Theater 2013-14: Premieres and new vitality energize the intimate stage at A Red Orchid
16th in a series of season previews: Company’s 21st anniversary promises first Chicago staging of three plays as the ensemble adds fresh faces.
By Lawrence B. Johnson
New faces, new energy, new generation. Kirsten Fitzgerald, artistic director of A Red Orchid Theatre, says the company’s 2013-14 season – consisting of three plays all new to Chicago – reflects the forward-looking spirit of its 21st anniversary on the theme of coming of age.
“I’m excited about having a big factor of youth in our plays this season – four teenagers in (Zinnie Harris’) ‘Solstice’ and another in (Marisa Wegrzyn’s) ‘Mud Blue Sky,’” says Fitzgerald, who has guided A Red Orchid’s artistic fortunes since 2008 and has acted with company since 1997. “I’m not a (stage) director, but an actor – at heart and by craft. My favorite place to work is right here at home. I see things from an actor’s point of view, and I love what’s possible in this intimate space.
“There’s so much vitality in our new season. It’s a lineup of wonderful plays about profound personal struggles, and yet they’re all so different from each other.”
One key change at A Red Orchid, announced last week, is the addition of three new members to its resident ensemble: director Shade Murray, actor Kamal Angelo Bolden and lighting designer Mike Durst. Bolden starred in last season’s engrossing production of Brett Neveu’s “The Opponent,” for which Durst did the lighting. Murray, who directed Marisa Wegrzyn’s dark comedy “The Butcher of Baraboo” last year, will shepherd the 2013-14 opener, Nick Jones’ “Trevor.”
“We are thrilled and honored to invite this group of exceptionally talented theater artists to join our creative family in a more formal and ongoing capacity,” says Fitzgerald. “Each of our new ensemble members brings skill, talent and experience that enriches and ennobles our company and we are so very fortunate to welcome them home to A Red Orchid.”
The 2013-14 season in brief:
- “Trevor” by Nick Jones (Midwest premiere, Oct. 20-Nov. 24): Inspired by actual events, “Trevor” is a subversive comedy about fame, success and the lies we tell ourselves — in this case to keep people from taking away an erratic, 200-pound chimpanzee. At the play’s center are two individuals fighting against a world unable to understand their love — Trevor, a chimpanzee (played by an actor) who once performed in commercials with the likes of Morgan Fairchild, and his owner Sandra, who promises he would never hurt a fly. “‘Trevor’ is our wild card,” says Fitzgerald with a laugh. “It’s the chimp who’s coming of age, and learning to act like a man. Everyone speaks but nobody understands what’s being said.”
- “Solstice” by Zinnie Harris (American premiere, January-March, 2014): Harris’ play “The Wheel” opened the current season at Steppenwolf Theatre. With “Solstice,” she explores terrorism and a family attempting to keep a hold on their faith and each other in a world pulled apart by violence and inequality. In an unnamed city divided by a river — and religion, politics and money — a devout candle maker, his sick wife and their son struggle to survive. When they learn of a plan for their side of the river to be mined for minerals and, worse, that their son has taken drastic action against their oppressors, their lives dramatically change. “It deals with the politics of the haves and the have-nots, big government taking over property, the politics of terrorism,” says Fitzgerald. “But it’s also about this family and relationships at its core. It becomes really personal.”
- “Mud Blue Sky” by Marisa Wegrzyn (Chicago premiere, April-May 2014): A high school pot dealer abandons his prom night to crash the hotel room reunion of three flight attendants, all old enough to be his mother. Booze is poured, herb is smoked as the room blurs and futures, careers and kindness snap sharply into focus. “This play to me is basically about kindness,” says Fitzgerald, who portrays one of the flight attendants. “It’s about swirling issues like unemployment and coping at work and retirement, but it brings all those things down to a very personal level. It’s also about the search for a purpose in life.”
A Red Orchid Theatre, producing plays in a 75-seat venue at 1531 N. Wells St. in the Old Town neighborhood, has been a mainstay of the Chicago theater community since 1993. The company’s mission holds that passionately committed theater will attract likewise engaged audiences. It’s about a 6-minute walk from the Sedgwick stop on the Brown Line.
- Official website of A Red Orchid Theatre: ARedOrchidTheatre.org
- Interview with playwright Nick Jones: Read it here
- Review of Brett Neveu’s “The Opponent” at A Red Orchid: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Kamal Angelo Bolden talks about playing an aspiring young boxer in “The Opponent”: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Review of Marisa Wegrzyn’s “The Butcher of Baraboo” at A Red Orchid: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com