Theatre 2014-15: Rebirths and revisitations dot calendar as Redtwist opens with 9/11 premiere
11th in a series of season previews: New play by Cathy Earnest on the aftermath of Twin Towers tragedy raises curtain on lineup that includes Arthur Miller revival and John Logan’s “Red.”
By Lawrence B. Johnson and Nancy Malitz
Redtwist Theatre has dubbed its 2014-15 season “Rising From the Ashes,” and it begins literally with precious objects scooped from the debris of the catastrophe of 9/11 – in the world premiere of Cathy Earnest’s play “Another Bone.”
In the aftermath of the Twin Towers attack, as human bones are sorted and identified through DNA testing, families receive these certified remembrances of their loved ones. The widowed Marie has been the recipient of many culled bones when a woman contacts her, claiming Marie has been getting the wrong bones, and that she must hand them over. What follows is a surreal and ghostly game at high psychological stakes.
Then it’s a quick turn to spiritual salvage with Lauren Gunderson’s intense two-hander “I and You,” about a couple of polar-opposite teenagers – she’s white and sickly, he’s a robust black kid — finding common ground in a homework assignment on Walt Whitman. Winner of the 2014 Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association Award for best new play, “I and You” has found swift embrace by regional companies around the country.
Up next is John Logan’s “Red,” another pas de deux, this one a clash of generations and a crisis of faith that occurs when the celebrated artist Mark Rothko takes on a young assistant. But then Redtwist will muster a huge cast to resurrect Arthur Miller’s “The American Clock,” a stark cross-section of lives thrown out of orbit by the Great Depression. It’s a 10th-anniversary revival – back by popular demand, as it were – of Redtwist’s production in 2005.
A fifth play remains to be announced.
Though a thread of reclamation runs through the company’s season plan, Michael Colucci, who co-founded Redtwist with his wife Jan Ellen Graves, says the real accent is on the typical mix of plays.
“Every show you do is a roll of the dice,” says Colucci, “but I always start with shows that have a history, then mix in some new plays. What we’re always looking for is an eclectic blend.”
The 2014-15 season in brief:
- “Another Bone” by Cathy Earnest (World premiere, Sept. 20-Oct. 19): Marie is a 9/11 widow who lost her fireman husband in the tragedy. Five years later, she is remarried to a fine man, and her teenage son is doing well. That’s when the bones start coming — and keep coming — via Fedex from the New York City authorities. Then a mysterious woman appears, telling Marie she’s getting the wrong bones. Earnest’s play asks the question: How do you move forward after total devastation, and all the debris that goes with it? “New York City authorities – and hundreds of volunteers – did indeed go through the debris and returned bones after DNA testing to survivors of those who died in the Twin Towers,” says Colucci. “The play isn’t intended to be funny, but it’s so bizarre – when the protagonist is contacted by another woman who says numbers have been transposed and she’s getting the wrong bones. ‘I have your husband’s bone and you have mine.’ It’s about the uncertainty, the psychological fallout from 9/11 that never goes away.”
- “I and You” by Lauren Gunderson (Chicago premiere, Nov. 29-Dec. 28): It is the story of two young people who, despite being opposites, make a strong connection and come to an understanding about critical things in life such as compassion, tolerance and love. She’s white, he’s black. She is artsy, he’s an athlete. She’s particular, he is easygoing. She’s anxious and depressed, he’s joyous and vital. She is ill, he is robust. The only thing they have in common is that they are classmates, working on a Walt Whitman poetry project together. It’s both a tender comedy and a deeply moving story about making a meaningful connection when nearly all hope is lost. “You might say it’s about the beauty of pronouns,” says Colucci. “But it’s really about people making connections in a world that has become so impersonal, technical and alienating – a world of iPads and cell phones where people have turned inward. The girl is ill and the young man comes over to work on an assignment on Walt Whitman. We see the differences between them getting peeled away. The ending is an epiphany. It’s exalting.”
- “Red” by John Logan (Feb. 7-March 8, 2015): Master abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko is at the very top of his game, landing the biggest commission in the history of modern art: murals for the world-famous Four Seasons restaurant in New York City. What follows is an electrifying dissection of an angry, brilliant mind as it navigates the myriad challenges of the artistic process, an aggressive young assistant, and the artist’s own massive ego — all at the apex of Rothko’s career. The play grapples with that eternal twin mysteries: What is art, and how is it created? “It’s a battle of egos and a battle of wills between the great artist and this up-and-coming whippersnapper who challenges him,” says Colucci. “It’s the paradox of achieving accomplishment and fame and yet not coming to terms with personal identity, and being insecure. I can relate to that. I’m wracked with anxiety about every production we do. It never stops. It’s about being alive and dealing with life’s challenges.”
- “The American Clock” by Arthur Miller (April 18-May 17 2015): A taut, uncompromising, yet highly compassionate microcosm of the Great Depression, “The American Clock” zeroes in on a few select souls as they confront despair and reach for fresh air through the crushing underbelly of a crumbling society. During the nation’s worst economic crisis of the 20th century, Miller elevates the resilient spirit of everyday people through song and story. Based in part on Studs Terkel’s “Hard Times,” it is a story without superstars or tragic heroes – only ordinary people. “‘American Clock’ was a really big hit for us in 2005, and in fact Arthur Miller passed away (he died Feb. 10, 2005, at age 79) while we were closing,” recalls Colucci. “We wanted to extend the run, but it’s a huge cast and everyone had commitments. So we’ve long looked forward to coming back to it. It’s a hard-scrabble, tough play with a touch of ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ in it. Nobody does it much because it’s so demanding – you need 20 actors plus a piano. In our little space, it will be half actors, half audience.”
- Fifth play TBA end the season June-July, 2015.
Redtwist Theatre, which began life in 1994 as Actors Workshop Theatre, moved to its present location, at 1044 W. Bryn Mawr in the Bryn Mawr Historic District of Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood, in 2002. “We want our patrons to feel they’ve had a unique experience at a Chicago storefront theater,” says Colucci , who notes that the tiny venue’s 40 seats are large, cushioned chairs and that occasionally – as in “Pillowman” during the 2009-10 season – seating capacity gets shrunk to less than 30. “It’s a warm, homey feel.”
- Official website of Redtwist Theatre: RedtwistTheatre.org
- Review of John Osborne’s “Look Back in Anger” at Redtwist: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Role Playing: Joseph Wiens as a post-war malcontent in “Look Back in Anger”: Read the interview at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Review of Robert Caisley’s “Happy” at Redtwist:Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Review of Bruce Norris’ “Clybourne Park” at Redtwist: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Review of Lee Blessing’s “Body of Water” at Redtwist:Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Review of Bruce Norris’s “Purple Heart” at Redtwist: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Review of Arthur Miller’s “Broken Glass” at Redtwist: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Role Playing: Jacqueline Grandt as a wheelchair-bound wife in “Broken Glass”: Read the interview at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Review of Martin McDonagh’s “The Cripple of Inishmaan” at Redtwist: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Role Playing: Baize Buzan as a brash Irish lass in “The Cripple of Inishmaan”: Read the interview at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
Tags: Another Bone, Arthur Miller, Cathy Earnest, I and You, Jan Ellen Graves, John Logan, Lauren Gunderson, Michael Colucci, Red, Redtwist Theatre, The American Clock