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Theater 2014-15: TimeLine kicks off 4 Chicago premieres with first drama on religious theme

Submitted by on Aug 12, 2014 – 11:54 pm

'My Name Is Asher Lev,'  by Aaron Posner, adapted from the novel of Chaim Potok, will be produced at TimeLine. (Concept art by The Performance Network)Second in a series of season previews: Company known for its historical and cultural plays takes up a conflict between art and the tradition of faith to open season Aug. 28.

By Lawrence B. Johnson and Nancy Malitz

Ask TimeLine Theatre artistic director PJ Powers what’s new this season, and you’ll get a one-word answer: everything. TimeLine will present three Chicago premieres at its intimate Wellington Avenue home and a fourth, Aaron Posner’s “My Name Is Asher Lev,” will open the season in the company’s auxiliary space at Stage 773.

Asher Lev feels the conflict between his artistic genius and his family's strict religious tradition. (Original artwork by Marcy Mandel, JCC Northern Virginia)Indeed, Posner’s play about a young Jewish artist torn between his strict Hasidic upbringing and his passionate artistic sensibility is doubly new for TimeLine. It’s the first time this company dedicated to historical and cultural topics has brought forth a work that explores religious issues.

“We’ve been talking internally for a number of years about finding a play that explored faith and religion in a provocative way,” says Powers. “It’s a subject that doesn’t find its way to the stage that much. Nick Bowling (TimeLine ensemble member) saw it in New York and encouraged us to read it. We all knew immediately it was something we wanted to do.”

The fall season’s second opening brings the TimeLine faithful back to its main venue for Dominic Orlando’s “Danny Casolaro Died for You,” about a journalist who died under suspicious circumstances – officially by his own hand – while investigating suspected corruption and spying in the Reagan/Bush Justice Department. The playwright, who was the reporter’s cousin, will take part in rehearsals. “In this age of intrigue over Edward Snowden, audiences will find this play endlessly provocative,” says Powers.

TimeLine-Theatre-Company-logoNext up will be two parts of Richard Nelson’s “Apple Family Plays” about families resonating to political and personal events: “That Hopey Changey Thing” and “Sorry.” The season closes with Michele Lowe’s “Inana,” a story of cultural intrigue and romance set in Iraq.

The 2014-15 season in brief:

  • Chaim Potok, author of the novel 'My Name Is Asher Lev,' which has been adapted into a play by Aaron Posner.“My Name Is Asher Lev” by Aaron Posner, based on the novel by Chaim Potok (Chicago premiere, Aug. 28-Oct. 18 at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave.): Young Asher Lev is a gifted painter in Brooklyn with a desperate urge to fulfill his artistic promise, but his ambition flies in the face of his conservative parents, Hasidic Jews whose sympathy with his passion reaches its conscientious limit. The play has gained a huge national audience in productions by many regional theaters. “It’s really an examination of the idea of assimilation, people honoring where they came from, their heritage and culture, while forging their own path,” says Powers. “Sometimes that course diverges from one’s heritage.”
  • Journalist Danny Casolaro was found dead in his hotel room on Aug. 10, 1971, while investigating possible high-level federal corruption.“Danny Casolaro Died for You” by Dominic Orlando (Chicago premiere, Oct. 2-Dec. 21 at TimeLine, 615 W. Wellington Ave.): A thriller based on the true story of a free-lance reporter looking into possible high-level federal corruption in the Reagan/Bush era, the play explores conflicting perspectives on the death of Casolaro, whose body was found in a Virginia motel room, his arms slashed multiple times. “This is only the play’s second production,” says Powers, “and it will be hugely valuable having Dom here for rehearsals to respond to the actors, address questions and even make changes.”
  • Playwright Richard Nelson, author of 'The Apple Family Plays.'“That Hopey Changey Thing” and “Sorry” by Richard Nelson (Chicago premiere, Jan. 24-April 12 at TimeLine): Two of Nelson’s four works collectively titled “The Apple Family Plays,” both dramas focus on family members responding to immediate political events as threads woven into other urgent concerns in their daily lives. “That Hopey Changey Thing” is set as the polls close on the 2010 mid-term elections, and “Sorry” is set on the morning of the 2012 presidential election. “Better than any other kind of play or article or artistic media, election plays articulate the disappointment and frustration of the populace over our political process,” says Powers. “You get deeply passionate about elections and candidates, then reality sets in and everything you hoped would happen, doesn’t.” The two full-length plays can be seen separately or in some single-day pairings.
  • Playwright Michelle Lowe, author of 'Inana.'“Inana” by Michele Lowe (Chicago premiere, May 14-July 26, 2015 at TimeLine): On the eve of the United States’ invasion of Baghdad in 2003, an Iraqi museum curator plots to save treasured antiquities, including the statue of ancient mother goddess Inana –metaphorically, the soul of the country — from destruction. Fleeing to London with his young bride, he makes a life-altering deal to ensure the statue’s preservation. “It isn’t so much a war play as it is a romance about art and culture, history and artifacts,” says Powers. “It’s also a beautiful love story about two newlyweds finding their connection. Those who are weary of war plays, in particular Iraq plays, will be surprised by this one.”

Getting there:

TimeLine Theatre entrance on Wellington AvenueMost TimeLine productions are performed inside a church building at 615 W. Wellington Ave., a pleasant residential street in the Lakeview East neighborhood, north of the Loop within easy walking distance of the Belmont CTA train stop (Red, Brown and Purple lines). But the company’s following has grown so large that it actually produces more than 52 weeks of theater annually. Consequently, the first production of this season, “My Name Is Asher Lev,” will be presenteed at nearby Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago.

Powers says that before expanding out to Theatre Wit in 2011, then switching over to Stage 773 the next year, “we had to cut off subscriptions two years in a row. That was soul-crushing. One option was to cut back from four plays to three, but that felt like a step in the wrong direction. This new arrangement has opened up 10,000 more seats – but we’re still turning people away.” The answer, he says, may be a new principal venue with greater seating capacity that still preserves the intimacy and flexibility of the present house. “What we’d really like,” says Powers, “is just a larger version of TimeLine.”

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