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Theater 2013-14: Charting course back to its earthy roots, Profiles celebrates 25th season

Submitted by on Aug 13, 2013 – 12:27 pm

Second in a series of season previews: The company’s tenth Neil LaBute premiere and Rhett Rossi’s visceral “In God’s Hat” spark a season on the edge.

By Lawrence B. Johnson

Profiles Theatre will mark its 25th anniversary this season by getting back to what co-artistic director Joe Jahraus calls the lean, mean style that has set this company apart.

That’s lean as in Neil LaBute’s “Wrecks,” a one-actor narrative about the devastation of a man’s life wrought by the death of his wife, and mean as in Rhett Rossi’s “In God’s Hat,” which plays out through the taut, charged reunion of two estranged brothers when one of them is released from prison.

“It’s been a great 25 years,” says Jahraus. “We’ve learned and grown a lot and we feel more confident than ever about the work we do.”

The coming season is also the second for Profile’s new, larger venue, dubbed the Main Stage. There’s a certain irony in that designation since the smaller original space, called the Alley Stage, remains close the hearts of both Joe Jahraus and co-artistic director Darrell W. Cox.

“Most people really love the new space, which offers wide seating and allows us to use larger sets,” says Jahraus. “It’s a more comfortable venue. But the Alley puts you right in the play – it’s only four rows to the back on each side. And that’s an irreplaceable experience.”

Yet the availability of two performing spaces has allowed Profiles to spread it wings. This season the company will present six plays, the most it has ever done in one year.

The 2013-14 season in brief:

  • “In God’s Hat” by Rhett Rossi (Midwest premiere, Aug. 29-Oct. 13, Main Stage): Brothers Roy and Mitch, estranged for 10 years, make an uneasy reconnection when Roy shows up to greet Mitch on his release from prison. En route home, they stop at a shabby motel where the night brings out old conflicts – and ignites some new ones.  “Since shows (a couple of seasons back) like ‘Killer Joe’ and ‘Kid Sister,’ we’ve kind of gotten away from the visceral plays, plays with a twisted sense of humor that have always defined who we are,” says Jahraus. “This is one of those plays. I think our fans will be interested in seeing us return to our roots.”
  • “Wrecks” by Profiles resident artist Neil LaBute (Midwest premiere, Sept. 26-Nov. 17, Alley Stage): The world of Edward Carr, successful business owner but in some respects a very ordinary guy, comes crashing down when his beloved wife dies. In this monologue, which LaBute directed in New York (2006) with Ed Harris as Carr, the grieving man sifts through his past and assesses the loss of his soul mate – as well as the crass quality of his fellow creatures. “Our relationship with Neil LaBute has been special,” says Jahraus. “This powerful one-man play will be our tenth premiere of his work, and we plan to continue producing one of his plays each season.”
  • “Hellcab” by Will Kern (Nov. 14-Jan. 12, Main Stage): Last holiday season, Profiles revived this Christmas Eve slice from the life of a cabbie on the 20th anniversary of its decade-long run at Chicago’s Famous Door Theatre. Playwright Kern draws from personal experience as a cab driver with this assemblage of vignettes – passengers in all walks of life from druggies and lovers to born-again faithful, the human condition on parade. Profiles brings the show back with its special twist: “We’re going to use 34 different actors, one for each character, instead of a handful of actors changing roles,” says Jahraus. “Will Kern has always been amazed by this show’s popularity. It’s an event.”
  • “Gidion’s Knot” by Johnna Adams (Jan. 23-March 9, 2014, Alley Theatre): During a 90-minute parent-teacher conference, a grieving mother and an emotionally stressed primary school teacher hold a tense conversation about the suicide of Gidion, the mother’s son and teacher’s pupil. The child may have been a victim of bullying – or was he the abuser? As the two women wrestle with what happened, they’re also grappling with their own sense of guilt. “We’re always looking for the voice of a strong female playwright,” says Jahraus, “and this is potent. Who was responsible, who missed the signs? There’s also a question of how art might enter the discussion. The child has left a story he wrote. Does it express a disturbed mind, or is it the work of artistic genius?”
  • “Cock” by Mike Bartlett (Feb. 20-April 6, 2014, Main Stage): A box office hit during its premiere run at London’s Royal Court Theatre in 2009,  this bracing comedy about sexual identity was subsequently nominated for a Lucille Lortel Award for outstanding play after it opened off-Broadway in 2012. When John decides to take a break from his gay relationship, he surprises himself by falling in love with a woman – and the battle is on for his affections. Trapped between two lovers, John feels the physical and emotional tug of war. Sort of a post-modern comedy of manners. “Can you change who you are?” asks Jahraus rhetorically. “Or are you just experimenting? The title has raised some eyebrows. Sometimes it’s referred to as the Cockfight Play. For the Brits, the title refers to cock-and-bull.”
  • “Hunter Gatherers” by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb (May 22-June 29, 2014): In this brash romp, Pam and Richard are giving their annual dinner party for friends Wendy and Tom. But this time – after an animal sacrifice kick-starts the occasion – the familiar ingredients of sex, violence, wrestling and dancing are served up more generously than usual. “It’s pretty warped,” says Jahraus. “It comes down to primal man versus civilized man. When they’re going to sacrifice an animal for the evening’s meal, you know you’re in for a ride. It’s a dark, dark comedy.”

Getting there:

In 25 years of play production, Profiles Theatre has become an anchor of the Uptown neighborhood. Its shows are presented in two adjacent venues, the original 65-seat Alley Stage at 4147 N. Broadway and the new 100-seat Main Stage at 4139 N. Broadway.
Related Links:
Photo captions and credits: Home page and top: Playwright Neil LaBute. Descending: Scene from Profiles’ 2012 production of Will Kern’s “Hellcab” (Photo by Michael Brosilow) Playwright Rhett Rossi. Cover of Neil LaBute’s “Wrecks and Other Plays.” Playwright Johnna Adams. Playwright Mike Bartlett. (Bafta) Playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb. Logo for the company’s two performance venues.

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