderous barber out for revenge on those who wronged him, and Mrs. Lovett, his lovestruck cohort in meat-pie crime.

If you have a taste for Sweeney Todd, you won't want to miss this one. If you saw the classic George Hearn/Angela Lansbury Broadway production on stage or as a Great Performance in 1982, you'll want to see this one to see the difference between a concert and a complete staging and to compare fabulous British actresses of different generations.

If you saw the Johnny Depp/Helena Bonham-Carter movie version, you need to see this one to hear what an actual singer can do with Sweeney's songs and what an actress who can sing (as opposed to HB-C) can do with Mrs. Lovett.

Others in this cast include Christian Borle (Peter and the Starcatcher, Smash, the recent Sound of Music with Carrie Underwood and the upcoming Peter Pan), Jay Armstrong, Jeff Blumencrantz, Kyle Brenn and Erin Mackey, with a surprise, unbilled appearance by a performer who has more Tonys on her mantel than Angela Lansbury.

The PBS website has an interview and some tantalizing hints of Terfel's performance, while Jezebel is of the opinion that Emma Thompson can do no wrong and they're offering video clips to prove it. There's also a nice video about Sondheim visiting the performers and some excellent program notes about the history of the piece.

The Terfel/Thompson Sweeney airs at 8 pm and again at 1 am in case you missed it the first time.

And very soon, Live from Lincoln Center will return to Broadway fare, with a broadcast of The Nance with Nathan Lane. Watch for that one October 10.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Catching HAY FEVER Next Week?

It seems like Illinois State University's fall semester has been underway for forever. It's really only been a bit more than a month. But that's plenty of time to get a cast and crew ready for Noel Coward's Hay Fever, a 1924 comedy about an eccentric theatrical family enjoying a weekend in the country.

I call the Bliss family theatrical even though Judith, the mother in the mix, is the only one with a career on the stage. Judith has supposedly retired, but she's still quite the diva. Her husband David is a novelist, while their son Simon fancies himself an artist and daughter Sorel is an ingenue who longs to be "a fresh, open-air girl with a passion for games."

They're all more than a bit crazy. When they take to their country house for the weekend, each member of the Bliss family invites a guest, unbeknownst to the others. Let's just everybody is planning a flirtation with someone. Judith has invited a handsome young boxer named Sandy, while David's guest is Jackie, a dippy but pretty flapper, Simon's is a vamp named Myra and Sorel's is Richard Greatham, a diplomat with a stiff upper lip and more of a sense of propriety than the other nuts and bolts in the bunch.

Once they're all jumbled together in one household -- tennis, anyone? -- things get crazy quickly. The Blisses are already 'round the bend, but their guests and their put-upon housekeeper Clara (she used to be Judith's dresser when she was on the stage) will have to move fast to keep their wits about them.

Hay Fever is not the best-known among Coward's plays, but it does enjoy fairly regular revivals. It's hit Broadway four times, the most recent in 1986. Closer to home, Illinois Wesleyan University put it on a year or two ago. But now Illinois State University and director Sonja Moser are offering their own take on this lighter-than-air confection from 1924.

Moser is known for her singular, often physical approach to material. Her Electra, a show she directed at ISU and then moved to Chicago's Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company, was both musical and meta-theatrical, with country rock songs, a lot of mud and loads of energy.

What will an artist like Moser do with a bon bon like Hay Fever? We'll have to wait till September 24 to find out.

This Hay Fever stars MFA acting candidate Bethany Hart and undergrad Nico Tangorra as Mom and Pop Bliss, with Kaitlyn Wehr and Kyle Fitzgerald as Sorel and Simon. Eliza Palumbo will play Jackie, with Alejandro Reya as Sandy, Gabriela Rivera as Myra, and MFA actor Colin Trevino-Odell as Richard. Lauren Sheffey will play Clara, the housekeeper, with an added character named Amy played by Nicole Greco.

Hay Fever plays in ISU's Westhoff Theatre from September 24 to 28. You can get more information here or go here to order tickets.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Playwright Samuel D. Hunter Receives MacArthur "Genius" Grant

Samuel D. Hunter
Samuel D. Hunter, a playwright originally from Idaho known for his "moving portraits of unlikely protagonists," is part of the 2014 class of "fellows" awarded $625,000 from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The MacArthur Foundation fellowships, often called "genius grants," are awarded annually to a group of artists, scholars, scientists and other innovators deemed worthy of recognition and support.

At Playwrights Horizon in New York, Shuler Hensley starred as the 600-pound outcast at the center of Hunter's best-known play, The Whale. That production earned Hunter a Drama Desk Award and a Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Play as well as Drama League and Outer Critics Circle nominations for Best Play. Hensley played Charlie, a morbidly obese online writing instructor working with the novel Moby Dick in both personal and professional contexts. In Chicago, Dale Calandra took on the role in a Victory Gardens production called "beautifully devastating" by Chicago Tribune critic Chris Jones.

The play paints Charlie as a sensitive, intelligent person stuck inside pounds and pounds of flesh. As he tries to mend his broken relationships with his ex-wife and daughter, he is only too aware that death is right around the corner for him due to physical problems caused by all that excess weight.

A newer play, Rest, is in performance at Victory Gardens Theater till October 12. Like The Whale and A Bright New Boise, Rest is set in Hunter's native Idaho. This time, he focuses on a soon-to-be-shuttered retirement home in the middle of a blizzard, when the last three residents and a skeleton staff try to cope with snow blowing off their doors. Victory Gardens calls Rest "a tender and heartbreakingly funny play about life's unexpected beginnings and endings." You can see more about Rest here, on VG's Facebook page.

Hunter received an undergraduate degree from New York University in 2004, an MFA from the University of Iowa in 2007, and an Artist Diploma from Juilliard’s Playwrights Program in 2009. He is a resident playwright at New Dramatists and an ensemble playwright at Victory Gardens. In addition to Victory Gardens and Playwrights Horizon, his plays have been produced at venues like South Coast Rep, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Seattle Repertory Theatre, The Old Globe, and Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Fall TV Starts Now!

When I was young, everybody launched their fall TV seasons in one fell swoop. And that swoop was my favorite time of the year. Now things are premiering all over the calendar with no specific week, not even a specific season, to point to. But that doesn't mean things don't get exciting on the TV front when September gets here. Favorites return, new shows hit the air, the new shows that hit the air one week disappear forever the next... It's that time again!

If you were interested in Fox's Utopia -- a "social experiment" disguised as a reality show -- well, it started September 7 to dismal ratings and may not be around long. Two other newbies -- Red Band Society, with Octavia Spencer as a snappish but really warm-hearted head nurse in charge at a hospital wing full of very sick children, and The Mysteries of Laura, with Debra Messing as a mom who is also a cop (a mop?) -- debut on Wednesday, September 17.

And then there's Madam Secretary, a political drama with Tea Leoni as a woman pushed from academia onto the national stage as the new Secretary of State. That one premieres on CBS on Sunday the 21st, right before The Good Wife returns and we find out if Alicia wants to run for State's Attorney. CBS is pairing its feistiest, most powerful women on Sunday. And why not?

Fox's buzzworthy Gotham is about Commissioner Gordon, Batman, and the usual villains (Penguin, The Riddler, Catwoman, etc.) but before Gordon was the commish, before Bruce Wayne adopted his superhero alter ego and before the baddies got their supervillain IDs. It begins when Detective Gordon tries to solve a murder -- the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne, Bruce's parents. Ben McKenzie will star as Gordon, with teenager David Mazouz as young Bruce Wayne. Also in the cast are Donal Longue as Harvey Bullock, Gordon's partner on the force, and Jada Pinkett-Smith as crime lord Fish Mooney. You can check out Gotham for yourself on Tuesday, September 22.

Tuesday the 22nd will also see the premiere of Scorpion, about computer geniuses solving world problems from behind their desks, and a sneak peek at Forever, with Ioan Gruffudd as a mysterious man who works in the New York City morgue, examining corpses to try to figure out why he's been around for more than 200 years. If you like Forever, you'll have to wait till September 30 to get episode No. 2.

NCIS New Orleans, with Scott Bakula at the head of the team investigating military crime in the Big Easy, shows up on the 23rd, with black-ish, a family comedy with Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross as the heads of the household, on the 24th. Anderson plays Andre Johnson, who worries that his family's affluence and suburban lifestyle means they're losing touch with the culture he grew up with, while Ross plays his wife, Rainbow, and Laurence Fishburne is apparently old enough to play the granddad in the mix.

Executive producer Shonda Rhimes already has Grey's Anatomy and Scandal on ABC on Thursday nights, and she'll be adding How to Get Away Wwith Murder, starring Viola Davis as a brilliant, sexy criminal law professor with a messy personal life and an even messier criminal defense practice, on the 25th. Davis is a terrific actress who elevates whatever project she's in. Let's hope for good things for her and How to Get Away with Murder, even if the ads look really specious in terms of the criminal law advice she's handing out. Discredit the witnesses, introduce a new suspect, bury the evidence, and apparently lie, cheat, suborn perjury and obstruct justice. Okay then.

The last two new network shows taking a bow in September are Selfie, an upside-down Pygmalion-sitcom, and Manhattan Love Story, a rom com that goes inside the heads of a man and woman beginning a new relationship, both on Tuesday, September 30.

Selfie casts Karen Gillan -- Doctor Who's Amy Pond -- against type as a vapid celebutante trying to improve her public image by hiring John Cho's arrogant Henry Higgins, and the casting makes it more interesting than the premise.

In addition to this slate of new shows, you'll find returning favorites like Dancing with the Stars (tonight), New Girl and The Mindy Project (tomorrow), The Good Wife on Sunday, The Big Bang Theory, Blacklist, Sleepy Hollow and The Voice next Monday, Chicago Fire, Marvel's Agents of SHIELD, NCIS and Person of Interest next Tuesday, and -- get ready -- Chicago PD, The Goldbergs, Law & Order SVU, The Middle, Modern Family, Nashville and Survivor, all on Wednesday September 24. After that, it's Bones, Grey's Anatomy, Parenthood and Scandal on Thursday the 25th, The Amazing Race, Blue Bloods, Hawaii Five-O and Shark Tank on the 26th, the first Saturday Night Live of the new season on the 27th, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, CSI, Family Guy, Masters of Sex, Once Upon a Time, Ray Donovan, Resurrection, Revenge and The Simpsons on the 28th, and Castle, Mom and NCIS Los Angeles on the 29th.

If your favorite is in that bunch somewhere, many happy returns of the season! And if it isn't, stay tuned in October to find the ones you love.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A "Wryly Beguiling" LANGUAGE ARCHIVE Opens Tomorrow at Heartland

It seems there has been a concerted effort to address the "female playwright" problem -- the fact that plays by women are much less likely to get produced than plays with male names on them  -- in Bloomington-Normal. As the Department of Theatre and Dance at Illinois State University launches a fall season that includes work by Sarah Ruhl, Quiara Alegria Hudes and Lynn Nottage, New Route Theatre is holding auditions for a new performance piece by A. Oforiwaa Adruonum and Heartland Theatre opens its first of two plays written by women.

Julia Cho's The Language Archive is up first, opening tomorrow, and that will be followed by Falling by Deanna Jent, an Illinois Wesleyan University alum, in November. Last spring, Heartland's season-ender was Rona Munro's Iron and three of its ten-minute plays were written by woman.

It certainly gives BloNo theatre audiences a chance to see if they think work by women is demonstrably different from work by men or if women are just as individual, as theatrical and as successful on stage as anybody else. (Answers: Probably not and definitely yes.)

The Language Archive is a beautiful piece of writing, showing Cho's skill with weaving real emotion and real life with a little bit of magic and fantasy. It centers on George, a fairly hapless language archivist who has spent his professional life recording lost languages for posterity. If George can collect and preserve language, he cannot really communicate all that well with his fellow human beings, who include his wife, Mary, reduced to leaving cryptic notes in his pockets, his books and even his teacup in an effort to be heard; his lab assistant Emma, who harbors a major crush that he has failed to notice; and Alta and Resten, a couple newly arrived from a faraway land to put their own native tongue, an almost-obsolete language called Elloway, into the archive. Will Mary ever get through to George? Will Emma find the courage to tell him she loves him or to learn Esperanto? Can Alta and Resten stop fighting long enough to speak a few words of Elloway?

Resten (Mark de Veer, L) and Alta (Nancy Nickerson, R) experience a failure to communicate while George (Bruce E. Clark) looks on.
Cho winds all that together beautifully, along with visits from a man named Baker who is indeed a baker, a forceful language instructor who brooks no failures to communicate, and a strange gent who purports to be L. L. Zamenhof, the inventor of Esperanto, the universal language. Look for humor as well as sadness in The Language Archive as Cho looks at what it means to be human and to feel love even when the words don't come easily.

I don't know that there's anything essentially female about The Language Archive, but it certainly does find fertile ground in the idea that language is fragile, powerful and exasperating, especially when it comes to love.

If you want to know more about Julia Cho or The Language Archive, you might be interested in this interview or this piece about Cho, a review of the first production of Language Archive at South Coast Rep, or Chris Jones' Chicago Tribune review of the Piven Workshop production last February in Chicagoland.

The Language Archive opens tomorrow night at Heartland Theatre with a Pay What You Can Preview, followed by performances September 12 and 13; 18, 19, 20 and 21; and 25, 26, 27 and 28. Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances begin at 7:30 pm, while Sunday shows start at 2 pm. Note that a panel discussion follows the Sunday matinee on September 21 -- panelists include ISU professor Connie de Veer, who acted as dialect coach for The Language Archive; Susan Ryder, co-pastor at New Covenant Community who has a special interest in the Tower of Babel; and Hank Campbell from Friends Forever, a program devoted to bringing together children from cultures in conflict to promote friendship and understanding.

Click here to see the list of showtimes and here to see reservation information.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Fill Up Your September Calendar with a Wide Variety of Entertainment

Entertainment is pretty much a year-round deal around here, with something happening every month. But even so... Once our local universities and colleges gear up in September, the calendar starts to get crowded. That means you may want to get out your day planner or your phone or whatever vehicle you use you keep your appointments and start taking notes. It's going to be a fast month.

Heartland Theatre's annual 10-minute play contest is open for entries as of September 1. This year's theme is the Class Reunion, something that should be familiar to almost everyone. Whether you hide out and go nowhere near yours or head up the organizing committee, there's fertile ground for drama there. You have plenty of time to work and rework your short play -- the final deadline isn't till February 1, 2015 -- but you may as well get that first draft going now. And if you get it in by January 1, the judges can ask for revisions if they think that's warranted. Check out all the details here.

Richard Linklater's journey through one boy's life, Boyhood, continues through September 11 at the Art Theater Co-op in Champaign. Linklater came back every year for twelve years to film the same boy, played by Ellar Coltrane. This is "Mason," as he's called in the movie, growing up right there on film. Click here to check the schedule -- the Art is fond of switching things up and offering a variety of times during the run.

New Route Theatre will hold auditions September 6 and 7 for its world premiere production of Walking with My Ancestors by Dr. A. Oforiwaa Aduonum.The show, amounting to a "pilgrimage," a "crusade" and a "search for identity," tells the story of Dr. Aduonum's journey to confront her past and her ancestors' past, through the Middle Passage into slavery, with its terrible impact on generations of lives. Her narrative includes song, dance and the spoken word, and New Route will be looking for male and female actors, singers and dancers to fill out the tableau. See all the details on New Route's audition process here.

If you've never been to the University of Illinois Department of Theatre's Costume and Prop Sale, you (unlike me) don't own a hoop (not the skirt, just the hoop), a Regency mermaid gown or a weird hippy vest that could blend into any forest. You never know what you'll find when they open those vaults. This year's sale commences at 9 am at U of I's Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. Costumes will be showcased in the Studio Theatre on the 5th floor, with props down on level 2. That 9 am start time is for the people who buy a $3 ticket to get a head start, and presumably to put the kibosh on lines around the block or aggressive shostling for position. Check out the info here. And get there early!

U of I's Krannert Center has a whole lot of other offerings in September, as well, including Roseanne Cash: The River and the Thread on September 13, the St. Louis Symphony on September 14, dance and theatre from Susan Marshall & Company in a piece called Play/Pause on September 23, and a few pieces of Champaign-Urbana's Pygmalion Festival, including music and poetry, on September 25 and 26.

The Philadelphia Story, the 1939 divorce comedy played out in the mansions of Philadelphia's Mainline, comes to Community Players beginning September 4 with a preview performance. The Broadway stage version was a comeback of sorts for Katharine Hepburn, as her pal, playwright Philip Barry, penned another play just for her. And then Kate starred in the movie, too, opposite Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart, creating a fizzy, fabulous piece of film history. Rich heiress Tracy Lord is in the midst of planning her wedding (her second), this time to "man of the people" George Kittredge. But her ex, the suave and debonair C. K. Dexter Haven, and two reporters from Spy magazine pretending to be friends of Tracy's older brother while really trying to get the inside scoop on the big society wedding, are throwing all kinds of obstacles in her way. Who will Tracy end up with? What do privilege and place have to do with who belongs with whom? Is is better to be a goddess or a living, breathing woman? You can get all your answers when Players' production, directed by Tricia Stiller, opens this week, running through September 14.

Julia Cho's "wryly beguiling" play The Language Archive, winner of the 2010 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, opens at Heartland Theatre on September 11 with a pay-what-you-can preview, followed by performances September 12-13, 18-21 and 25-28. Kathleen Kirk directs this look at the lapses between love and language, where a language archivist named George faces losing his wife because he just can't find the right words to make her stay. In the midst of that, George's assistant in the lab nurtures a major crush on her boss, and two visitors from a strange land -- the last speakers of a language called Elloway -- come to the lab to share their tongue before it disappears forever. Bruce Clark and Devon Lovell play George and Mary, the couple who have such trouble speaking from the heart, with Michelle Kaiden as Emma, the lab assistant, Nancy Nickerson and Mark de Veer as the last speakers of Elloway, Vanessa Houssian as a language instructor, Chris Stucky as Mr. Baker, and J. Michael Grey as Zamenhof, the inventer of Esperanto.

Also at Heartland, look for auditions for Deanna Jent's Falling, a moving look at a family dealing with an autistic child who is getting too big to handle. Director Lori Adams has cast Karen Hazen and Rhys Lovell as the parents of this "difficult to love" child, and she will be looking for actresses to play teenager Lisa, who wishes her family were a lot more "normal," and Grammy Sue, whose entrance into the family dynamic shakes things up. Auditions for these roles will take place on Sunday, September 21, from 7 to 9:30 pm, with callbacks scheduled for Tuesday, the 23rd, if necessary. Performances will take place in November.

The Department of Theatre and Dance at Illinois State University sneaks a show into September with Hay Fever at Westhoff Theatre September 24 to 28. Sonja Moser directs this lighter-than-air Noel Coward classic about a theatrical family enjoying a weekend in the country in the 1920s, tormenting their guests with their eccentricities and their charmingly awful behavior. Moser's approach may make this Hay Fever look very different from any other Hay Fevers you might've experienced. We'll just have to wait to find out. (The Playbill at right is from the 1985 Broadway production of Hay Fever that starred Rosemary Harris as Judith Bliss. Don't you love that hat?)

Eureka College begins its semester by bringing back the musical You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown to Pritchard Theatre. Holly Rocke directs a cast that includes Christopher Tam as Charlie Brown, Krissy Franz as his sister Sally, Jake Geiger as his dog Snoopy, Austin Bristow II as his pal Linus, Isabella Anderson as Linus's sister Lucy, and Rahmell Brown as Schroeder, the piano player Lucy fancies. The last time Eureka did Charlie Brown, two names you may recognize -- Brandon Burling and Joel Shoemaker -- headlined the cast as Chuck and Snoopy. This Charlie Brown and its perennial youngsters will sing for their "Suppertime" from September 25 to October 4.

Illinois Wesleyan also launches its fall season this month, with Sam Shepard's A Lie of the Mind, opening September 30. Shepard's play deals with spousal abuse, brain damage, family dysfunction, gender gaps and crimes of the heart. It packs a punch, that's for sure. The original off-Broadway production featured Harvey Keitel, Geraldine Page and Amanda Plummer, while Keith Carradine, Maggie Siff and Laurie Metcalf took roles in the 2010 revival. IWU's production play from September 30 to October 5. Click here for information.

September is also the month of choice for a lot of television premieres, both for returning shows and new ones. I'm going to save those for a different post, but in the meantime... Let's all go out and support our local entertainment!