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The New Season: Teaming with Neil LaBute, Profiles readies 24th year on the gritty fringe

Submitted by on Jul 29, 2012 – 11:33 pm

First in a series of season previews: Playwright Neil LaBute’s revision of “The Break of Noon” is one of four Midwest premieres on tap at Profiles Theatre. The company’s 2012-13 season opens Aug. 24.

By Lawrence B. Johnson

Profiles Theatre will open its 24th season Aug. 24 with playwright Neil LaBute officially inducted into the family, a second performing space in use and a new mantra that crystalizes the company’s founding philosophy: “Whatever the truth requires.”

Four of the new season’s five plays are Midwest premieres, and while co-artistic directors Joe Jahraus and Darrell W. Cox view them all as exemplars of Profiles’ gritty aesthetic of life on the fringe of tolerance, the venture that really gets their motors running is LaBute’s revised version of “The Break of Noon.”

It will be the 10th work by LaBute, newly engaged as resident artist, that Profiles has mounted since 2006.

“Working on Neil’s plays over the years has been the most fulfilling thing I’ve done in my career,” says Cox, who has starred in most of those productions. “I’ve been really lucky to go all these different places in his stories. Profiles simply would not be where we are right now, artistically or from a growth standpoint, without his involvement. And we still have a lot of work to do together.”

The 2012-13 season in brief:

  • “Sweet and Sad,” by Richard Nelson (Midwest premiere, Aug. 24-Oct. 7): The story takes place on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 as members of a family share Sunday brunch and reflect on issues of loss and remembrance in a world that has been changed forever. “What appealed to us about ‘Sweet and Sad’ is how different it is from so many things we’ve done,” says Jahraus, who helped to create Profiles in 1988 as a student just out of Eastern Illinois University. “It isn’t plot driven, or a 9/11 play. It’s about talking and listening and sharing our fears and concerns.” Jahraus will direct the production.
  • “After,” by Chad Beckim (Midwest premiere, Sept. 3-Oct. 14): A wrongfully convicted man, exonerated after 17 years in prison, returns to a society he left behind at age 17. Still angry over the theft of his youth, he must find his place – first thing, he must figure out how to purchase a toothbrush. “He’s thrust back into a very confusing world,” says Jahraus. “But it’s also about forgiveness. Can we move past things when we feel we’ve been wronged?”
  • “Hellcab,” by Will Kern (Nov. 15-Dec. 23): This wry play surveys the human comedy through the lens of a driver who sees it all. Profiles’ staging marks the 20th anniversary of “Hellcab’s” Chicago premiere, which launched a decade-long run  though not at Profiles). “It’s a valentine to the city, and it honors the incredibly diverse make-up of our city,” says Jahraus. “It’s funny and touching.”
  • “The Dream of the Burning Boy,” by David West Read (Midwest premiere, Jan. 24-March 10): The death of a student resonates deeply in those around him. “It’s about how we deal with grief,” says Jahraus. “We see it from two different perspectives – middle-aged characters and teenagers. By the time we reach middle age, we’ve seen death a few times. It can be quite a different experience for someone very young.”
  • “The Break of Noon,” by Neil LaBute (Midwest premiere, April 11-May 26):  When a jerk turns out to be the sole survivor of an office massacre, he naturally begins to wonder why – even if the possibility of divine intervention doesn’t strike him as cause for modifying his behavior. LaBute, collaborating with Jahraus and Cox, is revising the script from the play’s New York debut in 2010. “If you survived and heard this voice, what would you do? That’s essentially what the play is asking,” says Jahraus. “It’s an examination of the spiritual side of who we are today.” The production will be directed by Rick Snyder, also recently signed on as a Profiles resident artist.

This line-up, says Jahraus, bears out the company’s commitment to “hard-hitting and uncompromising work, plays that really examine the human condition and remind us that we’re all in this together. Human beings are capable of love, warmth and kindness, but we’re also capable of downright cruelty. And sometimes we make horrible mistakes.

“When we choose a work, we want something that’s not going to sugar-coat anything.”

Jahraus was two years into this expedition into the dark side when, in 1990, Darrell Cox entered the picture to work with him on a revival of Sam Shepard’s “True West.” Their partnership was quick to solidify. Cox’s perspective on Profiles’ mission perhaps explains why.

“Most of these stories have characters in circumstances so different from our own – much more desperate and with fewer options,” he says. “You can’t really put yourself in these plays without confronting the ugliest part of who you are.

“I’ve learned a lot about myself. I see ways I would like to evolve as a human being. I don’t think that would have happened to me without having done this kind of work.”

This season will see Profiles expand fully into the 90-seat, multi-level Main Stage that was inaugurated last spring with LaBute’s “In a Forest, Dark and Deep,” in which Cox co-starred with Natasha Lowe. The new venue is next door to the company’s original cracker-box space now dubbed the Alley Stage, which seats 65.

Cox admits he’s still making the adjustment from the Alley’s singular intimacy to the relative spaciousness of the Main Stage.

“After spending so many years at the Alley, the additional distance (from the audience) in the Main Stage can feel a bit isolated,” he says. “We’re in the process of creating a theater experience at the Main Stage that’s similar to our smaller stage. I think ‘Sweet and Sad’ will be a much closer representation of how we will use that space.”

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Photo captions and credits: Home page and top: Playwright Neil LaBute (center) with Profiles co-artistic directors Joe Jahraus (left) and Darrell W. Cox in 2009. Descending: Entrance to Profiles’ original space, the 65-seat Alley Stage, next door to the recently opened 90-seat Main Stage. Playwright Neil LaBute. Profiles’ co-artistic director Joe Jahraus. Poster for Profiles’ production of Neil LaBute’s “The Break of Noon.” Co-artistic director Darrell W. Cox. Scene from Profiles’ production of Neil LaBute’s “In a Forest, Dark and Deep” with Darrell W. Cox and Natasha Lowe. (Photo by Wayne Karl) Below: New collaborators at Profiles in 1991, Joe Jahraus (left) and Darrell W. Cox. Cameos from recent seasons and the new mantra: “Whatever the Truth Requires.” The company’s new bi-level, 90-seat Main Stage, set for Neil LaBute’s “In a Forest, Dark and Deep.”



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