Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Steppenwolf's New Season

Steppenwolf has announced its new season, organized around the theme of "Our Private/Public Self", to much fanfare and Facebook posting. (At least half a dozen of my friends had mentioned it online within hours of the announcement.) Shall we look into why? Full details at their website as well as the theatre blogs of the Chicago Tribune, Time Out, and just about everyone else.

By Lisa D'Amour
Featuring ensemble members Kate Arrington and Robert Breuler
In the Downstairs Theatre
Thu. September 9, 2010 — Sun. November 7, 2010

Picture-perfect couple Ben and Mary fire up the grill to welcome the new neighbors who’ve moved into the long-empty house next door. Three barbeques later, the fledgling friendship veers out of control, shattering Ben and Mary’s carefully maintained semblance of success - with comic, unexpected consequences. Detroit is a fresh, off-beat look at what happens when we dare to open ourselves up to something new.

I'm not at all familiar with D'Amour's work--I don't believe she's ever had a Chicago production, or at least a high-profile one--so I don't know what to expect. It's gratifying to see something genuinely new. The description makes it look quite fascinating--we'll see how it goes.

Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
By Edward Albee
Directed by Pam MacKinnon
Featuring ensemble members Tracy Letts and Amy Morton
In the Downstairs Theatre
Thu. December 2, 2010 — Sun. February 13, 2011

On the campus of a small New England college, George and Martha invite a new professor and his wife home for a nightcap. As the cocktails flow, the young couple find themselves caught in the crossfire of a savage marital war where the combatants attack the self deceptions they forged for their own survival. Ensemble members Tracy Letts and Amy Morton face off as one of theatre’s most notoriously dysfunctional couples in Albee’s hilarious and harrowing masterpiece.

Did you hear that? That was the sound of every theatre nerd in Chicagoland having a spontaneous orgasm. For the less nerdy, let me explain why. Edward Albee is a leading candidate for both "Greatest Living American Playwright" and "Crankiest Old Man in the American Theatre," and Virginia Woolf is arguably his greatest play--certainly his best known. It's three-plus hours of two couples destroying each other and themselves--at once draining and exhilarating for the audience. McKinnon is a highly regarded director who's become a favorite of Albee's in recent years. And the expectations for Letts and Morton are stratospheric: he won the Pulitzer for August: Osage County and acts frequently, to great acclaim, and she gave one of the finest stage performances I have ever seen in August, only one of the 35 (!) shows she's done as actor and director at Steppenwolf. Fireworks are certain to result, and you better believe I'll be there.

Sex with Strangers
By Laura Eason
Directed by Jessica Thebus
Featuring ensemble member Sally Murphy with Stephen Louis Grush
In the Upstairs Theatre
Thu. January 20, 2011 — Sun. May 15, 2011

Ethan is a hot young writer whose online journals of "sexcapades" are the buzz of the blogosphere. Olivia is an attractive 30-something whose own writing career is fizzling. They hook up, sex turns into dating and dating into something more complicated. A break-out hit at Steppenwolf’s 2009 First Look Repertory, Sex with Strangers explores how we invent our identity - online and off - and what happens when our private lives become public domain.

This is the first production to make the jump from the First Look Festival (small-scale productions of new works in the Garage space in repertory) to the mainstage, which is certainly a good trend. The play itself got a great response upon opening, and I'm interested to see it on a larger scale. (Grush returns from the original staging while Murphy is new.)

The Hot L Baltimore
By Lanford Wilson
Directed by ensemble member Tina Landau
Featuring ensemble members Alana Arenas, K. Todd Freeman and Yasen Peyankov
In the Downstairs Theatre
Thu. March 24, 2011 — Sun. May 29, 2011

The Hotel Baltimore used to be the swankiest place in town - now it has a date with the wrecking ball. Eviction notices just went out to its residents, who live on the fringes of society and call the seedy hotel home. This acclaimed play from the author of Balm in Gilead is filled with everyday humanity - unexpectedly intimate and moving. Helmed by visionary director Tina Landau, The Hot L Baltimore reveals the private lives of an unconventional community about to be turned inside out.

Steppenwolf has a good history with Wilson--their 1980 production of Balm in Gilead was a huge hit in Chicago and New York and was one of the first to really put them on the map. I've seen a production of this play that didn't really hit me, but this has the potential to be quite good: it's a big ensemble piece, which is one of Landau's specialties, and I'm sure the cast will be filled out with a great group of people. I'm excited to see it.

A new play by Will Eno
Directed by Les Waters
Featuring ensemble member Alana Arenas in the Steppenwolf Downstairs Theatre
June 16–Aug. 14, 2011

Mary Swanson just moved to Middletown. About to have her first child, she is eager to enjoy the neighborly bonds a small town promises. But life in Middletown is complicated: neighbors are near strangers and moments of connection are fleeting. Middletown is a playful, poignant portrait of a town with two lives, one ordinary and visible, the other epic and mysterious.

I haven't yet managed to see any of Eno's work, but his THOM PAIN was very highly regarded, and he's generally seen as one of the bright hopes of playwriting. The Steppenwolf Downstairs is a much larger stage than most of his works are seen on--I am interested to see if he effectively scales up from the intimate, even claustrophobic, world of his biggest success.


Mr. K said...

Never saw THOM PAIN, but the script is great.

And oh, the memories of HOT L BALTIMORE... where the director cast two pretty, well-endowed girls as worn-out prostitutes...
Interesting side note: did you know it was the basis for a short-lived sitcom in the 70s? The 70s were a weird time.

Zev Valancy said...

To be fair, it's harder to find worn-out-looking girls in college. That particular production was more hampered by the miniscule budget--hard for a hotel to look down at heels when there isn't really a set.

And I have heard of this sitcom...I think someone needs to track down episodes for us to watch.

Mr. K said...

I don't ask that it be that method, Zev. Just that, well, they certainly didn't act/behave worn-out/worn-down either. Not that that was the only problem, as you pointed. It was a decent script though.

Oh, overly ambitious student lab productions, I'm sort of nostalgic for you now.

But god, yeah, I have no idea how that show would work as a sitcom. I'm kind of scared.

Zev Valancy said...

Eh, without overly ambitious college shows, how would we grow? I have worse than that in my past, no question. I'm excited to see the script in a new context, though.