Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Steppenwolf Theatre Company Announces 2016-17 Season

Steppenwolf Theatre Company has announced its 2016-17 season, the first under new artistic director Anna D. Shapiro. As the 2016-17 season launches, Steppenwolf will offer some changes, with several subscription and flex card options combining shows in the Downstairs and Upstairs Theatres, as well as the launch of a new 80-seat black box theater at 1700 North Halsted. This new space, called 1700 Theatre, is intended to be "casual, intimate and flexible," and it is "dedicated to showcasing the work of the Steppenwolf ensemble and emerging local theater companies."

It will also be home to a performance series they've dubbed Lookout, which will cover a variety of genres and shows, "from dance to live music to spoken word and beyond." The Lookout concept will bow May 31, 2016, with a one-act comedy called Voice Lessons, starring ensemble member (and Illinois State University alum) Laurie Metcalf. Voice Lessons, a comedy by Justin Tanner, concerns a woman who thinks she can sing, played by Metcalf, who looks to a vocal coach, played by French Stewart of Third Rock from the Sun fame, to give her what she needs to get ahead in community theater. Metcalf, Stewart and co-star Maile Flanagan were all with the show when it was in Los Angeles six years ago. Voice Lessons will run till June 12 in the 1700 Theatre.

After Voice Lessons, a production of Byhalia, Mississippi, a play by Evan Linder originally mounted by Linder's New Colony and director Tyrone Phillips' Definition Theatre Company, will move into 1700 Theatre, with performances from July 22 to August 21, 2016. Phillips is graduate of the University of Illinois, making his Steppenwolf debut with Byhalia.

And in the fall, here's what's up in the subscription season:

The world premiere of Visiting Edna by David Rabe, the Tony winning playwright known for Streamers and Hurlyburly, comes to the Downstairs Theatre from September 15 to November 6. Anna D. Shapiro directs Ian Barford, K. Todd Freeman and Sally Murphy in this story about a woman not surprisingly named Edna. "Edna has suffered a number of losses as she has aged, and now faces the stealthy advance of cancer embodied by an intimate figure that she could do without. Home for a visit, Edna’s son Andrew is trying to bridge the gulf between the childhood love they shared and the aggressively polite but baffling relationship they now live with. Mother and son stumble toward honesty as they wrestle with the distractions – both mundane and profound – that keep us from real connection."

That's followed by another world premiere, Erika Sheffer's The Fundamentals, directed by Yasen Peyankov, running in the Upstairs Theatre from November 10 to December 23. Alana Arenas and Alan Wilder will be featured in this "funny and scathing look at America's corporate culture" shown through what happens to Millie, "a smart, resourceful young mother who works as a housekeeper in one of New York’s premiere luxury hotels. When an opportunity to move into management gives her the chance to leave behind her blue collar life, Millie must decide how much, and who, she’s willing to sacrifice to secure her family’s future." 

The winter holidays bring Lucas Hnath's The Christians, part of the 2014 Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville. After its Kentucky premiere, the play moved to Playwrights Horizons with much the same cast last year, but for Steppenwolf, K. Todd Freeman will be at the helm. The Christians will play in the Downstairs Theatre from December 1, 2016 to January 29, 2017. What's it all about? "Pastor Paul has spent 20 years successfully growing his church from a small storefront to a gleaming megachurch, but now he fears that there may be a crack in the theological foundation. As he shares his new belief in the nature of salvation, the message is met with surprise and then growing trepidation from his closest confidantes in the congregation, threatening to create a schism within the church. Hnath’s fascinating new play looks with great complexity and compassion at the relationship between belief and behavior – and its evenhanded, unbiased take on faith in modern America can be appreciated no matter what you believe." The Christians will represent Hnath's Steppenwolf debut.

Young Jean Lee will direct the Chicago premiere of her play Straight White Men, featuring Tim Hopper and Alan Wilder, scheduled for the Upstairs Theatre from February 2 to March 19, 2017. This "outside look at the traditional father/son narrative" that sheds "new and often hilarious light on a story we think we know all too well" focuses on a widower named Ed as Christmas approaches and his three adult sons come home for the holiday. "Games are played, Chinese food is ordered, and brotherly pranks and trashtalk distract them from the ongoing issue that threatens to ruin the festivities: when personal identity is essential and privilege is a problem, what is a straight white man to do?"

Tracy Letts is back at Steppenwolf after meteoric success with plays like August: Osage County and Superior Donuts. His new play Mary Page Marlowe premieres there in March, but the world premiere of another one – Linda Vista – will bring Letts' work back in March 2017, too. Ian Barford and Tim Hopper will appear in Linda Vista from March 30 to May 21, 2017 in the Downstairs Theatre.  This one is not about anyone named Linda as far as I can tell, but it certainly does sound Lettsian. "Wheeler is 50. His marriage is over, his job is mundane, and the best years of his life appear to be behind him. A move from the cot in his ex-wife’s garage to his own apartment opens up new possibilities for love and sex – complicated, painful and hilarious. Full of opinions, yet short on self-examination, Wheeler is a modern misanthrope who must reconcile the man he has become with the man he wants to be."

The sixth play in the season will be the Chicago premiere of Taylor Mac's Hir, which finished up its run at Playwrights Horizons in January. The Chicago version will feature Francis Guinan and Amy Morton in the Downstairs Theatre from June 29 to August 20, 2017. "The classic dysfunctional family drama has just crashed through into a wholly original place. Meet Paige, a wife and mother liberated from an oppressive and abusive marriage; Max, her newly out transgender son; and Isaac, Max’s PTSD-addled older brother, who discovers a brand new war zone when he comes home from Afghanistan. Hir's crusade to shake up the patriarchy is disarmingly funny, absurd and surprising as it looks at an American family forced to build a new world out of the pieces of the old."

Pass Over, by Antoinette Nwandu, will serve as an additional summer option, with tickets available to "Black Card" subscribers before the public. Featuring University of Illinois grad Jon Michael Hill, Pass Over is described as a "bold, incendiary riff on Waiting for Godot." In Nwandu's take, "two young black men stand around on the corner – talking shit, killing time and hoping that maybe today will be different. When a white man wanders into their space , an escalating crisis threatens to prevent their escape from the block. In Pass Over, pop culture, historical and religious references collide to create a hilarious and disturbing meditation on manhood, race, and the cycle of violence that prevents too many from realizing their full potential." Pass Over will be presented in the Upstairs Theatre from May 25 to July 2, 2017.

For all the information on shows, season subscriptions  and other options, click here or here.

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