Theater 2015-16: In farewell to Lakeview home, Strawdog maps season with 3 world premieres
Sixth in a series of season previews: After 25 years at a popular location, Strawdog exits with a seven-play finale on its Main Stage and in cozy Hugen Hall – and begins search for a new place to call home.
By Lawrence B. Johnson and Nancy Malitz
Strawdog Theatre’s 2015-16 season is the last hurrah at its old home up the well-worn stairs on Broadway in the Lakeview neighborhood. While redevelopment will force Strawdog to relocate next year, the season at hand finds the 28-year-old company in peak vigor with plans for seven shows in two full-fledged series.
Of the four productions on the main stage and three in the company’s intimate Hugen Hall bar area, three are world premieres.
Strawdog’s season opens with “After Miss Julie,” Patrick Marber’s re-imagining of Strindberg’s “Miss Julie,” an 1888 study in the sexual politics of master and servant, revelatory in its day. The U.S. premiere of Julie Lederer’s “With Love and a Major Organ,” which gives new meaning to giving your heart away, leads off the Hugen Hall lineup.
The new show on Strawdog’s main stage is young San Francisco playwright Lauren Yee’s “In a Word,” about a woman struggling to keep her life together after her son mysteriously vanishes. This “rolling world premiere” will be shared with other selected U.S. theater companies that participate in the cooperative National New Play Network.
“Lauren Yee is a great writer with a skill for accessing the psychological in a way that’s rarely seen on stage,” says Strawdog artistic director Hank Boland.
Two world premiere adaptations also will be presented in Hugen Hall. “Robin Hood and Maid Marian,” based on Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “The Foresters,” will be performed by Forks & Hope, a small Chicago troupe that specializes in fanciful stagings of family-friendly shows. Also new is Elizabeth Lovelady’s adaptation of “D.O.A.,” the 1950 film noir about a man who shows up at a police station to report his own murder.
Strawdog’s season closes on the Main Stage with the George S. Kaufman-Moss heart comedy “Once in a Lifetime,” about three vaudeville actors snagged by the lure of the latest California gold rush: talking movies. “It’s a satire of any reach for wealth” says Boland, “and it’s a fun ride.”
And with that, Strawdog and its friends will descend those stairs for the last time.
“We’ve been here for 25 years and we expected to celebrate our 30th season in this building,” says Boland. “We have such a great audience, and this place has become a home away from home for so many people. We’ve always been a company with a home of its own, and we want to keep that kind of energy.”
He said Strawdog will find temporary shelter for next season, then cast about for a permanent new residence.
The 2015-16 season in brief:
- “After Miss Julie,” a rethinking by Patrick Marber of Strindberg’s “Miss Julie” (Main stage, now playing through Sept. 26): Set in 1945, this version of Strindberg’s classic puts a modern perspective on sexual tension between master and servant. “It’s updated to the night of elections in Britain just after World War II, when things begin to change economically and politically,” says Boland. “It’s an intense, intimate experience.”
- “With Love and a Major Organ” by Julie Lederer (U.S. premiere, Hugen Hall, Sept. 14-Oct. 13): A young woman finds she’s given her heart – the actual, beating muscle – to a boy she’s just met on the subway. “This show is a blast, a very modern love story – a fable, really,” says Boland. “There’s a responsibility in giving your heart – and what happens when you do? It’s almost a fairy tale, what it feels like to be in love.”
- “The Long Christmas Ride Home” by Paula Vogel (Main stage, Nov. 9-Dec. 12): Past, present, and future collide for a troubled family on a snowy Christmas Eve when the car spins out of control after a disastrous holiday dinner. Vogel, whose play “How I Learned to Drive” won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, incorporates Japanese-style puppetry in a story about the lasting impact of a moment on the lives of children. “I’m a Thorton Wilder geek, and this is an homage to Wilder,” says Boland. “It’s not a feel-good Christmas show, but the kind of show that reminds people they are not alone. It’s about the way we are shaped by things that happened to us as a child – things that can save us or destroy us within the family dynamic.”
- “Robin Hood and Maid Marian,” adapted by Forks & Hope from “The Foresters” by Alfred Lord Tennyson (World premiere, Hugen Hall, Nov. 24-Dec. 23): The legendary outlaw, his jolly band of cohorts and his true love Marian plunge into a swashbuckling adventure in this family-friendly drama. “Forks & Hope is a wonderfully creative collective of artists,” says Boland, “and I’m sure they will figure out an answer to the big question: How do we fire bows and arrows in Hugen Hall?”
- “In a Word” by Lauren Yee (World premiere, Main Stage, Feb. 15-March 19, 2016): Fiona must sort through what‘s left of her life and sanity when her son vanishes. “This is the sort of theatricality I look for,” says Boland. “It’s a three-person show – the mother, her husband and a third actor playing several other parts. It’s the anniversary of the disappearance of his son and she’s trying to cope, still trying to find a place for hope and healing.”
- “D.O.A.,” adapted by Elizabeth Lovelady from the 1950 film (World premiere, Hugen Hall, March 7-April 5, 2016): Frank Bigelow walks into a police station to report a murder: his own. He only has a few hours to hunt for his own killers and untangle the web of lies that has brought him here. “Elizabeth also is directing, and of course her biggest challenge is how to make this classic noir film work in the intimate setting of Hugen Hall,” says Boland. “It’s a strange, fascinating story. I can’t wait to see what it looks like on stage.”
- “Once in a Lifetime” by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart (Main Stage, May 11-June 13, 2016): Jerry, May and George leave vaudeville behind in a dash to Hollywood to take advantage of everyone who is taking advantage of the golden bonanza of talking movies. “It’s figurative gold rush – a media rush, the coming of talking pictures, and this play from 1930 is still a fun ride,” says Boland. “Sometimes it seems like a Seinfeld script. It has a cast of 14, and everybody wanted to be in it.”
Founded in 1988, Strawdog Theatre Company is located at 3829 N. Broadway in the heart of Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. The company’s mission is to develop new works and reimagine the classics, while melding music with theater, asking provocative questions and delivering the unexpected. After 25 years at the Lakeview location, Strawdog must vacate at the end of this season to make way for a redevelopment project. The neighborhood has limited paid parking and is readily accessible by public transportation (via the Red Line Sheridan stop, plus 36-Broadway, 80-Irving Park, and 151-Sheridan buses). For tickets, call (773) 528-9696 or visit www.strawdog.org.
- Strawdog Theatre official website: Strawdog.org
- Review of “Charles Ives Take Me Home” at Strawdog: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Interview with Dave Belden as John Starr in “Charles Ives Take Me Home”: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com.