Theater 2015-16: Fearless Redtwist confronts ‘Virginia Woolf’ and takes on a world premiere
Fifth in a series of season previews: Lineup of five plays opens with Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” closes with first fruits of Redtwist’s new role in NEA-backed “rolling premiere” program.
By Lawrence B. Johnson and Nancy Malitz
Seven seasons ago, Michael Colucci and Jan Ellen Graves, the married founders and still co-artistic directors of Redtwist Theatre, went at each other as George and Martha, the warring gamers in Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” This season they hand over those rhetorical 8-ounce gloves to new sparring mates as Redtwist opens its 2015-16 series with another go at Albee’s searing dark comedy about true love and real marriage.
“It’s one of the Mount Rushmore plays,” says Colucci, “and we’re privileged to have two terrific actors to do it, in Brian Parry and Jacqueline Grandt, and the very talented Jason Gerace to direct. “You’ll see it new, as if for the first time. It’s about a dysfunctional marriage, yes, but it’s also a love story.”
Redtwist has dubbed its forthcoming season “The Games People Play,” and the fun continues through five plays culminating in the shared world premiere of Bryan Delaney’s “The Seedbed,” about a blooming Irish girl drawn to her stepfather. She leaves home to keep peace in the family – only to return with a fiancé her father’s age.
This “rolling premiere” is a benefit of Redtwist’s recent membership in the National New Play Network, a program supported by the National Endowment for the Arts to find good homes for new plays. When the network connects an unperformed play with producers, the NEA contributes funds to help defray staging costs – in this case $7,000 to each of three companies who all can claim premiere honors.
Filling the middle of the season will be Arthur Miller’s “Incident at Vichy,” a charged portrait of the Nazi occupation of France in World War II; Michael Healey’s “The Drawer Boy,” about the stunning revelations that occur when a young writer visits a farm to collect material for a play; and the Chicago premiere of Richard Strand’s “The Realization of Emily Linder,” the story of a seventysomething widow who foresees her own death and plunges into detailed planning for that end.
Five shows are a tall order for a storefront company, and Colucci says his little theater – which seats just 35-45, depending on the play – is abuzz nonstop once rehearsals begin for the opener. “We allow for a three-week extension, and we usually extend,” he says. “That means very little turnaround time for striking one show and building the next one. We’re working constantly.”
The 2015-16 season in brief:
- “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” by Edward Albee (Sept. 12-Oct. 11): George is a disappointed faculty lifer at a small college; his wife Martha is the school president’s daughter. Their life together is fraught with flint. They host a young couple for an after-party nightcap and a game of “Get the Guests” during the wee hours in their twisted funhouse. “George and Martha coexist in a codependent way,” says Colucci. “They have a fictitious child and skewer their guest. She has her infidelities and he has his good nature. I used to judge them. But they shouldn’t be judged. That’s their marriage. They love each other.”
- “Incident at Vichy” by Arthur Miller (Nov. 21-Dec. 27): Miller unfolds a volatile debate among the detained locals in small-town France during the German occupation. While exploring the concepts of free will, integrity, and courage, the playwright explores what human beings will do when forced to make split-second decisions that will change lives forever. “This play is a buried treasure,” says Colucci. “It’s a tough play, and I don’t think anybody in Chicago has touched it since Next in the 1980s. We’re doing it in the round, with a foreboding dark, empty room and raw, bleak benches – all encircled by the audience. It’s a series of vignettes with these French detainees all wondering what the hell is happening.”
- “The Drawer Boy” by Michael Healey (Jan. 30-Feb. 28, 2016): A young actor from a Toronto theater troupe, wishing to write a play about running a farm, visits the rural Canadian home of two middle-age men, lifelong friends tending to their duties. As the actor develops his play, the two men share their stories, which turn out to be fiction, yet lead to unexpected twists and turns — and ultimately the raw truth of tragic missed opportunities. “When this young guy begins talking with the two farmers, things go awry and we discover personal traumas and the incredible things they have buried on their Canadian farm. The writer hangs around for a week to help with the chores, milk the cows and try to figure it all out. It’s heartbreaking, then heart warming.”
- “The Realization of Emily Linder” by Richard Strand (April-May 8, 2016): Emily Linder, a 70-ish widow, says she’s had a premonition about her own death, which will come very soon. To prepare all the details, she quickly summons her two grown daughters who, in turn, bring a caregiver to help with Emily’s final days. The caregiver, a savvy outsider who can see this quirky family from an objective viewpoint, gets to the bottom of Emily’s peculiar plan, and challenges her to take charge of reality, which proves to be surprisingly elusive. “Emily is an aging widow who just wants out,” says Colucci, “so she orchestrates her own demise and tells her daughters – one dowdy and dutiful, the other a hot-shot lawyer – that she’s had a premonition. Ultimately, it’s about saying yes to life, and it’s very funny.”
- “The Seedbed” by Bryan Delaney (June 18-July 17, 2016): A young woman of 18 with a fancy for her step-father, Maggie feels compelled to leave Ireland in order to avoid a family upheaval. Returning from Amsterdam, Maggie brings her new fiancé, Mick, thinking she is safely buffered by her imminent marriage to a very nice man — who is older than her parents, and about whom her parents are far from happy. “Maggie is this hot little sexy thing and her step-father is a sweet man,” says Colucci. “Sparks fly.”
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 proudly describes the ambiance of his tiny, 40-seat venue as “a warm, homey feel.”
- Official website of Redtwist Theatre: Redtwist.org
- Review of “Good People” at Redtwist: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Review of “The American Clock” at Redtwist: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Review of “Red” at Redtwist: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Review of “Look Back in Anger” at Redtwist: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Interview with Joseph Weins as Jimmy Porter in “Look Back in Anger”: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Review of “Clybourne Parke” at Redtwist: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
Tags: Arthur Miller, Brian Parry, Bryan Delaney, Edward Albee, Jacqueline Grandt, Jan Ellen Graves, Jason Gerace, Michael Colucci, Michael Healey, National New Play Network, Redtwist Theatre, Richard Strand