Theater 2014-15: Profiles opens a new chapter with familiar face of LaBute and world premiere
Fourth in a series of season previews: Neil LaBute’s “Reasons to Be Happy” opens Aug. 28, kicking off season in Profiles’ large and small venues that also unveils Kate Walbert’s new play “Genius.”
By Lawrence B. Johnson and Nancy Malitz
With 25 years on the books and a second performing space established and offering new flexibility, Profiles Theatre heads into its second quarter-century this season with an opening production of resident artist Neil LaBute’s “Reasons to Be Happy.” Also on tap is the world premiere of Kate Walbert’s “Genius,” intertwining the secrets and alliances of two creative couples from different generations who find their lives changed at a dinner party.
“Neil’s work always sort of matched what we were looking for in plays. It is tough and honest. He’s also incredibly prolific. We have a commitment to do one play by him every season, and at the rate he keeps writing, I don’t think we’ll run out.
“Reasons to Be Happy” is the sequel to LaBute’s raw-edged “reasons to be pretty,” in which a man’s indirect criticism of his girlfriend’s looks finds its way back to her with painful results. “It’s the same four characters, three years later,” observes Jahraus. “We drop in on them again to see what’s changed, how they’re struggling to move on, grow up.”
LaBute’s play will be given in Profile’s Main Stage venue, a few doors down Broadway from the company’s original, smaller Alley Stage. Jahraus says the greater performing – and design – space of the Main Stage, opened three seasons ago, has changed the way he and Cox develop a season.
“It has fulfilled what we wanted,” he says. “Shows we couldn’t pull off in the Alley Stage we can do now. It’s a lot more fun to look at our choices and decide which goes where. And we are continuing to explore. We love the intimacy at the Alley, but when we put ‘Cock’ in the Main Stage last season, we were able to build a cock-fighting arena that went high into the air.”
Profiles’ new season includes six shows, three at each venue. Also at the Main Stage will be Will Kern’s “Hellcab,” the third annual offering of this off-beat Christmas show about the human comedy as viewed through the eyes of a cabbie on Christmas Eve. Sharr White’s “The Other Place” follows, a Broadway hit last season about a neurologist who finds herself struggling to hold onto her own identity.
First up at the Alley Stage will be David Mamet’s “The Cryptogram,” a dark, sober story of childhood’s endgame. A sixth show has yet to be announced.
The 2014-15 season in brief:
- “Reasons to Be Happy” by Neil LaBute (Midwest premiere, Aug. 28-Oct. 12, Main Stage, 4139 N. Broadway): Three years after a contentious break-up, Steph and Greg wonder if they can make a fresh go of it. Trouble is, she’s married to someone else and he’s just embarked on a relationship with Steph’s best friend, Carly – a single mom whose jealous ex-husband, Kent, has trouble articulating his feelings. Navigating the rocky landscape of conflicting agendas and exploding emotions isn’t going to be easy for any of them. “People really like talking about LaBute,” says Jahraus. “‘What was the one where the guy was really a jerk?’ It’s a building fan base, and it’s really fun. Sometimes it’s really dark, exploring the ugly side of human nature. ‘Reasons to Be Happy’ isn’t that ugly, but it’s still hard-hitting. It still probes into what it is to be human.”
- “The Cryptogam” by David Mamet (Oct. 2-Nov. 16, Alley Theatre, 4147 N. Broadway): It is a journey back into childhood and the moment of its vanishing – when the sheltering world suddenly reveals itself as a place full of dangers. One late evening in 1959, a young boy sits waiting up for his father in anticipation of their camping trip. While his mother urges him to go to sleep, a family friend tries to entertain them or perhaps distract them. Mamet re-creates a child’s terrifying discovery that the grownups speak in code – a code that may never be breakable. “We go way back with Mamet,” says Jahraus. “Profile’s first really big hit was ‘Sexual Perversity in Chicago.’ This one’s about a very intelligent 10-year-old who’s already pondering the nature of existence. It’s about the loss of innocence, and it’s full of those ambiguities delivered in the classic rhythm of Mamet’s speech.”
- “Hellcab” by Will Kern (Nov. 13-Jan. 11, 2015, Main Stage): During the longest night of his life, a cab driver transports a bizarre and mysterious array of customers through the gritty streets of Chicago. Kern draws from personal experience as a former cabbie to create this alternately frightening, hilarious and poignant journey. Throughout his long shift, the eclectic collection of passengers includes a trio of drug-addicts, a born-again couple, a smug lawyer, and a randy duo on their way to a motel. Set during a bitter cold Christmas Eve, the play presents a rear-view image mirroring the passing parade of humanity. “It’s about loneliness and isolation and the need to connect with other human beings,” says Jahraus. “This is our third consecutive year for ‘Hellcab.’ It’s our antidote to the warm and fuzzy Christmas shows. ‘The Gift of the Magi’ at Profiles? It’s never going to happen.”
- “The Other Place” by Sharr White (Feb. 19-April 5, 2015, Main Stage): Juliana Smithton, a successful neurologist, finds her life coming apart at the seams. Her husband filed for divorce, her daughter eloped with a much older man and her own health hangs in jeopardy. But nothing is as it seems. Piece by piece, a mystery unfolds as fact blurs with fiction, past collides with present and the elusive truth about Juliana boils to the surface. “Sharr White is a strong, intelligent voice. We did his ‘Annapurna’ last season, and the voice in those two plays is so different,” says Jahraus. “There’s no way to guess it’s the same playwright. In ‘The Other Place,’ we first assume everything this woman, the narrator, tell us is real. Then, as things begin to shift, our perception changes. It’s a dynamite role for an actress, and Lia D. Mortensen, from ‘Annapurna,’ plays in this one as well.”
- “Genius” by Kate Walbert (world premiere, March 19-May 3, 2015, Alley Stage): Joel, a once highly regarded painter turned museum director caught in the midst of a very public indiscretion and his wife Sara, a formally famous journalist, venture to Brooklyn for dinner with their new friends Peter and Chelsea, a young filmmaking couple with rising careers and a baby on the way. After an evening riddled with illuminating discoveries and deceptions, each couple deconstructs the events as they grapple with their own uncertain futures. “It’s not a straight-forward narrative,” says Jahraus. “Time jumps back and forth. It’s about our ambitions to succeed, and how our personal relationships sometimes get thrown under the bus.”
- Sixth play TBA.
- Profiles Theatre’s official website: Go to ProfilesTheatre.org
- Review of Johnna Adams’ “Gidion’s Knot” at Profiles: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Neil LaBute’s “In the Company of Men” at Profiles: Read the review at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- David West Read’s “The Dream of the Burning Boy” at Profiles: Read the review at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Will Kern’s “Hellcab” at Profiles: Read the review at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Richard Nelson’s “Sweet and Sad” at Profiles: Read the review at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- LaBute’s “In a Forest, Dark and Deep”at Profiles: Read the review at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Martin McDonagh’s “A Behanding in Spokane”at Profiles: Read the review at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Role Playing: Darrell W. Cox as a repressed teacher in “The Dream of the Burning Boy”: Read the interview at ChicagoOntheAisle.com