Wednesday, August 30, 2017


Although I am familiar with some basic info about actress Marion Davies -- that she was the long-time mistress of William Randolph Hearst, the inspiration for the Susan Alexander character in Citizen Kane as well as the whole Rosebud thing, and a talented comedienne who probably would've benefited from Hearst taking his mitts off her career instead of trying so hard to control it -- I haven't seen much of her work on screen. I think Cain and Mabel, a comedy she did with Clark Gable, is it as far as Marion Davies and I go.

That one didn't impress me much, but yesterday was Marion Davies Day on Turner Classic Movies and I thought maybe I should give her another chance. To that end, I sampled three of her works, The Red Mill, a silent from 1927 about a Dutch barmaid, Five and Ten, a weeper from 1931 about a dime store mogul and his unhappy family, and Blondie of the Follies, a 1932 cautionary tale about good girls who go bad for fame and fortune in the follies. I lasted less than a minute with Red Mill and maybe five minutes with Five and Ten. The former looked better than the latter in terms of production values, but they were both pretty tough sledding, even with Leslie Howard as Marion's romantic partner in Five and Ten. After bailing so quickly on both of them, I was determined to make it all the way through Blondie of the Follies.

It's interesting to note that both Davies and her costar, Billie Dove, really did have experience in the Ziegfeld Follies. Neither appears to be a singer or much of a dancer, but the numbers staged in the movie are so clunky -- one features three women, including Davies, clomping around and halfheartedly stabbing pirate daggers into the air as a showstopper of a dance move -- it's not like there was a whole lot of talent required. Dove, at least, shows presence. Davies, on the other hand, comes off as more of an oddity than a leading lady. She's not a glamor girl, not a coquette, not an ingenue, not much of anything except odd.

Throughout Blondie of the Follies, she is skittish and jumpy, with little hops and skips here and there for no apparent reason, awkward giggling that goes on and on, nervous clomping around on crutches (it's a plot point -- don't ask) and in general an absolute inability to make a scene feel genuine. The only place she really seems relaxed is when Jimmy Durante enters a party scene about 7/8 of the way through and the two of them spoof Greta Garbo and John Barrymore in Grand Hotel, which came out that same year and was also directed by Edmund Goulding. There is no explanation given for why the movie's plot is put on hold for this little trick, but Davies seems much more comfortable doing her Garbo impression than anything else in the film.

I did find Dove enjoyable as Blondie's BFF, and Robert Montgomery was his usual affable self as the romantic interest who provides conflict between the two pals. James Gleason and Zasu Pitts were also welcome additions as Blondie's weary dad and salt-of-the-earth sister.

As much as I'd like to blame Davies for the film's shortcomings, it's unclear if she was dancing as fast as she could to paper over the plot problems and inconsistency in tone or if that was the way director Goulding wanted it. And then, of course, it's also impossible to know how much William Randolph Hearst had to do with it. The picture was made by his Cosmopolitan Productions, after all, and there have been rumors that this was Billie Dove's last movie because she was so unhappy with how she and her role were treated, as Hearst pushed for changes to keep his Marion front and center. Who knows? The end result is a strange, jittery slog, too long, too forced, too... Marion.

Monday, August 28, 2017

ISU News: LIE Cast, BALM Added, COSI Director and Stark Leading Shakes Fest

A lot has been happening at Illinois State University's School of Theatre and Dance. Along with the usual auditions and casting for fall shows, they've added a few pieces of information to fill out the overall 2017-18 season and announced who will be the new Artistic Director for the Illinois Shakespeare Festival.

John Stark
In the wake of Artistic Director Kevin Rich's departure, there has been a bit of mystery surrounding the Illinois Shakespeare Festival leadership position. It's reminiscent of Shakespeare, where we all wonder who will wear the crown by the end of the play. Wonder no more -- it will be John Stark, Head of the Design/Production Area for ISU's School of Theatre and Dance and a member of the ISU faculty since 1991. Stark has designed for the Shakespeare Festival many times (with at least two Hamlets, Midsummers and As You Like Its to his credit) as well as numerous designs for the University and for theaters from coast to coast. He won a Joseph Jefferson Award in 1997 for his scenic design for The Living at Famous Door Theatre in Chicago and he designed the set for the 2013 Off-Broadway production of Falling that was nominated for three Drama Desk Awards. Falling was directed by Stark's wife, Lori Adams, Head of Acting at ISU; she directed and he designed for its trifecta of productions in St. Louis, New York and back here in Normal at Heartland Theatre. There is no doubt in my mind that under Stark, the Illinois Shakespeare Festival will look fantastic and work like a well-oiled machine. He's just that good. No word yet on the Festival's 2018 lineup, but it will be very interesting to see where he takes it.

The Stark-Adams household is keeping busy, since Adams is at the helm of ISU's first fall show, A Lie of the Mind, Sam Shepard's blistering, violent, sometimes surreal domestic drama from 1985. Adams has cast Parker Carbine as Jake, the out-of-control husband who beat up his wife, Beth, played by Gina Sanfilippo, to the point of brain damage. In the play, Beth is taken to her old family home, a cabin in Montana, to pick up the pieces amongst her own difficult family. For ISU, Beth's father, Baylor, also quick on the trigger, will be played by Dylan Dewitt, with Elena Sasso as his well-meaning wife Meg and Raul Marron as their son Mike, a chip off Baylor's block. On Jake's side of the conflict, Abby Langner will play his enabling mother Lorraine, while Betsy Diller takes on sister Sally and Everson Pierce will play brother Frankie, who is more sensible than his ragey brother, but has terrible timing. Emily Kinasz will design the costumes, Kayla Brown will design the lights, Morgan Hunter is in charge of sound, and Nick Kilgore and John Stark are listed as co-scenic designers. Never a dull moment for Adams and Stark!

Laurie Metcalf (front) and Gary Sinise (back) in Balm in Gilead at Steppenwolf in 1981. William Petersen is at right.
Filling in the blanks previously left in ISU's Spring schedule, we now know that Mozart's Così fan tutte, set for performances March 2 through 6, 2018, in the Center for the Performing Arts, will be directed by Joe McDonnell, and that John Tovar has chosen to direct Lanford Wilson's Balm in Gilead, to be performed April 13 to 17, also in the CPA. Balm in Gilead is one of the shows that defined Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre -- The Chicago Tribune's Richard Christensen called it "one of those brilliant electric evenings for which the living theatre was made " -- back in the early 80s. Directed by John Malkovich and featuring a host of now-famous actors (Joan Allen, Gary Cole, Francis Guinan, Glenne Headly, Tom Irwin, Terry Kinney, John Mahoney, Laurie Metcalf, Jeff Perry, William Petersen, Rondi Reed, Gary Sinise...), the production was revived Off-Broadway four years later, part of  Steppenwolf's (and its company's) rise to national prominence. Metcalf's performance of a 20-minute monologue still remains in theater-goers' memories as something very special. Since Steppenwolf was founded by a host of former ISU students, one wonders if the likes of Cole, Kinney, Metcalf or Perry will pop in to see how it's going. Maybe Malkovich can even be lured back to campus to give his input.

For all the details on ISU's upcoming season, you can click here to see the latest press release.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Equity Jeff Award Nominations Announced

The committee for Chicago's Joseph Jefferson Awards has announced their nominees -- 158 of 'em -- honoring Equity productions that opened between August 1, 2016 and July 31, 2017. There are 33 different categories for Jeff Awards, ranging from large-scale musicals and plays to actors, designers, directors and solo performers. In an interesting twist, all four Solo Performance nominees come from Greenhouse Theater Center.

Nominees with local connections include ISU alums Joe Court (nominee for Best Sound Design for 10 Out of 12 at Theater Wit), Gary Griffin (two Best Director nominations, for Hand to God at Victory Gardens and Parade at Writers Theater), Theresa Ham (nominated for Best Costume Design for both Disney's The Little Mermaid at Paramount Theatre and Mamma Mia! at Marriott Theatre), Jeffrey Kmiec (Best Scenic Design nominee for The Little Mermaid), Angela Weber Miller (Best Scenic Design nominee for Captain Blood at First Folio), William Osetek (Best Director nominee for Chicago at Drury Lane), Linda Reiter (nominated for Best Solo Performance for Rose at Greenhouse), and Gene Weygandt (another Solo Performance nominee from The Greenhouse, for Uncle Phillip's Coat), along with Eureka College's Cat Davis (nominated for her Lighting Design of The River Bride at Halcyon) U of I's Jonathan Butler-Duplessis (nominated as Best Supporting Actor in a Musical for both Little Mermaid and Parade) and Bri Sudia (also with two nominations, as Best Actress in a Musical for Wonderful Town at the Goodman and Paramount Theatre's Sweeney Todd). IWU alum Evan Dolan was part of the ensemble in that Sweeney Todd, which picked up a nomination as Best Musical.

Here are some of the major nominees:

Blues for an Alabama Sky, Court Theatre
East Texas Hot Links, Writers Theatre
Hand to God, Victory Gardens Theater
Man in the Ring, Court Theatre
Uncle Vanya, Goodman Theatre

PRODUCTION (Play-Midsize)
Born Yesterday, Remy Bumppo Theatre Company
The Columnist, American Blues Theater
End of the Rainbow, Porchlight Music Theatre
It's a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!, American Blues Theater
Silent Sky, First Folio Theatre

PRODUCTION (Musical-Large)
Chicago the Musical, Drury Lane Productions
Crazy for You, Drury Lane Productions
Disney's The Little Mermaid, Paramount Theatre
Parade, Writers Theatre
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Paramount Theatre

PRODUCTION (Musical-Midsize)
Disney's Mary Poppins, Mercury Theater Chicago
In the Heights, Porchlight Music Theatre
The Scottsboro Boys, Porchlight Music Theatre

Marry Me a Little, Porchlight Music Theatre
Smokey Joe's Café, Drury Lane Productions
Spamilton, The Royal George Theatre

Blizzard '67, 16th Street Theater
East Texas Hot Links, Writers Theatre
It's a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!, American Blues Theater
The Scottsboro Boys, Porchlight Music Theatre
Smokey Joe's Café, Drury Lane Productions
Spamilton, The Royal George Thea tre

Michael Cristofer, Man in the Ring, Court Theatre
Selina Fillinger, Faceless, Northlight Theatre
Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, Northlight Theatre
Ike Holter, The Wolf at the End of the Block, Teatro Vista
Antoinette Nwandu, Pass Over, Steppenwolf Theatre Company
Madhuri Shekar, Queen, Victory Gardens Theater
Charles Smith, Objects in the Mirror, Goodman Theatre

David Darlow, Born Yesterday. Remy Bumppo Theatre Company
Gary Griffin, Hand to God, Victory Gardens Theater
Charles Newell, Man in the Ring, Court Theatre
Ron OJ Parson, Blues for an Alabama Sky, Court Theatre
Ron OJ Parson, East Texas Hot Links, Writers Theatre
Chuck Smith, Objects in the Mirror, Goodman Theatre

Jim Corti, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Paramount Theatre
Matthew Crowle, Crazy for You, Drury Lane Productions
Marcia Milgrom Dodge, Smokey Joe's Café, Drury Lane Productions
Gary Griffin, Parade, Writers Theatre
William Osetek, Chicago the Musical, Drury Lane Productions

Allen Gilmore, Man in the Ring, Court Theatre
Allen Gilmore, Objects in the Mirror, Goodman Theatre
Erik Hellman, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, Northlight Theatre
Daniel Kyri, Objects in the Mirror, Goodman Theatre 
Mike Nussbaum, Relativity, Northlight Theatre
Alex Weisman, Hand to God, Victory Gardens Theater

Clyde Alves, Crazy for You, Drury Lane Productions
Patrick Andrews, Parade, Writers Theatre
Alex Goodrich, She Loves Me, Marriott Theatre
Paul-Jordan Jansen, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Paramount Theatre
Nathaniel Stampley, The Bridges of Madison County, Marriott Theatre

Cassandra Bissell, Silent Sky, First Folio Theatre
Chaon Cross, The Hard Problem, Court Theatre
Angela Ingersoll, End of the Rainbow, Porchlight Music Theatre
Elizabeth Ledo, Bright Half Life, About Face Theatre
Eliza Stoughton, Born Yesterday, Remy Bumppo Theatre Company
Lisa Tejero, W;t, The Hypocrites

Kelly Felthous, Chicago the Musical, Drury Lane Productions
Bri Sudia, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Paramount Theatre
Bri Sudia, Wonderful Town, Goodman Theatre
Kathy Voytko, The Bridges of Madison County, Marriott Theatre
Aerial "Mon'Aerie" Williams, Black Pearl: A Tribute to Josephine Baker, Black Ensemble Theater

Will Allan, Circumference of a Squirrel, Greenhouse Theater Center
Linda Reiter, Rose, The Greenhouse Theater Center
Simon Slater, Bloodshot, The Greenhouse Theater Cen ter
Gene Weygandt, Uncle Phillip's Coat, The Greenhouse Theater Center

Marton Csokas, Uncle Vanya, Goodman Theatre
Keith Kupferer, The Mystery of Love & Sex, Writers Theatre
Adam Poss, Queen, Victory Gardens Theater
Tommy Rivera-Vega, Parachute Men, Teatro Vista

Larry Adams, Crazy for You, Drury Lane Productions
Jonathan Butler-Duplessis, Disney's The Little Mermaid, Paramount Theatre
Jonathan Butler-Duplessis, Parade, Writers Theatre
Alex Goodrich, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Marriott Theatre
James Earl Jones II, She Loves Me, Marriott Theatre

Kristen Bush, Uncle Vanya, Goodman Theatre
Kymberly Mellen, The Columnist, American Blues Theater
Lia Mortensen, The Mystery of Love & Sex, Writers Theatre
Caroline Neff, Uncle Vanya, Goodman Theatre

Felicia Boswell, Jesus Christ Superstar, Paramount Theatre
E. Faye Butler, Chicago the Musical, Drury Lane Productions
Angela Ingersoll, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Marriott Theatre
Iris Lieberman, Cabaret, Theatre at the Center
Meghan Murphy, Mamma Mia!, Marriott Theatre

Austin Cook, Marry Me a Little, Porchlight Music Theatre
Justin Keyes, Smokey Joe's Café, Drury Lane Productions
Yando Lopez, Spamilton, The Royal George Theatre
Evan Tyrone Martin, I Left My Heart: A Salute to the Music of Tony Bennett, Mercury Theater Chicago

Michelle Lauto, Spamilton, The Royal George Theatre
Donica Lynn, Smokey Joe's Café, Drury Lane Productions
Meghan Murphy, Smokey Joe's Café, Drury Lane Productions
Bethany Thomas, Marry Me a Little, Porchlight Music Theatre

William Boles, Native Gardens, Victory Gardens Theater
Linda Buchanan, Blues for an Alabama Sky, Court Theatre
Jeffrey D. Kmiec, Disney's The Little Mermaid, Paramount Theatre
Jack Magaw, East Texas Hot Links, Writers Theatre
Courtney O'Neill, Harvey, Court Theatre
Todd Rosenthal, Uncle Vanya, Goodman Theatre

Angela Weber Miller, Captain Blood, First Folio Theatre
Greg Pinsoneault, In the Heights, Porchlight Music Theatre
Christopher Rhoton, End of the Rainbow, Porchlight Music Theatre
Grant Sabin, Born Yesterday, Remy Bumppo Theatre Company
Joe Schermoly, Naperville, Theater Wit

Theresa Ham, Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Paramount Theatre
Theresa Ham, Mamma Mia!, Marriott Theatre
Rachel Healy, Blues for an Alabama Sky, Court Theatre
Susan E. Mickey, Shakespeare in Love, Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Sully Ratke, Chicago the Musical, Drury Lane Productions

Kristy Leigh Hall, Pygmalion, Remy Bumppo Theatre Company
Izumi Inaba, A Comedical Tragedy for Mister Punch, The House Theatre of Chicago
Kate Setzer Kamphausen, In the Heights, Porchlight Music Theatre
Bill Morey, End of the Rainbow, Porchlight Music Theatre
Mieka van der Ploeg, The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz, The House Theatre of Chicago

Mikhail Fiksel, The Hunter and the Bear, Writers Theatre
Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen, Julius Caesar, Writers Theatre
Andre Pluess, Man in the Ring, Court Theatre
Richard Woodbury, Uncle Vanya, Goodman Theatre

Joe Court, 10 Out of 12, Theater Wit
Heath Hays, The Room, A Red Orchid Theatre
Grover Holloway, The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz, The House Theatre of Chicago
Jeffrey Levin, The River Bride, Halcyon Theatre

Nick Belley and Jesse Klug, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Paramount Theatre
Bart Cortright, The Hunter and the Bear, Writers Theatre
Lee Fiskness, Chicago the Musical, Drury Lane Productions
Greg Hofmann, Jesus Christ Superstar, Paramount Theatre
Jesse Klug, Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Paramount Theatre

Erik Barry, Circumference of a Squirrel, Greenhouse Theater Center
Christine Binder, Bright Half Life, About Face Theatre
Cat Davis, The River Bride, Halcyon Theatre
John Kelly, I Am My Own Wife, About Face Theatre
Michael Stanfill, W;t, The Hypocrites

The Jeff Awards will be handed out November 6 in a ceremony hosted by Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook.  Tickets are available for that ceremony. For more information on what's included or how to purchase tickets, check the main Jeff Awards page.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

STARTING HERE, STARTING NOW From Prairie Fire in October

What will Prairie Fire Theatre be doing in October? How about a revue that navigates "the maze of modern relationships with its heart firmly on its sleeve"*? That revue is Maltby & Shire's energetic, emotional Starting Here, Starting Now, a collection of theater "story" songs from shows they'd written that didn't make it as well as extra pieces they felt fit this new concept.

You may know Richard Maltby Jr. and David Shire as a team from shows like Baby, Big and Closer Than Ever, or individually, where each has enjoyed success in different forums. Maltby has piled up Tony nominations for other scores (Miss Saigon, Nick & Nora) as well as for directing Broadway shows (Fosse, Song and Dance) and he won a Tony Award for his direction of Ain't Misbehaving. Shire has written the scores for movies like The Conversation, All the President's Men and Zodiac, contributed Grammy-nominated music to the score of Saturday Night Fever, composed for TV shows like Alice and Shining Time Station, and he won an Oscar for the song "It Goes Like It Goes" from Norma Rae. A single he wrote -- "With You I'm Born Again" -- was a major hit for Billy Preston and Syreeta in 1979. Shire also served as Barbra Streisand's accompanist, conductor and arranger during her Color Me Barbra years, and Streisand has recorded five of his songs, including "Starting Here, Starting Now" and "Autumn" from this Maltby/Shire revue.

Streisand is a hard act to follow, but director Cyndee Brown has assembled a fantastic cast for Prairie Fire's October production of Starting Here, Starting Now, with Cristen Monson, Joe Penrod and Jennifer Rusk set to sing the lights out on songs like "Crossword Puzzle," "I Don't Remember Christmas" and "Watching the Big Parade Go By."

Starting Here, Starting Now will be presented October 20 and 21 in the Young Lounge in Illinois Wesleyan University's Memorial Center, with 7:30 pm performances both nights. Tickets will be available on September 20 at the Prairie Fire Box Office at 309-824-3047.

*This description of Starting Here, Starting Now is used quite frequently, and my best guess is that it originated with Music Theatre International, but I wasn't sure enough to attribute it there. Good description, though!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Station Theatre Serves Up Silence, Science and Lauren Gunderson for 17-18

The Station Theatre in Urbana
The Station Theatre is usually the last to announce its fall season. Artistic Director Rick Orr is wont to make the big announcement at the company party that marks the end of summer, meaning fall shows are just around the corner when he spills their details.

Lauren Gunderson
Last year, the Station made the unusual choice (for the Station, anyway) of including two plays by the same playwright in the same season. For 2016-17, the playwright in the spotlight was Conor McPherson, represented by The Night Alive in October and The Birds in November. For 2017-18, Lauren Gunderson, Manhattan Theatre Club playwright-in-residence, is the one who gets special attention, with her take on Jane Austen in Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley as a holiday offering in December 2017 and Silent Sky, the true story of early 20th century astronomer Henrietta Leavitt, in February 2018. You'll notice that both works are not only written by a woman (Gunderson) but inspired by work of famous women (Austen and Leavitt) and they feature women characters front and center (Mary Bennet, the fictional middle sister in Austen's Pride and Prejudice, and the historical character of astronomer Leavitt). And they'll be directed by women, with Joi Hoffsommer at the helm of Miss Bennet and Katie Burke taking on Silent Sky. Bravo, Station!

There's more good news in the rest of the season, too, with lots of provocative and interesting choices that represent something a little different. Here's the full scoop on what you'll see at the Station Theatre in 2017-18:

October brings Will Eno's Title and Deed, directed by Deb Richardson. Eno has emerged as a major voice in American theater since Thom Paine (based on nothing) in 2005, for which he was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. He followed that up with the Horton Foote Award for Most Promising New American Play for Middletown in 2010. When Title and Deed played at New York's Signature Theater in 2012, Charles Isherwood called the play "gorgeously and inventively wrought, line by line." In that production, Irish actor Conor Lovett was the solo actor on stage, "recounting his past in another country and his present in a strange new one" in a meditation on roots and rootlesness, hope and hopelessness, and how we've all created and used language to try to give meaning to life. Lovett was directed by his wife, Julie Hegarty Lovett, at the Signature, just as the Station's Deb Richardson will direct her husband, David Barkley, for the Station. Title and Deed opens October 5 and continues through the 21st.

Small Mouth Sounds by Bess Wohl is next, directed by Jaclyn Loewenstein in performances November 2 to 18. If a great deal of Title and Deed is about words, Small Mouth Sounds is about the lack of them, as its six characters are attending a retreat where they're not allowed to talk. They may be silent for most of the play's 100 minutes, but they are communicating nonetheless. "Filled with awkward and insightful humor, Small Mouth Sounds is the unique and compassionate new play that asks how we address life’s biggest questions when words fail us."

Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley arrives December 6, in good time for holiday entertainment. Gunderson's play (which usually gives a co-writing credit to former MTC Director of New Play Development Margot Melcon) focuses on bookish middle sister Mary Bennet and what happens to her two years after the "happily ever after" her sister Lizzie got in Pride and Prejudice. Mary and the other Bennets are gathering at Pemberley, the home of Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy, for Christmas, but often-overlooked Mary, who always has her nose stuck in a book, is not in a romantic frame of mind. Just in time, a suitor arrives -- Arthur de Bourgh -- an Oxford man, someone who is more sure of his intellect more than his heart, just like Mary.

In January, we'll get our first area look at Fun Home, the Tony-winning Broadway musical based on an autobiographical coming-of-age graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. The brilliant (and very, very funny) Lisa Kron wrote the book and lyrics of the musical, while Jeanine Tesori wrote the music. Fun Home won the Best Musical Tony in 2015, along with awards for its score, book, leading actor Michael Cerveris and director Sam Gold. For the Station, Latrelle Bright will direct this "refreshingly honest, wholly original musical about seeing your parents through grown-up eyes" with performances January 18 to February 3, 2018.

Gunderson's Silent Sky follows, opening February 15 and closing March 3, 2018.  "A lovingly crafted period piece that imagines Leavitt’s inner world against the backdrop of World War I, Einstein’s discoveries and the suffragette movement, Silent Sky is an intellectual epic told on an intimate scale. Bottom line: Heavenly," wrote Wendell Brock for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. After Henrietta Leavitt earned a bachelor's degree from Radcliffe College in 1892, she worked without pay as a "computer" at the Harvard College Observatory, studying photographic plates to determine the brightness of stars. Leavitt and the other computers worked with photographic plates rather than telescopes because women weren't allowed to use telescopes at that time. Although she toiled in obscurity and never reached any sort of fame, Leavitt was an important figure in astronomy history. She was "the woman who discovered how to measure the Universe."

Discovery is also at the heart of Cock, a play with a simple title that has engendered quite a bit of controversy. When Mike Bartlett's play -- about a man who thought he was gay but then cheats on his male partner with a woman, throwing into question what he thought he knew about himself -- premiered in London, it was called Cock. When it came to the United States, the New York Times wouldn't print the title, so it became The Cockfight Play. It stayed that way in LA, although Toronto and now Urbana are apparently sophisticated enough for the original Cock. In any event, this "comic discussion of identity and sexuality" will be directed by Rick Orr for the Station, with performances from March 22 to April 7, 2018.

The season will finish up with Tracy Letts' blistery family comedy/drama August: Osage County, which runs from April 26 to May 12, 2018. Mathew Green, who just finished up Jordan Harrison's Marjorie Prime August 12, will be at the helm of Letts' Pulitzer Prize winning play next spring. Although August: Osage County began its life at Steppenwolf in Chicago, its subsequent Broadway production ran for 648 performances and won five Tonys, including Best Play, Best Director (Anna D. Shapiro), Best Actress (Deanna Dunagan), Best Featured Actress (Rondi Reed) and Best Scenic Design (Todd Rosenthal). It may only be ten years old, but it's already a classic.

All in all, the Station is offering a compelling mix of words, wit, silence, science, family and fierce theatrical imagination. For more information, visit the main website here with tabs at the top for individual pages.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

At ISU, Shue's FOREIGNER Is Out and Shepard's LIE OF THE MIND Is In

The School of Theatre and Dance at Illinois State University has announced a change in their schedule for the upcoming 2017-18 season.

Due to "the horrific events taking place in Charlottesville, VA this past weekend," the SOTD will be removing the previously planned production of The Foreigner by Larry Shue and replacing it with A Lie of the Mind by Sam Shepard.

The Foreigner is a much-performed comedy about a sweet man visiting a rural cabin in Georgia who pretends not to speak English so he won't have to talk to people, but his new "foreigner" status causes all kinds of problems. The Foreigner may be hilarious, but it involves Klansmen, including hoods and weapons, and it is understandable that that sort of thing doesn't seem all that funny at the moment.

A Lie of the Mind is altogether different, about toxic masculinity and domestic abuse, as the play examines what happens to the families involved after a man beats his wife to the point of brain damage. The statement from the School of Theatre and Dance notes that the selection of a Shepard play honors "the recent passing of this award winning playwright."

If A Lie of the Mind occupies the same space as The Foreigner, it will play in the ISU Center for the Performing Arts from September 27 to October 1 and will be directed by Lori Adams.

Other shows on the SOTD agenda for 2017 include She Kills Monsters, a 2011 play by Qui Nguyen involving Dungeons and Dragons, directed by Paul Dennhardt for the CPA in performance from October 27 to November 4; two classics -- Sophocles' Oedipus directed by Kristen Schoenback and Shakespeare's All's Well That Ends Well directed by Enrico Spada -- in repertory in Westhoff Theatre between October 13 and 28, and the Fall Dance Concert under artistic director Sara Semonis for the CPA November 30 to December 2.

Things are a bit less clear-cut in the spring, although there is information that directing MFA candidate Schoenback will be back at the helm for Anne Washburn's dystopic fantasy Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play in Westhoff from February 16 to 24, 2018, while her colleague Spada will direct The Illusion, presumably playwright Tony Kushner's adaptation of Pierre Corneille's 17th century comedy, in Westhoff  March 30 to April 7, 2018. After that, the Mozart opera Cosi Fan Tutte will play the CPA from March 2 to 9 under a director to be named later and a show to be named later will be directed by John Tovar for the CPA from April 13 to 21.

To keep up with School of Theatre and Dance news, follow their Facebook page here.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Casting Update: Heartland's EARNEST Begins Its Bunbury Business September 7

Heartland Theatre Company and director Don LaCasse have announced who'll be pretending to be Earnest (spoiler alert: there is no Earnest or Ernest) when Oscar Wilde's delightful period comedy The Importance of Being Earnest opens September 7th.

The Importance of Being Earnest was first performed in 1895, which is also when it's set. Earnest takes place in fashionable English settings like a London flat and the garden of a country house, and its cast of elegant characters are generally floating around in gowns with giant leg-o-mutton sleeves and feathered bonnets (the ladies) or silk cravats and high hats (the gents). Wilde is sending up society and puncturing its pomposity, which means you must see what that society looked like in 1895.

The most memorable character in the play and the clearest example of snobbery among the finer classes is Lady Bracknell, the formidable dragon who sniffs at her daughter marrying a man whose pedigree cannot be ascertained. After all, Jack Worthing was abandoned as a baby, left in a handbag at the railway station. A handbag! She also has all the best lines in Wilde's deliciously witty play, like this one: "To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness."

Because it's such a wonderful role, men have strapped themselves into Lady Bracknell's corset quite a lot, with acclaimed performances from the likes of Brian Bedford, Geoffrey Rush and David Suchet. Still, my favorite Lady Bracknell is Dame Edith Evans in the 1952 movie version of the play. Apparently director LaCasse is also a fan of the female Lady Bracknell, since he's cast local favorite Kathleen Kirk to play Lady B for Heartland.

The four lovers in the play -- Algernon, Jack, Cecily and Gwendolyn -- will be played by Kyle Redmon, Timothy Olsen, Emilia Dvorak and Jessie Swiech. Joining them will be Julie Riffle as Miss Prism, Cecily's governess, and Dean Brown as Dr. Chasuble, a local rector, with Chuck Pettigrew and Larry Eggan as Merriman and Lane, the perfectly composed manservant and butler who bring in the tea (and possibly cucumber sandwiches) at inopportune moments.

Wilde called The Importance of Being Earnest "a trivial comedy for serious people," but it's actually not at all serious as long as it skates along with the proper fin de siècle feel.

You'll find The Importance of Being Earnest on stage at Heartland Theatre beginning with a Pay What You Can preview on September 7, followed by Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday performances through the 23rd. For the complete list of performance dates and times, click here. For reservation information, see this page.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Casting Update: Community Players' ALL MY SONS

When Arthur Miller's All My Sons, a fierce family drama about fathers and sons and the failed promises of the American Dream, takes the stage at Community Players later this month, veteran actor Dave Lemmon will lead the cast as Joe Keller, a partner in a factory that sent defective parts to aircraft used in America's war effort during World War II. When 21 pilots died as a result of those cracked cylinder heads, Joe's partner at the factory, a man named Steve Deever, took the fall, while Joe walked away, publicly exonerated. But now Joe's chickens are coming home to roost, as his son Chris is engaged to Deever's daughter, and the truth about what really happened can no longer be hidden.

Miller deals with issues of honor, loyalty, money, truth, lies and family, with plot threads involving Joe's wife Kate, who refuses to believe that their other son, Larry, who has been MIA for three years and was once romantically involved with Ann Deever, is really gone; Ann's brother George, who thinks that Joe is guilty and doesn't want his sister involved with a Keller; as well as how much we're willing to lose in the name of prosperity and affluence.

For director Bruce Parrish, Lemmon will play the head of the Keller family at Community Players, with Darlene Lloyd as Kate Keller and Len Childers as son Chris. On the other side of the airplane parts scandal, Rachel Houska will play Ann Deever and Nick Benson will play her brother George.

In the 1947 Broadway production, Ed Begley played Joe, with Arthur Kennedy as Chris and Karl Malden as George, but it was director Elia Kazan who took home the Tony, along with one for playwright Arthur Miller for Best Play. In the most recent revival in 2008, John Lithgow, Dianne Wiest and Patrick Wilson formed the Keller family, with Katie Holmes in her Broadway debut as Ann.

All My Sons opens with a preview performance at Community Players on Thursday, August 31, followed by evening performances on September 1, 2, 8 and 9, and Sunday matinees on the 3rd and the 10th. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here to visit Players' All My Sons page.