Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Winners (and Auditions!) for Heartland's 10-Minute Play Festival

Heartland Theatre Company has announced the winning playwrights and plays in its annual 10-minute play festival, along with audition information. Auditions will be April 20 and 21, from 7 to 9:30 pm.

This year's theme is Class Reunions, with each play somehow involving that idea. For the first time, there are nine winning plays instead of the usual eight, with a total of 23 roles available for characters from 18 to 90. Heartland notes that the ages attached to the scripts are for the characters, not necessarily the actors. They also note that actors are welcome to audition even if they have conflicts with performance dates because it has been possible in the past to double-cast a role to cover conflicts.

Auditioners will be asked to read from the script, with no monologues or prepared audition pieces required.

And here is all the info you'll need on the winners:

AULD LANG SYNE by Dan Borengasser, Springdale AR
Fifty years ago, Blake and Jack each thought they came first in Lily’s heart. Now that they’re older and presumably wiser — and without spouses — they’re still vying for Lily. May the best man win!
2 M, 1 W, 60s.

BITTERSWEET SAMBA by Sean Crawford, Waltham MA
David needs to get into this reunion. Bad. Unfortunately, it isn’t his reunion, and Gary, the gatekeeper, isn’t about to let him pass. Rock, meet Hard Place. How will David get past Gary into the one place that holds his heart’s desire?
1 M, 20s and 1 M, 30s

DEVEREAUX REDUX by Tim West, San Diego CA
Dixon is sidestepping his reunion to go straight to the professor — stern, exacting taskmaster Devereaux — who once made his life difficult. Why is he still trying to figure out Devereaux? Why do we keep poking at the past?
1 M, 30s, and I M, 60s

HAPPY HOUR by Deborah Duane, Milburn NJ
It’s pretty unconventional to put a class reunion in a funeral home. But when 90-year-old Sister Mary Bernadette shuffles off this mortal coil a few days before the big reunion, plans are going to have to change. Welcome to Happy Hour, with a dead nun who is still dispensing advice even from the Great Beyond.
2 W, 30s to 40s, and 1 W, 90

IT’S BEEN YEARS by Scott Tobin, Waltham MA
Dominic seems to know every single detail of Rose Ella’s life, even though she doesn’t remember him at all. Better watch out for snoopy ex-classmates who think Facebook “friends” are the real thing.
1 M, 1 W, 30s to 40s

OLD FLAMES by Erin Considine, Lawrenceville GA
It’s hard to predict where you will go when you leave high school. But “Most Likely to End Up a Phone Sex Operator” and “Will Never Be Kissed” were not in the yearbook, which means Mary, a teacher at the same school she went to, and Gina, “Most Likely to Smoke in the Teachers’ Lounge,” are working without a net.
2 W, 1 M, 30s to 40s

THE SONG WE SHARED by Jimmy Holder, Milledgeville GA
Lou and Mo are too young to be swimming in the waters of emotional maturity, but that doesn’t stop them from putting a toe in a murky puddle. In twenty years, will they be going to their reunion with regrets and apologies? Together? Apart? Singing a different song?
1 M, 1 W, 18

A SUPER REUNION by Candace Perry, Welfleet MA
There’s a lot to live up to when your entire graduating class is super. Wanda once saved the world, but now she’s worried about sexist superhero costumes, which of her colleagues are using their X-ray vision in creepy ways, and whether her cape makes her butt look big. Super or not, reunions are tough!
1 M, 1 W, 50s

VALIDATION by Robin Pond, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Fenton Crisp has a master plan: Bring together the people who wronged and ignored him in high school and make them pay. He’s now got buckets of money, and if he has his way, old classmates Allan, Debbie and Judy will grovel for the bucks. Grovel, do you hear? Bwahaha!
2 M, 2 W, 50s

Performances of Heartland's Class Reunion 10-Minute Play Festival are scheduled for June 4-6, 11-14, 18-20 and 25-28, 2015. Click here for audition information

Friday, March 27, 2015

Zinnie Harris and Stephen Karam Honored with 2015 Berwin Lee Awards

Playwrights Zinnie Harris and Stephen Karam were announced last week as the second-ever winners of the Berwin Lee Playwrights Award. Trustees Dorothy Berwin, Mark Lee and Tom Kirdahy made the announcement, and BroadwayWorld.com notes that "The Berwin Lee Award was created to foster and promote the craft of playwriting in both the United States and the United Kingdom and to encourage the writing and production of plays."

For this award, the trustees are looking for playwrights whose work has not yet been produced on Broadway or in London's West End. They have chosen one American winner -- Pennsylvania native Karam -- and one winner from the United Kingdom -- Harris, who currently resides in Edinburgh -- and each received a prize of $25,000 as part of the award. Those monies were offered as a commission of sorts, to allow the selected playwrights the time and freedom they need to write whatever they want, no strings attached.

Both playwrights are rising stars on both sides of the Atlantic, with Harris's The Wheel, a play originally commissioned by the National Theatre of Scotland, enjoying a major Chicago production starring Joan Allen at Steppenwolf; and Karam's Sons of the Prophet nominated for a 2012 Pulitzer Prize and staged at the Roundabout in a production that catapulted Santino Fontana into stardom.

On a personal note, both playwrights are particular favorites of mine. Harris's Further Than the Furthest Thing and Karam's Speech & Debate, which is like a prequel to Glee before there was a Glee, have landed in my "wish pile."

Here are the official bios released with the award news:

Playwright Zinnie Harris
Zinnie Harris is a playwright and theatre director. Her celebrated early play Further Than the Furthest Thing (which toured from the Traverse theatre to the National Theatre) won her the Peggy Ramsay Playwriting and John Whiting Award in 2001. Her most recent play, How to Hold Your Breath, premiered at the Royal Court Jerwood downstairs in 2015. Other plays include The Wheel (2011, National Theatre of Scotland), which won a Fringe First; an adaptation of A Doll's House (2009, Donmar Warehouse); Midwinter (2004, RSC), which won an Arts Foundation Fellowship Prize for Playwriting; and By Many Wounds (1999, Hampstead Theatre). Zinnie's television work includes two 90 minute dramas for Channel 4, Born With Two Mothers and Richard Is My Boyfriend; episodes for the BBC One Drama Series SPOOKS; and work as lead writer on the series Partners in Crime (based on the Agatha Christie novels Tommy and Tuppence), for Endor / BBC 1 (to be broadcast in 2015), starring David Walliams.

Pllaywright Stephen Karam
Stephen Karam is the author of Sons of the Prophet, a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize and the recipient of the 2012 Drama Critics Circle, Outer Critics Circle, Lucille Lortel and Hull-Warriner Awards for Best Play. Other plays include Speech & Debate (the inaugural production of Roundabout Underground), columbinus, and Dark Sisters, an original chamber opera with composer Nico Muhly. His new play, The Humans, premiered in Chicago at American Theater Company and will open in New York at Roundabout Theatre Company in October of 2015. Stephen is a MacDowell Colony fellow, and the recipient of the inaugural Sam Norkin Drama Desk Award. Born and raised in Scranton, PA, he's a graduate of Brown University.

Last year's winners in the first year of the Berwin Lee Awards were Bathsheba Doran from the United States and Lucy Kirkwood from the UK. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

A Creepy Imaginary Friend Named MR. MARMALADE Lurks at ISU FreeStage

If you are a theater fan and you haven't heard of Noah Haidle, well, you really ought to get out more.
Haidle has been described as "precocious and formidably talented" as well as "the king of quirk" and (my personal favorite), "the overachieving young playwright formerly known for hyperintellectual insouciance."

His work has been seen around the world, from South Coast Rep in California to New York City to England and Germany, with a triumph called Smokefall that was so well-received that it closed and then came back a year later in a larger space at the Goodman in Chicago. Here is Haidle's official bio from the Goodman:
Mr. Haidle's plays have premiered at the Goodman (Vigils), Lincoln Center Theater, Roundabout Theatre Company, the Huntington Theatre Company, Long Wharf Theatre, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, South Coast Repertory, Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, the Williamstown Theatre Festival, the Summer Play Festival in New York City, HERE Arts Center, as well as many others around the United States and abroad. He is a graduate of Princeton University and The Juilliard School, where he was a Lila Acheson Wallace playwright-in-residence. He is the recipient of three Lincoln Center Lecompte Du Nouy awards, the 2005 Helen Merrill Award for emerging playwrights, the 2007 Claire Tow Award and an NEA/TCG Theatre Residency Grant. He is published by Methuen in London, Suhrkamp in Berlin, and through Dramatists Play Service in New York City. His original screenplay Stand Up Guys, starring Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin, produced by Lionsgate and Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, opened in February 2013. Smokefall opened at South Coast Repertory in April 2013. He is currently working on commissions from Lincoln Center Theater, Yale Repertory Theatre, South Coast Repertory, and is set to direct his screenplay The Rodeo Clown, produced by Olive Productions and Mosaic. Mr. Haidle is a proud resident of Detroit.
The Goodman production of Smokefall is headed to New York in 2016, but Haidle's work has already been seen on New York stages. Mr. Marmalade, his play about a precocious 4-year-old with a wildly inappropriate imaginary friend, played off-Broadway at the Laura Pels Theatre in 2005 with Mamie Gummer (Meryl Streep's daughter) as the child and Dexter's Michael C. Hall as the title character.

Mr. Marmalade and its twisted humor (built on a kid who imagines a companion with addictions to both cocaine and pornography) are perfect for Illinois State University's FreeStage program, which allows students to put on shows that color outside the lines. Coloring outside the lines is also perfect for this particular production of Mr. Marmalade, since director Kelsey Kott is inviting audience members to take crayons to her black-and-white show poster (seen below, colored in) and to bring play furniture and crayons to the show.

Doesn't that look like fun? You can add your own color to Mr. Marmalade this weekend, with performances at 7:30 Friday and Saturday and 4 pm Sunday in Centennial West 202. Admission is free, but seating is extremely limited (no more than 60 people per show) so you are encouraged to email Kelsey Kott at kmkott@ilstu.edu to reserve a seat.

For this ISU FreeStage production, Carolyn Asplund plays Lucy, the little girl with the vivid imagination, John D. Poling steps in as the dark and dangerous Mr. Marmalade, and Vince Lange plays Mr. M's unfortunate personal assistant.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

ISU Invites You to a Proper PRIDE AND PREJUDICE Opening Thursday at the CPA

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is that rare bird, a popular novel that is mostly a romance but is also accepted as literature in English departments everywhere. P & P has never been out of print, it continues to sit at the top of lists of "most favorite books ever," and it left in its wake the entire Regency subgenre within the world of romance novels.

For years, modern authors have been working within Austen's era -- the narrow sliver of 1811 to 1820, or the Regency of George IV -- and writing about who is and who isn't part of the ton, weak lemonade at Almack's, dashing heroes in Hessian boots, and lovely young women who are "diamonds of the first water."

When it comes to Pride and Prejudice itself, there are at least a dozen movie and television versions, plus a Youtube series, a host of prequels, sequels and spin-offs, and in the book world, mysteries, manga, horror, chick-lit and erotica, from Bridget Jones' Diary to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, fashion and etiquette how-tos and a counting book for babies.

There are also, of course, stage versions, including two musicals and an opera. Director Lori Adams has chosen a 2011 script by Joseph Hanreddy and J. R. Sullivan as a showcase for Illinois State University's MFA actors, casting all eight of them in various roles to fill out the Regency tapestry of Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth Bennet, the second-eldest Bennet daughter who is more frank and less interested in the marriage market than seems healthy in her world, will be played by Natalie Blackman, while Robert Johnson will take on Mr. Darcy, Lizzie's romantic foil.

Colin Lawrence will play Mr. Wickham, a charming but untrustworthy suitor, while Joey Banks takes on Mr. Collins, a puffed-up clergyman whose marital prospects are also in the mix. Ronald Roman and Faith Servant have been cast as the Bennet parents, patient Mr. Bennet and dithering Mrs. Bennet, with Bethany Hart as both Caroline Bingley and Lady Catherine de Bourgh, different generations of snobby aristocrats, and Colin Trevino-Odell as Mr. Gardiner and Fitzwilliam, relatives of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy respectively.

The other four Bennet sisters will be played by Megan Tennis, Clare Supplitt, Amanda Nach and Brittany Mounce. Rounding out the cast are Mitch Fischer as Mr. Bingley, Darcy's friend; Tynece Allen as Darcy's sister Georgiana; Julie Schmitt as Elizabeth's friend Charlotte Lucas; Larissa Strong as Mrs. Lucas, Lauren Partch as Mrs. Gardiner; as well as Ryan Engelman, Kyle Fitzgerald, Marixa Ford, Elizabeth Good, Cassie Green, Graham Gusloff, Tim Jefferson, Jessica Lubinski and Andrew Piechota in supporting roles.

ISU's Pride and Prejudice opens March 26 in the Center for the Performing Arts, with performances through April 4. For ticket information, click here or call the CPA box office at 309-438-2535 Monday through Friday between the hours of 11 am and 5 pm.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Filmmaker John Sayles at IWU Next Week

Eight Men Out.

The Brother from Another Planet.

Return of the Secaucus Seven.


The Secret of Roan Inish.

Lone Star.


Passion Fish.

All great movies with terrific writing, compelling characters, a social conscience and real intelligence. That's John Sayles. He also wrote the screenplays to Piranha, The Howling and Alligator, movies with a lot more wit and spark than you'd expect from the titles.

Sayles is a native of Schenectady, New York, and a graduate of Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, which also boasts composer Stephen Sondheim, film director Elia Kazan, playwright A. R. Gurney and actor David Strathairn among its famous alumni. More on Strathairn in a minute, but Maggie Renzi, the woman who would become Sayles' frequent collaborator, producer and life partner, is a also a Williams College grad.

Since his college days, Sayles has managed to make movies while still maintaining his own ethos and setting his own path. His screenplays for Passion Fish and Lone Star were nominated for Academy Awards, and he received a so-called "genius grant" from the MacArthur Foundation. His first film, The Return of the Secaucus Seven, put him -- and to a certain extent, indie films in general -- on the map. Sayles has appeared as an actor in six of his own movies, while Renzi showed up in seven. David Strathairn was in six, as well, including memorable roles in Eight Men Out, Matewan, Secaucus Seven and Brother from Another Planet.

As part of a program from Illinois Wesleyan University's Center for Human Rights and Social Justice, the Chaplain’s Office, the Department of History and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Sayles and Renzi will be visiting Bloomington-Normal next week to discuss their work and screen a 2010 film called Amigo.

This week, as a ramp-up to the official visit, IWU has put up a mini-film festival, with Lone Star last night, Matewan at 7 pm tonight and Casa de los babys at 4 pm on March 19 in Ames Library's Beckman Auditorium. Those three films illustrate Sayles' range as well as his commitment to social issues, with Lone Star delving into racism and murder in a small town in Texas, Matewan looking at a 1920 miner's strike in West Virginia, and Casa de los babys centering on American women hoping to adopt Latin American babies.

Amigo -- Sayles' look at the Philipine-American war of 1900 -- will be on screen March 26 at 7 pm in the Hansen Student Center, with Sayles and Renzi on hand after the film to take questions. The film features Chris Cooper as a tough American military man and Filipino star Joel Torre as the mayor of a small town caught in the crossfire.

Showcasing the fact that he is a master of more than one trade, Sayles will also read from his most recent novel, A Moment in the Sun, at 4 pm on March 25 in Beckman Auditorium. A New York Times Notable Book of 2011, A Moment in the Sun picks up its action in 1897, during the Alaska gold rush. It "takes the reader into the Spanish-American War, the Filipino fight for independence, racial injustice and the plight of working people in the U.S.," according to IWU's press release.

You can see the common thread in all these disparate works -- injustice, the struggles of the common man (or woman) and how easy it is to get crushed when corruption, greed, bigotry and wealth come calling. And that is a story that always needs to be told.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

It's Sticky Time Again!

Sticky in the Sticks, the short-plays-in-a-bar phenomenon that popped up in Normal last year, is back March 20th for our post-Ides-of-March, post-St. Patty's entertainment. There's even a snake play to keep your St. Patrick's celebration going.

March 20th is actually both Proposal Day and Extraterrestrial Abduction Day, although there is no info at this point indicating that Sticky organizers Connie Blick and J. Michael Grey are using either as a theme. Note to Connie and J. Michael: You may want to think about Extraterrestrial Abduction Proposals for next year because that would be awesome.

In the meantime, Bottoms Up Lights Down for March will be a program of five ten-minute plays, ranging from work by local authors to plays that are direct from New York. Here's the line-up:

By J. Michael Grey
Directed by Fais Koos Fiste
Featuring Dan Otsuka, Carly Prokup and Keaton Richard

By Maxwell Johnson
Directed by J. Michael Grey
Featuring Brandon Smith and Zachary Wildman

By Bridgette Richard
Directed by Bettie Lucca
Featuring Catie Breaux, Wes Melton and Lizzy Selzer

By James Pravasilis
Directed by Ali Ayala
Featuring Connie Blick and J. Michael Grey

By J. Michael Grey
Directed by Fais Koos Fiste
Featuring Andrew Kouba, Brandon Smith, Maureen Sterrenberg and Gwendolyn Yale

These five plays are available for the small sum of $7, collected at the door. You'll find the Sticky stuff at the Firehouse Pizza and Pub, with music from an indie pop/alt band called Alex and the XOs opening the evening at 8 pm. After a set from Alex and the XOs, Sticky's plays will be up, right there at the bar. Audience members are invited to get a beverage at the bar and take a seat for the program. It's fun, it's different, it's an adult Friday night out in Uptown Normal.

Monday, March 16, 2015

ISU 2015-16: From NYC to Chicago, From Troy to El Salvador and Never Never Land

It's that time! Spring for theaters -- even college theater departments -- means it's also time to put together schedules for the fall. For playwrights, it means lots of rejections (and maybe a few acceptance letters) in their mailboxes. For actors and designers, it means looking ahead to decide what they most want to work on.

In that spirit, as well as to give local audiences something to look forward to, Illinois State University has released their tentative schedule for fall 2015 and spring 2016. Although dates are not carved in stone, this is what the School of Theatre and Dance has planned:

Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs will open in late September in the Center for the Performing Arts. MFA directing candidate Jonathan Hunt-Sell, who just finished up his run of Moliere's School for Wives, will direct this warm comedy about a Jewish family living in Brooklyn in the 1930s, with son Eugene (based on Simon himself) dreaming of girls, baseball and a life not bound by his crazy relatives. Brighton Beach Memoirs is the first play of three Simon wrote about Eugene Jerome, moving on to his military years in Biloxi Blues and the beginnings of his comedy career in Broadway Bound. Brighton Beach originally starred Matthew Broderick as Eugene on Broadway. It's a sweet play, full of Depression-era atmosphere and eccentric characters, with good roles for both men and women.

The action moves from New York to Chicagoland in October with Grease, the 1950s musical with book, music and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. This trip to Rydell High, with its hotrods, Pink Ladies and summer lovin', will be directed by Lori Adams. The stage musical, which played for 3388 performances in its first Broadway incarnation and then came back for 1500 more in the 90s, spawned the hugely successful movie with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. If you know all the words to "Beauty School Drop-Out" and "Greased Lightning" (and let's not kid ourselves -- who doesn't?), you will be first in line to see Grease at ISU's CPA.

Also in October, Duane Boutté will direct August Wilson's Fences, winner of the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, in Westhoff Theatre. Like Grease, Fences is set in the 1950s. Like Brighton Beach Memoirs, it has a connection to baseball. More importantly, it's part of a larger collection of plays. Fences is the sixth decade Wilson dealt with in his century of plays about African-Americans trying to find their way in the United States. The original Broadway production starred James Earl Jones as Troy, now a garbage man, but once a promising baseball player before he was sent to prison for robbery.

That will be followed by The Trojan Women, a tragedy from Greek playwright Euripides that focuses on the horrific after-effects of war for the women left behind after their world has been destroyed. Their husbands, fathers and children are dead. Their homes are gone. And they face a future of grief, death, rape and slavery. Connie de Veer will direct Ellen McLaughlin's adaptation of The Trojan Women in Westhoff Theatre. McLaughlin, an actress best known for originating the role of the Angel in Angels in America, has come back to the Greeks again and again, with works like Iphigenia and Other Daughters, Helen, The Persians and Oedipus on her resume. Her Trojan Women has not made it to Broadway, although Gilbert Murray's translation played at the Cort Theatre in 1941. A 1971 film version drawing from Edith Hamilton's translation starred Katharine Hepburn and Vanessa Redgrave, and those are the faces you see in the poster here.

The Trojan Women will be followed by a dance concert in November to finish up the 2015 part of the schedule.

In February 2015, we'll see Street Scene, with music by Kurt Weill and lyrics by Langston Hughes, based on the 1929 Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Elmer Rice, in the Center for the Performing Arts. Rice also wrote the book for this "American opera," which focuses on two swelteringly hot summer days on the steps of a tenement on New York's East Side. The people who live inside the tenement -- a variety of cultures and ethnicities, ages and genders -- fall in love, have affairs, argue, struggle to pay the rent, celebrate and despair.

Also in February, Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and its star-crossed lovers will come to Westhoff Theatre in a production directed by Kevin Rich.

Bocon!,  by Lisa Loomer, a dark piece of magical realism about a Salvadoran boy who notices that everyone he knows who speaks out disappears, will be directed by Cyndee Brown for Westhoff in March. The image you see above comes from a New Mexico production of the play.

That will be followed by Wendy and Peter Pan, a different take on the Peter Pan story, adapted for the stage by Ella Hickson, directed by Jessika Malone in the CPA in April. This version of the boy who didn't want to grow up comes from the Royal Shakespeare Company.

And with one final dance concert in April, the Illinois State University School of Theatre and Dance closes out another eclectic season.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

It's DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS Time at Community Players

Community Players is ready for a trip to the Riviera with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, the Broadway musical that focuses on two con men plying their trade among wealthy women in the south of France. Their Scoundrels take the stage tonight for a Pay-What-You-Can preview, followed by performances through March 29.

So what is Dirty Rotten Scoundrels? Just how dirty rotten are those scoundrels? Well, pretty rotten, anyway. Not exactly dirty. In fact, Lawrence, the sophisticated and charming one of the pair, depends on elegance to ply his trade. Lawrence is a master at his game, while Freddy is a bit of a mess, pretending to be hapless and lost as he angles for a few francs. When Lawrence becomes annoyed by Freddy's interference, the two start a game of their own -- they will both try to con a specific women and whoever wins gets to be "King of the Mountain" of their specific turf on the Riviera.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels the musical takes its story from two movies. First there was 1964's Bedtime Story, starring David Niven and Marlon Brando as the pair of con men with decidedly different styles. That was remade in 1988 as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, with Michael Caine and Steve Martin in the roles.

The musical version, with music and lyrics by David Yazbeck and book by Jeffrey Lane, hews more closely to that 1988 film, which only seems fair given that they share a title. Let's just say that if you've seen Bedtime Story, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels will start to seem different about 3/4 of the way through.

Stories have circulated that the 1980's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was originally intended as a vehicle for David Bowie and Mick Jagger, who were fresh off a popular "Dancin' in the Streets" video, but it didn't come off. Still, it's amusing to imagine those two as Lothario con men trying to outdo each other. 

The musical previewed on Broadway in January of 2005, making it to 627 performances before it closed. The original stars were John Lithgow as Lawrence, the dapper, sophisticated seducer played by Niven and Caine, with Norbert Leo Butz as Freddy, who uses pity to prey on women's sympathies, previously portrayed by Brando and Martin.

With its French Riviera setting, breezy plot and comedic hijinks, not to mention top-level stars in Butz and Lithgow, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels the musical was nominated for 11 Tony Awards, including Best Musical as well as Best Score for Yazbeck, Best Book for Lane, Best Actor for Lithgow, Best Actress for Sherie Renee Scott as their primary mark and Best Supporting Actress for Joanna Gleason. The only winner was Norbert Leo Butz, who beat out his costar for that Best Actor trophy.

For Community Players, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels stars Dave Montague and Nick Benson as Lawrence and Freddy, with Vicky Snyder as the mark they're both aiming for. The rest of the cast includes Rosie Hauck, Joe McDonald, Wendy Baugh, Samm Bettis, Jennifer Maloy, Missy Montefalco, Julie Strunk, Wendi Fleming, Joshua McCauley, Opal Virtue, Jason Strunk, Brenton Ways, Jake Rathman, Chris Terven and Aimee Kerber, all under the direction of Alan Wilson.Allen Popowski is musical director, while Bridgette Richard and Alex Lovel are choreographers.

For information on this production, including a link to buy tickets, click here.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Tena Štivičić's 3 WINTERS Wins Susan Smith Blackburn Prize

Just as submissions are sought for the American Theatre Critics Association's Francesca Primus Prize for emerging female playwrights, we got news that the 2015 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize -- the oldest and largest prize awarded to women playwrights -- had been awarded to Tena Štivičić for her play 3 Winters.

Playwright Tena Štivičić
Štivičić is a native of Zagreb, Croatia, although she now makes her home in London. She holds an MA in Writing for Performance from Goldsmiths College, University of London, and she writes in both English and Croatian. Her plays include pieces for children as well as collaborative works. They include  Europe (2013), Invisible (2011), Fragile! (2004), and Can't Escape Sundays (2000). uced in a number of European countries and translated and published in some ten languages. Štivičić's plays have won numerous awards including the European Authors Award and Innovation Award. Her play Seven Days in Zagreb was part of a European Theatre Convention project called "Orient Express" in 2009, and a film adaptation of her play Invisible was in development at the time of this post.

3 Winters was produced at London's National Theatre in 2014, and Štivičić has indicated that she hopes winning the Blackburn Prize will mean her play can generate interest in a New York production, as well. The play has been published by Nick Hern Books in the UK.

For a British interview, Štivičić's family saga was described as "an epic story that spans 70 years in the life of four generations of women living in one house in Zagreb, Croatia." The press release announcing the Blackburn Prize offers more detail:
"3 Winters creates a portrait of an eclectic family held together by generations of formidable women. Through the lens of one family's struggle and triumphs, we witness the story of Croatia,from the remnants of monarchy to Communism, democracy, war and the EU. Reviewer for The Guardian, Michael Billington described the play as a "richly complex mosaic", where "what emerges, with unequivocal clarity, is the way political events shape personal relationships and the capacity of women to adjust to history's hardships."
As the winner of the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, Štivičić was given a cash prize of $25,000 and a signed, numbered print created especially for the Blackburn Prize by artist Willem de Kooning. She joins previous winners like Annie Baker, Julia Cho, Caryl Churchill, Gina Gionfriddo, Katori Hall, Marsha Norman, Dael Orlandersmith, Sarah Ruhl, Paula Vogel, Naomi Wallace and Wendy Wasserstein. Luck Kirkwood's Chimerica won last year and went on to take Britain's Olivier Award for Best New Play, as well.

For the complete list of finalists and winners (an excellent resource for literary managers and others planning seasons), click here.

Monday, March 9, 2015

New Plays Await, but the Deadline for Humana Festival Reservations Looms

Although Actors Theatre of Louisville's 39th annual Humana Festival of New American Plays has already begun, there's still time -- a little time -- to reserve a package of tickets to the "Industry Weekends" that wrap up the Festival in April. The deadline for registration for the Industry Weekends is March 11, which means it's time to get moving if you want to be there!

There are other new play festivals around the country, but the Humana Festival remains one of the most accessible, prestigious and enjoyable. The Industry Weekends -- the last two weekends of the Festival -- bring together press, producers, directors, agents, artistic directors, literary managers, playwrights, publishers and other theatre professionals, gathered to see a crop of new works by rising and established playwrights.

From the descriptions offered by Actors Theatre (although they always claim there is no overriding theme), this year's slate seems to be about how we embrace life and each other, bridging gaps or falling in between. Actors Theatre rolls out their Humana Festival choices over the weeks between March 2 and April 12, with weekend packages offering the possibility of three plays March 20 to 22, five plays March 27 to 29, six plays April 4 to 5, and all six plays plus a program of 10-minute plays April 10 to 12.  Here's what you'll see if you come that last weekend, when the full array is being performed:

by Jen Silverman.
Sharon considers herself a sensible, middle-aged Midwestern woman. But when she finds herself in need of a roommate to pay the bills, she ends up with Robyn, a vegan from the Bronx who is secretive and a smoker. Sharon is persistent in her efforts to get to know Robyn and to show her that sharing and growing can be good things. But it may be Sharon who changes the most.

by Colman Domingo
At Christmas time, the Shealy family -- Dotty and her three grown children -- is in need of a whole lot more than a tree to brighten their inner-city home. In this "wild and moving dark comedy," Dotty Shealy and her kids will find open up issues of elder care and midlife crisis along with their Christmas gifts.

by Erin Courtney
Ghosts, earthquakes, haunted memories... That's the world seventeen-year-old Penelope discovers after her mother dies, when she movies to a small town in the mountains in California to live with her aunt. Set next to a ghost town, I Will Be Gone looks at "the beauty and awkwardness of living with the knowledge that everything ends."

by Charles Mee
Thomas Merton was a world traveler in his youth, but a Trappist monk in Kentucky by the age of 26. He wrote some 70 books on faith and social justice before he died at 53. In this play, Mee celebrates what would have been Merton's 100th birthday with "a wildly theatrical meditation on happiness, love, the values of solitude and...seeking heaven on earth."

Text by Gregory S. Moss and Pig Iron Theatre Company
Philadelphia's Pig Iron Theatre Company brings its "unique method of performance research and collaborative creation, plus a signature physical approach to character" to Louisville with this delirious science fiction allegory about intergalactic nuns in search of a Holy Gay Flame.

by Jeff Augustin, Diana Grisanti, Cory Hinkle and Cherise Castro Smith
This year's showcase for Actors Theatre's Apprentice Company is all about bluegrass. Or, as Actors Theatre puts it, "In a lively theatrical album of scenes...four writers respond with playfulness and poignancy to the signature sounds, inherited stories, and cultural impact of this very American—and very Kentucky—music tradition."

Note that Charles Mee's The Glory of the World is the one Actors Theatre's Artistic Director Les Water has chosen to direct.

In addition to these six full-length plays, the Humana Festival also features a program of three 10-minute plays during the second Industry Weekend. Those are Rules of Comedy by Patricia Cotter, Joshua Consumed an Unfortunate Pear by Steve Yockey and So Unnatural a Level by Gary Winter. Winter's play won this year's Heideman Award, granted by Actors Theatre to the winner of its national 10-minute play contest. The Heideman Award also comes with a $1000 check to the winning playwright. To read more about the three 10-minute plays chosen to be performed as part of the Humana Festival, click here.

For more information about the entire Humana Festival of New American Plays and to find reservation information, visit Actors Theatre's website here.

Thursday, March 5, 2015


As we open our March schedule, note that several fine local shows are continuing this week, with performances of Moliere's School for Wives, directed by Jonathan Hunt Sell for Illinois State University's Westhoff Theatre, finishing up Friday night with a 7:30 pm performance, and the cave-in musical Floyd Collins playing at the Station Theatre in Urbana through Saturday the 7th. Hostage, a world premiere of a drama by Kim Pereira for New Route Theatre, runs until Sunday March 8.  You'll find all the details for each show at the link under its title.

Out in Goodfield, the Barn II is giving top billing to actor Don Challacombe in a "comic thriller" called Tiptoe Through the Tombstones, playing from tonight through April 19. Also in the cast: April Bieschke, Tamra Challacombe, Pat Gaik, John Johnson, Bob Lane Jr., Nancy Nickerson, Mary Simon, Lana Warner and Terri Whisenhut. For Tiptoe info, click here for the Barn II's website or here for their Facebook page.

Tonight also marks opening night for 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, John Ford's rip-roaring 17th century revenge tragedy about incest, adultery, betrayal, tempestuous passion and unspeakable violence, at the University of Illinois. 'Tis Pity is playing in the Colwell Playhouse in the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, with performances through March 15. Guest director William Brown, who comes to Urbana from Chicago's Writers' Theatre, directs his own adaptation of Ford's play set in contemporary Italy. For Illinois Theatre, David Monahan and Clara Byczkowski play brother and sister Giovanni and Annabella, whose forbidden love fuels the tragedy, with MFA actor Thom Miller as Soranzo, Annabella's wrathful suitor and professor Robert G. Anderson as Donado, one of the many people seeking revenge in this dark and diabolical tale.

Community Players is open for business in March with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, the Broadway musical version of the 1964 movie Bedtime Story, starring David Niven and Marlon Brando as a pair of con men with decidedly different styles fleecing wealthy women on the Riviera, and 1988's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, with Michael Caine and Steve Martin in the roles. On Broadway, it was John Lithgow and Norbert Leo Butz as the rival swindlers, with Butz taking home the Tony for his performance. Alan Wilson directed Dirty Rotten Scoundrels the musical for Community Players, with Dave Montague and Nick Benson taking on sophisticated Lawrence and pitiful Freddy respectively. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels opens with a preview on March 12, followed by weekend performances through the 29th.

It's interesting that the Normal Theatre is showing To Catch a Thief, the stylish 1955 Hitchcock film with Cary Grant as a famous (but retired) jewel thief on the Riviera, at the same time Dirty Rotten Scoundrels hits Players Theatre. Cary's John Robie, AKA "The Cat," is elegant and debonair as he dashes across rooftops and romances Grace Kelly, an heiress who seems to be trying to snare him a lot more aggressively than he's trying to grab her mother's jewels. It's all in good fun with some beautiful scenery, and I'm not just talking Grant and Kelly. They're pretty spectacular, though. To Catch a Thief will be on screen at the Normal Theatre from March 12 to 15, with 7 pm screenings all four nights.

It's a different locale -- the English countryside -- and era -- the Regency period of the early 19th century -- when Pride and Prejudice comes to Illinois State University's Center for the Performing Arts from March 26 to April 4.  The best known dramatic adaptation of Jane Austen's book is probably the 1995 mini-series that featured Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. But Keira Knightley also took on Elizabeth Bennet, the young woman who comes from a rather havey-cavey family full of daughters, all of whom who need to be married off. When Eliza Bennet meets the very eligible but rather stuffy Mr. Darcy, it's not long before both pride and prejudice come into play. If you read or saw Bridget Jones' Diary, you know the basic plotline. Lori Adams directs all eight of ISU's MFA actors in this production, where Natalie Blackman will play Elizabeth and Robert Johnson her Darcy. This version of Pride and Prejudice was adapted by Joseph Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan from the Austen novel.

Station Theatre Artistic Director Rick Orr will be at the helm of the new Terrence McNally play Mothers and Sons when it opens March 26 at the small black box theater in Urbana. Barbara Ridenour will play Katharine Gerard, the mother in the title, whose son died years ago. Katharine comes to the apartment where her son once lived with his partner, barging into the life of that partner, who has now moved on, married a younger man and adopted a child. Cal, who once loved her son, has not only moved on, he has lived on, which her son did not. As Chris Jones noted in his Chicago Tribune review of the New York production, this is a play of reconciliation. The image above is from that Broadway production, which starred Tyne Daly as Catherine.

And, of course, there's lots more happening on area stages, from Peoria to Bloomington and farther afield.