Theater 2013-14: Lookingglass will populate stage with people in off-balance moments
12th in a series of season previews: Two world premieres, “The North China Lover” and an intimate view of Darwin’s courtship and marriage, are matched with “The Little Prince.”
By Lawrence B. Johnson
When theatrical characters step out of their comfort zones, you have the makings of keen-edged drama. That’s the essence of a Lookingglass Theatre 2013-14 season that boasts two world premieres among three productions.
“In each of this season’s plays, the protagonists venture into scary, risky territory,” says artistic director Andrew White of a line-up that begins with the world premiere of “The North China Lover,” adapted by ensemble member Heidi Stillman from the novel by Marguerite Duras. In this stark, graphic and emotionally charged autobiographical tale, a poor young French girl and an wealthy older Chinese man develop a mutual obsession.
Next comes “The Little Prince,” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s beloved story of a bizarre encounter between an aviator stranded in the Sahara Desert and a little boy who’s on a tour of celestial orbs. In this touchingly philosophical narrative, the diminutive figure – the aviator dubs him “the little prince” – recounts his exploits and encounters with characters on various planets, very much from the perspective of a child’s sensibilities.
Winding up the season is a second world premiere, “In the Garden: A Darwinian Love Story,” about the improbable courtship and marriage of the evolutionist Darwin and the devout creationist Emma Wedgwood. Written by Lookingglass artistic associate Sara Gmitter, the play traces the Darwins’ evolving relationship from a starting point well before the famous naturalist produced “On The Origin of the Species.”
“We don’t choose our plays with a theme in mind,” says White, “but often realize in retrospect that the choices we’ve made bear a common thread – a sort of, ‘Oh, isn’t that interesting’ moment. Such a discovered commonality certainly applies to our new season.”
The 2013-14 season in brief:
- “The North China Lover,” adapted by Heidi Stillman from the novel by Marguerite Duras (world premiere, Sept. 25-Nov. 10): In her 1991 novel, Duras revisits and amplifies – indeed, intensifies – the confessional remembrance of her affair as an impoverished 14-year-old with a wealthy Chinese man age 27, which she had recounted in her 1984 book “The Lover.” The passionate story is more sexually overt (and various) in this second telling, and riven with a torment brewed of desperation, secrecy and an elusive component of genuine love. “Heidi brought this to us the first time 20 years ago, in her first stab at it,” says White, “not as a developed play but more as scenes of challenging material. A couple of years ago, she pulled (the novel) off the shelf again, and what she’s come up with this time is a fully fleshed out play that really intrigued the ensemble. It’s very lyrical, haunting, a beautiful story.”
- “The Little Prince” by Rick Cummins and John Scoullar, based on the novella by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (Dec. 4-Feb. 2, 2014): Translated from the original French into some 250 languages and dialects, with worldwide sales exceeding 140 million copies, “The Little Prince” is among the all-time best-selling books. Stuck, thirsty and alone, a pilot stranded in the Sahara Desert meets an enigmatic, charismatic, golden-haired young prince fallen from the sky who regales him with tales of life among the stars – tales of earthly consequence. This open-hearted boy is perhaps the universal castaway, the clear-sighted child in all of us. “As grownups, we often find ourselves feeling like Saint- Exupéry’s aviator – stuck and alone,” says White. “But this man has an encounter with another spirit, this ‘little prince’ who has another way of looking at things, from a child-like perspective. The child, who has wandered among the stars, describes his own unusual encounters, with a rose and a fox among other things. While the stakes are very real for the aviator – he could die there in the desert – ‘The Little Prince’ is also an allegory about values and understanding, about wisdom.”
- “In the Garden: A Darwinian Love Story” by Sara Gmitter (world premiere, April 16-June 15, 2014): Long before “On The Origin of Species” altered man’s perspective on his place in the natural world, and made its author world famous, Charles Darwin meets Emma Wedgwood (see portraits below) and they forever change each other. In the space between science and faith, they find an unexpected and unlikely romance. “In the Garden” chronicles the struggle of two fiercely independent individuals, divided by ideology but united by a fire that fuels a passionate lifelong debate: evolution vs. salvation. Only by embracing this duality can they possibly navigate the struggles, triumphs, losses and discoveries if a life together. “All of us probably struggle on some level with the question of God,” says White. “Darwin’s evolution of thought takes him to a different conclusion than her faith does for Emma. The play is about how the two of them negotiate that conversation over 30 years of marriage tested by a number of things – including the deaths of three of their ten children. Theirs is a civil conversation, something that seems so hard for us to manage in today’s polarized world. For me, it’s the beautiful telling of a deep love story.”
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. The company moved into its present home in the Water Tower Water Works in June 2003. “It’s a great space because of its intimacy,” says White, one of the company’s founders. “Audiences love the huge adventures that happen right in your lap.” Lookingglass received the 2011 Tony Award for best regional theater.
- Official website of Lookingglass Theatre: LookingglassTheatre.org
- Review of Keith Huff’s “Big Lake Big City” at Lookingglass: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Review of Christine Mary Dunford’s “Still Alice” at Lookingglass: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Role Playing: Eva Barr as an Alzheimer’s victim in “Still Alice”: Read the interview at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Review of Rajiv Joseph’s “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo”: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Role Playing: Anish Jethmalani as a good man battling demons in “Bengal Tiger”: Read the interview at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Review of Mary Zimmerman’s “Metamorphoses” at Lookingglass: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
Tags: Andrew White, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Charles Darwin, Emma Wedgewood, In the Garden, Lookingglass Theatre, Marguerite Duras, Sara Gmitter, The Little Prince, The North China Lover