Theater 2013-14: Irish world premiere tops lineup of 5 shows in Northlight’s 39th year
Seventh in a series of season previews: Veteran Chicago actor John Mahoney stars in the world premiere of Irish play handed to him in Galway by the playwright.
By Lawrence B. Johnson
Northlight Theatre’s season marquee for 2013-14 promises a world premiere turn by actor John Mahoney, the company directing debut of Ron OJ Parson in a Midwest premiere and director Kimberly Senior’s inauguration in her new role as the 39-year-old company’s first artistic associate.
John Mahoney, a Chicago theater mainstay, will star opposite Penny Slusher in the world premiere of Christian O’Reilly’s “Chapatti,” about a frayed Irishman who, with his dog, finds a new beginning in the acquaintanceship of a lady who collects cats.
The season opens with Amy Herzog’s “4000 Miles,” directed by Kimberly Senior, who will have three Herzog plays under her belt by season’s end.
“We feel very fortunate to have Kimberly,” says Northlight artistic director BJ Jones. “I’ve known her since she was interning in our education department 17 years ago. Now she has directed all over Chicago, including very fine work for us last season with (Matthew Lopez’s) ‘The Whipping Man.’ She will weigh in on artistic decisions and act as a sounding board for me.”
Ron OJ Parson, resident artist at Court Theatre, makes his Northlight directorial debut presiding over the Midwest premiere of Dominique Morisseau’s “Detroit ’67,” a personalized look back the city’s historical upheaval through the eyes of an African American brother and sister who see their dreams imperiled by the flames of racial rage.
The season in brief:
- “4000 Miles” by Amy Herzog (Sept. 13-Oct. 20): At the end of an arduous cross-country bike trip, a rudderless 21-year-old seeks refuge in his elderly grandmother’s West Village New York apartment. These two outsiders face ideological differences, but ultimately find their way together in a cross-generational relationship. “It’s a wonderful chamber piece,” says Jones, “rich emotionally and intellectually. The grandmother is accepting and open-minded, and gives the young man a tremendous gift of non-judgmental love. He finds in her small apartment a womb of security in which to regenerate himself.”
- “Detroit ’67” by Dominique Morisseau (Midwest premiere, Nov. 8-Dec. 15): In 1967 Detroit, the world is coming unglued around Chelle and her brother Lank, who run an after-hours club in the basement of their late parents’ house. Tensions mount when the siblings discover that their dreams have diverged, and their tight-knit community is threatened by the arrival of a white woman Lank finds battered on the street. Against a backdrop of Motown music, violence erupts and hopes blur. “What really struck me about this play was the struggle of these two people who – like any couple – want to hold a piece of the American dream as it was sold to us,” says Jones. “But the world is set ablaze right outside their front door. Dominique brings an interesting new voice, and these characters, in a very bad situation, display a compelling degree of dignity and self-respect.”
- “Tom Jones,” adapted by Jon Jory from the 1749 novel by Henry Fielding (Jan. 17-Feb. 23, 2014): In this new adaptation of Fielding’s classic comedy (Northlight’s staging is only its second production), the amiable, handsome young rascal Tom Jones – orphaned and confronting the world on his own — is in and out of trouble at about the same rate he’s in and out of bed with lasses and ladies high born and low. Northlight regular William Brown will direct. “Bill’s excited about this, really ebullient” says Jones. “‘Tom Jones’ is from a time when sex was fun and not perverse. It’s about the joy of being human. The women are chasing Tom. It’s partly a portrait of class structure, but it’s frolicksome and clean – randy and bawdy but not sordid. Think ‘Canterbury Tales.’ I think we yearn for a time unleadened by blunt, pornographically inspired sex. Fielding’s take on it is witty, charming, funny.”
- “Chapatti” by Christian O’Reilly (world premiere, March 7-April 13, 2014): Romance is a distant memory for two lonely animal-lovers living in Dublin. When forlorn Dan and his dog Chapatti cross paths with amiable Betty and her 19 cats, an unexpected spark begins a warm and gentle story about two people re-discovering the importance of human companionship. “We took (Bruce Graham’s) ‘The Outgoing Tide’ (featuring John Mahoney) to Galway, and while we were there Christian O’Reilly handed this script to John,” says Jones, who will direct. “The play is a delightful journey with lots of twists and language with a flair that only the Irish can bring to it. Chapatti is a dog, and he’s a dog person. She’s a cat lady. They meet at the vet and become increasingly entwined. You don’t think it’s going to end well.”
- “Lost in Yonkers” by Neil Simon (May 2-June 8, 2014): Winner of the 1991 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play, “Lost in Yonkers” is a nostalgic memory play that harkens back to the summer of 1942 in the midst of World War II. Eddie, flat broke, has no alternative but to leave his sons with their grandmother while he struggles to pay off his debts. The boys are left to contend with an ill-tempered Grandma, the sweet but damaged Aunt Bella, and Uncle Louie, a small-time hoodlum in a strange new world called Yonkers. “I was brought up with three women in the house – my mother, my grandmother and an aunt,” says Jones, “people who went through the Depression and the Second World War. That’s what this play is about: a powerful life experience, a time in American history when families banded together to support each other. It’s a warm, beautiful story.” The production will be directed by Devon de Mayo, associate artistic director of Dog & Pony Theatre.
Northlight Theatre, founded in 1974, led a nomadic life until 1997 when the company settled into its present home, the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, a 342-seat theater located at 9501 Skokie Blvd. in Skokie, IL. It’s just east of the Edens Expressway, across from Westfield Old Orchard shopping center.
- Official website of Northlight Theatre: Northlight.org
- From seeds of discontent, the Detroit riots: Read how it happened
- “Tom Jones” as comic masterpiece and literary turning point: Read about Fielding’s novel here
- Why We Need Neil Simon’s “Lost in Yonkers”: Read the critical essay here
Tags: Amy Herzog, BJ Jones, Christian O'Reilly, Devon de Mayo, Dominique Morisseau, Henry Fielding, John Mahoney, Jon Jory, Kimberly Senior, Neil Simon, Northlight Theatre, Ron OJ Parson, William Brown