Theater 2013-14: Victory Gardens, predictably unpredictable, gets rolling with two premieres
17th in a series of season previews: Opening with Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ “Appropriate,” about siblings in an estate fight, Victory Garden’s season will later spotlight Sandra Oh in Ariel Dorfman’s thriller “Death and the Maiden.”
By Lawrence B. Johnson
Victory Gardens is a theater company built on new plays, says artistic director Chay Yew: “Our audiences comes expecting to see the unexpected.”
Thus the 2013-14 season opens Nov. 15 with the “co-world premiere” of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ “Appropriate,” about three adult siblings circling – and colliding – over the division of their deceased father’s estate. And that’s followed by the world premiere of Marcus Gardley’s “The Gospel of Lovingkindness,” set in Chicago’s South Side, about a pastor and his wife who have lost their son to neighborhood violence and must decide whether to seek a quieter life or stay and try to make a difference.
The season’s third and last production, Ariel Dorfman’s “Death and the Maiden,” will feature “Grey’s Anatomy” star Sandra Oh as the victim of political torture under a former regime who unexpectedly finds herself once more thrown together with the man who may have been her tormentor.
“Sandra will have completed her last season with ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and she was looking for a new project,” says Yew, who got to know the actress when they worked together at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. “She liked the idea of ‘Death and the Maiden’ because of what’s going on in the world. Sandra is a very special, honest actress and we’re thrilled to have her here.”
“‘Death and the Maiden’ is a potent play that can be set in any time and place, and the issues of survival, abuse and redemption are still relevant and important,” Oh said in a press statement, adding that she was delighted to be working with Yew again.
The 2013-14 season in brief:
- “Appropriate” by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins (co-world premiere, Nov. 15-Dec. 8): A play about the trouble with inheritance, memory loss and the art of repression, “Appropriate” was developed and workshopped through Victory Gardens’ IGNITION New Play Festival in 2012. When the Lafayettes descend upon a crumbling Arkansan plantation to liquidate their dead patriarch’s estate, the three adult children collide over clutter, debt and a contentious family history. But after a disturbing discovery surfaces among their father’s possessions, the reunion takes a turn for the explosive, unleashing a series of surprises and confrontations. Gary Griffin, associate artistic director of Chicago Shakespeare Theater, directs. “At the core of Branden’s play is the issue of race,” says Yew. “The three siblings don’t actually talk about black characters, and we don’t see any, but this white family uncovers photos of a lynching, and their father was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. The photos have significant cash value – so do they cash them out, destroy them or what? We get several different points of view on this. It’s very ‘Rashomon.’”
- “The Gospel of Lovingkindness” by Victory Gardens ensemble playwright Marcus Gardley (world premiere, Feb. 21-March 23, 2014): It is 1996 and the streets of the Bronzeville neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side are set ablaze by crime, evictions, gun and gang violence. No one knows this better than Reverend Isaac Seer and his wife, who just lost their only son to a senseless homicide. Now, they must decide whether to leave their home in the embattled Ida B. Wells Projects, or stay to lead their community towards an uncertain future. “I’m trying to create a canon of Chicago plays,” says Yew, who’s beginning his third year as the company’s artistic director. He will direct the play. “I’m new to the city, and what strikes me as the most pressing issue is what’s going on with gun violence. Gang violence isn’t new, but why does it happen? It doesn’t come out of nowhere. It’s hard to fathom the loss of a child to violence. How do we address this? Action and inaction are both forms of response. Which path do we take? That’s what Marcus’ play is about.”
- “Death and the Maiden” by Ariel Dorfman (June 13-July 13, 2013-14): Dorfman’s drama – about revenge, trauma and forgiveness — is set in a rocky new democracy. Gerardo has just been chosen to head the commission that will investigate the crimes of the old regime when his car breaks down and he is picked up by a kind doctor. Sandra Oh plays Gerardo’s wife, Paulina, who thinks she recognizes the doctor as the man who tormented her as she lay blindfolded in a military detention center years before. “While he tortured women, this unknown man played a recording of Schubert’s ‘Death and the Maiden’ String Quartet,” says Yew, who again directs. “Now there’s been a regime change and the torturer may be back in society. The husband is interesting because he shares our point of view. Is his wife, who was blind-folded during her torture, imagining this connection? Is this guy the right person? She thinks she remembers his voice, that his voice is in her blood.”
Since its founding in 1974, Victory Gardens claims more world premieres than any other Chicago theater, an initiative recognized nationally when the company received the 2001 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre. Located at Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, the company utilizes a 299-seat main stage and the 109-seat Richard Christiansen Theater.
- Victory Gardens Theater official website: VictoryGardens.org