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The New Season: Lookingglass will celebrate 25th anniversary with pair of world premieres

Submitted by on Sep 28, 2012 – 4:38 pm

14th in a series of season previews: The Chicago premiere of “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” and two world premieres follow revival of Mary Zimmerman’s “Metamophoses.” Season opens Sept. 29.

By Lawrence B. Johnson

In its first 24 seasons, Lookingglass Theatre has brought 58 world premieres to its stage. In observing its 25th anniversary, the company will bring that number to a tidy five dozen – and throw in the Chicago premiere Rajiv Joseph’s “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” for good measure.

The season opens Sept. 29 with a revival of “Metamorphoses,” Mary Zimmerman’s adaptation of Ovid’s compendium of myths that saw first light at Lookingglass in 1998. The play opened on Broadway 10 years ago and brought Zimmerman the 2002 Tony Award for best director.

Up next this season will be “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo,” about two U.S. Marines and an Iraqi translator who encounter a very annoyed tiger, then find themselves caught in the maw of human greed and betrayal.

First to enhance the Lookingglass gallery of world premieres will be “Still Alice,” ensemble member Christine Mary Dunford’s adaptation of the novel by Lisa Genova about an expert on the human brain who suddenly finds her world thrown into confusion by memory loss.

A second world premiere crowns the season: Keith Huff’s “Big Lake Big City,” a noir-tinged send-up of Chicago about a detective chasing down a bad guy while contending with his impossible boss, his klutzy partner and his unfaithful wife.

The 2012-13 season in brief:

  • “Metamorphoses” by Ovid, adapted by Mary Zimmerman (Sept. 29-Nov. 18): Against a rippling pool of water, Zimmerman frames her adaptation of Greco-Roman mythology as handed down by Ovid. “Mary has a very wide genius zone,” says Lookingglass artistic director Andrew White. “She gets at the essence of these ancient myths and makes them feel relevant. They are beautiful stories that talk about the origins of things and our experiences with love, loss, life and death. It’s also very funny stuff, though the core of it is quite powerful and deep.” In February 2013, Lookingglass Theatre’s production of “Metamorphoses” will transfer to The Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.
  • “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” by Rajiv Joseph (Chicago premiere, opens Feb. 9-March 17, 2013): “This play is so smart and funny, dark and grotesque,” says White. “It’s both political and poetic, and profoundly humanizing of everyone on stage. There isn’t one character you don’t empathize with. It’s about war but it’s also about us as humans and stewards of the planet and the power we wield: Is there a God and if so, what’s relationship to this divine being. What appealed to us all in selecting the play was its magical realism. It’s hugely theatrical. The Tiger talks to the audience right off the bat. He gets shot and killed and still talks to us – and so do others whose view of life is expanded once they’ve died.”
  • “Still Alice” adapted by Lookingglass ensemble member Christine Mary Dunford from the novel by Lisa Genova. (World premiere, opens April 20-May 19, 2013): Professor Alice Howland is at the peak of her career studying the human brain when her own mind begins to falter. Fiercely independent, she battles to preserve her way of life and remain true to herself and her family, even as confusion clouds her thinking and her memory begins to fail. “This is a compassionate, witty look at someone with early-onset alzheimer’s, which is increasingly on the radar for everyone,” says White. “We think of alzheimer’s as tragic on every level, but the play asks what it means to lose your memory – when do you cease being who you are? Do you no longer have the possibility for happiness? Are you no longer present?”
  • “Big Lake Big City” by Keith Huff (World premiere, opens June 29-Aug. 11): It’s an eclectic cast of characters Huff has pulled together in this dark comedy: crooked coroners, a TV-personality doctor, a femme fatale, and one extraordinarily valuable sculpture— all tangled in a maze of double-crosses and double-identities. “It’s contemporary Chicago,” says White with a laugh, “starting with a worn-out cop in a tough marriage. Things are tough for everybody in this play. You have charred corpses, coroners playing golf with decapitated heads. It’s like ‘The Sopranos,’ violent and funny at the same time. Keith’s a super-sharp writer interested in discontinuity. We don’t connect the dots in our lives from one moment to the next. It’s a delightful, very funny play.”

Getting there:

Lookingglass is located in the heart of Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, at 821 N. Michigan Ave. at Pearson Street, across the street from Water Tower Place.

White says the first 24 years have seen one spectacular change – the move into its current home in the Water Tower Water Works in June 2003 – as the company has held fast to its core ensemble philosophy: “We talk to each other and we listen to each other.” The communal approach (the artistic director is chosen by periodic election) earned Lookingglass the 2011 Tony Award for best regional theater.

As a Lookingglass founder, White has witnessed the benefits of theatrical life in the Water Works space: “It has shaped us immensely and challenged us to take risks. It’s a great space because of its intimacy. Audiences love the huge adventures that happen right in your lap.”

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Photo captions and credits: Home page and top: Tiger, tiger burning bright – at the Baghdad Zoo. Descending: Scene from Mary Zimmerman’s adaptation of Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” in the 2002 Broadway production. (Photo by Joan Marcus) Playwright-director Mary Zimmerman. Playwright Rajiv Joseph. Lisa Genova’s novel “Still Alice.” Playwright Keith Huff. Lookingglass artistic director Andrew White. Below: Scene from Lookinglass’ 2012 production of the musical “Eastland.” Scene from the 2012 production of “Rick Bayless in Cascabel.” (Production photos by Sean Williams) 

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