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Theater 2013-14: Next’s season of premieres starts with Chicago link to Anne Frank story

Submitted by on Oct 15, 2013 – 7:07 am

15th in a series of season previews: Marionettes and shadow puppets help tell the story in Rinne Groff’s play about one man’s obsession with Anne Frank.

By Lawrence B. Johnson

Next Theatre explores the elusive stuff of secrets and lies in a season of Midwest and Chicago premieres that opens Oct. 15 with Rinne Groff’s “Compulsion,” based on the story of a Chicagoan who spent three decades pursuing the real story of Anne Frank. 

“I picked three plays that raise provocative questions that are ultimately left to the audience to answer,” says artistic director Jenny Avery. “We always look for plays that lead to a conversation. Community dialogue – that’s what we want to encourage.”

Two Midwest premieres will round out Next’s season: Kirsten Greenidge’s “The Luck of the Irish,” about an Irish family’s attempt to reclaim a Boston home that an early generation had ghost-purchased for a black family, and Amy Herzog’s “The Great God Pan,” which deals with the demons that upset a young man’s seemingly perfect life.

“Next has become a champion of Amy Herzog’s work,” says Avery, noting last season’s production of “After the Revolution,” directed by Kimberly Senior, who returns to direct “The Great God Pan.”

Still in her early 30s, the playwright has emerged as one of the hottest writers of her generation. Chicago’s focus on her has been particularly keen. In addition to Next Theatre, both Steppenwolf (which ran Herzog’s “Belleville” over the summer) and Northlight (which is currently showing “4000 Miles”) have helped to build a following.

“Amy’s plays are character-driven, and Kimberly is so fantastic with actors,” says Avery. “She has a special rapport with Amy. She just gets it.”

The 2013-14 season in brief:

  • “Compulsion” (2010) by Rinne Groff (Chicago premiere, Oct. 15-Nov. 17): It is 1951 and Sid Silver is on a mission to be the guardian of the Anne Frank legacy. Inspired by the true story of Chicagoan Meyer Levin and his obsession with Anne Frank’s diary, “Compulsion” uses complex storytelling, including marionettes and shadow puppets, to explore the lengths to which one man would go to honor Anne Frank’s powerful legacy. “Levin devoted three decades of his life to his obsession with Anne Frank – to the point where he ruined his career, his reputation and his marriage,” says Avery. “This is part of Chicago history, and a play that hits the political, historical and theatrical sweet spot of our Next audience.” Mandy Patinkin starred in the world premiere co-production of “Compulsion” at Yale Rep and New York City’s Public Theater in 2010-11.
  • “Luck of the Irish” (2012) by Kirsten Greenidge (Midwest premiere, Jan. 16-Feb. 23, 2014): When an African-American couple wants to buy a home in an all-white neighborhood of 1950s Boston, they pay a struggling Irish family to ghost-buy a house on their behalf. Fifty years later, the Irish family wants “their” house back. Moving across two eras, the play explores racial and social issues and the long held secrets that tie two families and one house together. If one can’t help thinking of Bruce Norris’s similarily drawn “Clybourne Park,” Avery says Greenidge’s play “couldn’t be more different. For me, ‘Luck of the Irish’ is more political. Greenidge gives us a strong sense of what it means to be a minority or an immigrant in this country, whether in the 1950s or today. She also has incredible empathy for her characters.” The work premiered in Boston in 2012 and recently played New York City’s Lincoln Center.
  • “The Great God Pan” (2012) by Amy Herzog (Midwest premiere, April 3-May 11, 2014): Jamie is doing great: a beautiful girlfriend, a budding journalism career and parents who live just far enough away. But when a possible childhood trauma comes to light, he begins to question not only his past but his seemingly positive present as well. “Here’s this young man, in his early thirties, starting a career in journalism, and it looks like he and his girlfriend will get together and have a family,” says Avery. “Then he has a reunion with a man with whom he shared the same baby-sitter as kids.” And from that meeting comes a deeply disturbing revelation. “It’s a play about memory,” says Avery, “and how faulty our memory can be yet how the things we remember can affect who we become and future relationships we have. This remarkable play is about the impact of suppressed memory.”

Getting there:

Next Theatre Company is located at 927 Noyes Street in the rambling Noyes Cultural Center, home to the City of Evanston Cultural Arts Division, Piven Theatre Workshop and several art galleries. The CTA’s Purple Line stops at Noyes.

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