Theater 2014-15: Raven revisits Miller tragedy, stages a world premiere in its 32nd season
15th in a series of season previews: Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” raises the curtain; Chicago playwright Todd Bauer’s “The Birdfeeder Doesn’t Know” will be unveiled in April.
By Lawrence B. Johnson and Nancy Malitz
Out of what co-artistic director Michael Menendian calls “a lot hand-wringing,” Raven Theatre has fashioned a family-business themed season that begins with a company reprise of Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons,” includes a world premiere and ends with a play about Armendian genocide that’s close to Menendian’s heart.
“It’s the greatest challenge to pick the season,” he says, “The goal is to balance the tone without essentially repeating the same story.”
A family at each other’s throats is the twinkling topic of Horton Foote’s wry play “Dividing the Estate,” which will see its Chicago premiere at Raven in mid-season. “These characters are ferocious, doggedly determined to get their piece,” says Menendian. “It’s more comedy than drama.”
The season opener is Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons,” which Raven first staged in 1990, about a family in the years after World War II haunted by fatal flaws the father may have condoned in the manufacturing of parts for U.S. fighter planes.
Receiving its world premiere will be Chicago playwright Todd Bauer’s “The Birdfeeder Doesn’t Know,” which deals with the conflict between the demands of an aging couple and the need of their grown, disabled son to pursue his life as an artist.
“The hundredth anniversary struck a nerve in me,” says Menendian, who is of Armenian descent. “Beginning on April 24, 1915, the Ottoman Empire began rounding up Armenian intellectuals in a genocide campaign that eventually took the lives of 1.5 million Armenians. This is our recognition of the anniversary.”
The 2014-15 season in brief:
- “All My Sons” by Arthur Miller (Sept. 22-Nov. 15): Winner of the Tony Award for Best Play in 1947, “All My Sons” combines a postwar setting with themes that date back to Greek tragedies. Joe Keller is a 60-year-old businessman who, knowingly or unknowingly, sold faulty parts for fighter jets to the U.S. Air Force, resulting in 21 crashes and the deaths of dozens of airmen during the war. The son of Joe’s former business partner, who was convicted of negligence for those actions while Joe was exonerated, accuses Joe of falsely shifting blame. The accusation creates a rift between Joe and his own son Chris, who is engaged to the partner’s daughter. This will be Raven’s eighth production of an Arthur Miller play and its second mounting of All My Sons. “Miller wrote the play in 1946, just a year after the war ended, and it deals with the dark side of the war machine,” says Menendian. “Joe Keller was a good man who had one fatal flaw, which makes this a kind of modern Greek tragedy. It’s also biblical: Am I my brother’s keeper? Miller is asking, ‘Where is my greater obligation, to family or to society at large?’”
- “Dividing the Estate” by Horton Foote (Chicago premiere, Feb. 2- March 28, 2015): Foote’s comedy-drama focuses on the members of the Gordon family, a wealthy Texas clan whose fortunes have declined and who are debating whether or not to divide the remainder of the family’s estate while their octogenarian matriarch Stella is still alive. “At the center is this battle for power within a family,” says Menendian. “It’s reminiscent of (Tracy Letts’) ‘August: Osage County,’ but not as emotionally angst-ridden. A family is fighting over an inheritance, something that’s probably familiar to a lot of people. It seems to be human nature: We’ll fight for the last lamp.”
- “The Birdfeeder Doesn’t Know” by Todd Bauer (World premiere, April 5-May 16, 2015): Ingrid and Herman are retirees living independently in their longtime family home somewhere in the heart of America. They long for more visits from their son, the physically disabled Everett, an artist who lives in the big city several hours away. And with the aging Herman in decline, Everett’s help at home is needed now more than ever. But Everett’s career is finally taking off in the city. Is it fair to ask him to compromise his own opportunities to care for his aging parents, or will he convince them that it’s time to place Herman in an assisted living facility? “The Bird Feeder Doesn’t Know” was developed last spring when Todd Bauer participated in in Raven’s [Working Title] series. “Todd is legally blind and he has written this play about an elderly couple with a middle-aged son who has cerebral palsy,” says Menendian. “It becomes a question of who takes care of whom – and what does being disabled mean in our society?”
- “Beast on the Moon” by Richard Kalinoski April 27-June 6, 2015): Aram Tomasian is an Armenian immigrant living in 1920’s Milwaukee who has escaped the wholesale massacre of Armenians in 1915 by the Turks in his homeland in Eastern Turkey. He wants to make a fresh start and build a new family in the New World to replace the family he lost to the genocide. He selects a mail-order bride and into his life comes an Armenian teen-ager, Seta, who has also escaped the vicious grip of the Ottoman warlords. He learns that building a marriage and a family is more difficult than he anticipated, but he ultimately succeeds in unexpected ways.
Raven Theatre, located at 6157 North Clark Street, on the corner of Clark and Granville in Chicago, primarily serves the city’s far north communities of Edgewater, Rogers Park and Andrsonville, though it can also claim a broad base of support from across the Chicagoland area. Easily accessible by car, the theater is 15 minutes from the Eden’s Expressway (Peterson exit east) and 5 minutes from the north end of Lake Shore Drive. It’s also convenient by train. Take the Red Line to the Granville station, then walk west on Granville to Clark Street.
- Official website of Raven Theatre: RavenTheatre.com
- Review of Tennessee Williams’ ‘Vieux Carré’ at Raven: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Review of William Inge’s ‘Playboy of the Western World” at Raven: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Review of Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs” at Raven: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Review of Charles Fuller’s “A Soldier’s Play” at Raven: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Review of Rebecca Stillman’s “Boy Gets Girl” at Raven: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Review of Arthur Miller’s ‘The Price’ at Raven: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Chuck Spencer plays a tormented cop and sibling in ‘The Price’: Read the interview at ChicagoOntheAisle.com