Thursday, April 19, 2018

Celebrating Remarkable Women: SEVEN from Coalescence Theatre Project

This weekend, Coalescence Theatre Project will present the Central Illinois premiere of the play Seven, a collection of pieces by award-winning women playwrights focusing on "true stories of seven women who bravely fought for the well-being of women, families, and children around the globe."

Called "a riveting piece of documentary theatre," Seven was created from personal interviews with women from around the world who have "triumphed over huge obstacles to create major changes in human rights in their home countries." From Afghanistan to Cambodia, from Guatemala, Ireland, Nigeria and Pakistan to Russia, these women take on domestic violence, human trafficking, poverty, education, peace and equality as they tackle the most human of human rights.

As the play's logo puts it, "Seven celebrates remarkable women changing the world."

Seven's playwrights are Paula Cizmar, Catherine Filloux, Gail Kriegel, Carol K. Mack, Ruth Margraff, Anna Deavere Smith and Susan Yankowitz, and the actresses performing their words for Coalescence include Jennifer Cirillo, Anastasia Ferguson, Gayle Hess, Elaine Hill, Nancy Nickerson, Claron Sharrieff and Irene Taylor.

This production, directed by Marcia Weiss and produced by Don Shandrow, will be presented at the Normal Theater on April 21 at 3 and 7:30 pm and April 22 at 7:30 pm. It is a joint presentation by the Normal Theater and Prairie Pride Coalition.

For more information, visit the Coalescence event page or this page devoted to Seven the play, with bios of the women and their playwrights, a gallery of images, and other details on where Seven has been and where it's headed. Anna Deveare Smith, who is probably the best-known among the playwrights for exactly this kind of theater, contributed the piece on Nigeria's Hafsat Abiola, who founded the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy to promote education and leadership opportunities for young women across Nigeria. Abiola became a human rights activist after the murder of both her parents, activists themselves. It's her kind of story that lights up the fire in Seven.

Tickets for Seven range from $5 to $7 and can be purchased in advance at the Normal Theater or at the door the day of the show.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Legendary BALM IN GILEAD Opens Tomorrow at ISU

Lanford Wilson's Balm in Gilead occupies a special place in American theater history. It was Wilson's first full-length play, establishing him as a major voice in the 60s off-off-Broadway movement at  La Mama and marking a seminal point in off-off-Broadway history. It also created a major moment for Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre when company member John Malkovich directed a production of the play in 1980, putting a national spotlight on Steppenwolf and actors like Gary Sinise, Terry Kinney, Glenne Headly, Jeff Perry, Joan Allen, John Mahoney and especially Laurie Metcalf, whose amazing monologue lit up the stage.

Since most of Steppenwolf's ensemble came from Illinois State University, a new production at the ISU Center for the Performing Arts makes perfect sense. It's a nod to ISU theater history, to some of its most notable alumni, and to the kind of rock-and-roll theatrical style that drove those alums into the national consciousness.

John Tovar directs the ISU Balm in Gilead that opens tomorrow night at 7:30 pm, with a large cast that includes Angie Milton as Darlene, a wounded, naive newcomer to the grungy all-night diner in Manhattan where the action is set; Steve Carr as Joe, a small-time drug dealer with a big problem and a big debt; Troy Schaeflein as Dopey, a junkie and something of a narrator; Tori DeLaney as Fick, a down-and-out addict; Betsy Diller as Ann, a former teacher turned street hooker; and Jack VanBoven, Dylan Dewitt and AnneMarie Owens as the cafe's manager, cook and server. Tino Avila, Abbie Brenner, Parker Carbine, Rashun Carter, Krystina Coyne, Taylor Eaves, Christian Frieden, Jeremy Gavin, Rondale Gray, Mikey Hendrickson, Malachi Hurndon, Will Olsen, Sarah Seidler, Clare Ellen Supplitt, Al Vitucci, Bobby Voss and Asa Wallace round out the ensemble as assorted users, pushers, hustlers, drunks, bad guys and whores who hang out there, with Katie Capp, Rachel Katz and Josephine O'Shaughnessy as a trio of rowdy children who make a scary Halloween run through the disarray. 

Balm in Gilead runs at the Illinois State University Center for the Performing Arts from April 13 to 21, with evening performances at 7:30 pm and a matinee on April 15th at 2 pm. For more details or to reserve tickets, contact the CPA box office at 309-438-2535 between the hours of 11 am and 5 pm on weekdays. You may also purchase tickets online at Ticketmaster.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Gunderson and THE BOOK OF WILL Win Top Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award

Over the weekend, the American Theatre Critics Association announced the 2018 winners of the Steinberg/ATCA New Play Awards, which shine a spotlight (and reward) playwrights for professionally produced work premiering outside New York City. With the top award and two citations, the Steinberg/ATCA Awards give out a total of $40,00 each year, making the awards the largest national new play program of its kind. Every year, they are announced on the Saturday of the last weekend of Actors Theatre of Louisville's Humana Festival of New American Plays.

Playwright Lauren Gunderson continued what has been a banner year, as she was the recipient of the the top award of $25,000 and a commemorative plaque for her play The Book of Will, which premiered at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts last year. Gunderson's scenario takes place after the death of Shakespeare, when two of his friends--Henry Condell and John Heminges--attempt to preserve his plays for posterity. As the Denver Center frames it, "the two actors are determined to compile the first Folio and preserve the words that shaped their lives. They’ll just have to borrow, beg and band together to get it done. Lauren Gunderson weaves a hilarious and heartfelt story inspired by the true story of Shakespeare’s First Folio."

In a world with so many Shakespeare festivals eager to produce work that involves him* and a playwright with a good deal of buzz right now, it seems likely you will see The Book of Will somewhere near you very soon. The Book of Will has been published by Dramatists Play Service.

Molly Smith Metzler's Cry It Out, an insightful look at how new motherhood affects three very different women (and one man), took a $7500 cash prize, along with Ike Holter's The Wolf at the end of the Block, a searing drama about a crime outside a boarded-up Chicago bar that underlines the jagged gulf between people of color and the police. Cry It Out premiered at last year's Humana Festival, while The Wolf at the End of the Block was presented by Teatro Vista at Victory Gardens Theater. You can find Cry It Out at Dramatic Publishing, while The Wolf at the End of the Block is scheduled to be published by Northwestern University Press along with Holter's entire seven-play Chicago cycle.

The other finalists were Linda Vista and The Minutes, both by Tracy Letts, and Objects in the Mirror by Charles Smith.

At the same event at the Humana Festival, Chelsea Marcantel's Airness, a breezy and energetic look at an air guitar competition, was named this year's winner of the M. Elizabeth Osborn New Play Award recognizing an emerging playwright.

*For recent work involving Shakespeare as a person, see: Lee Hall's Shakespeare in Love, coming to the Illinois Shakespeare Festival this year, after productions in London, the Stratford Festival in Canada, Chicago, etc.; Timothy Findley's Elizabeth Rex, a smash at Illinois Shakes in 2014 after it, too, played at the Stratford Festival and Chicago Shakes; and Bill Cain's Equivocation, a previous Steinberg/ATCA winner from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.