Theater 2015-16: Paint still wet on its new name, Irish Theatre of Chicago expands to third play
19th in a series of season previews: The former Seanachai Theatre, looking to expose new Irish voices, opens with Geraldine Aron’s one-woman play “My Brilliant Divorce.”
By Lawrence B. Johnson and Nancy Malitz
Irish Theatre of Chicago took on its present name last season some 20 years after beginning life under the banner of Seanachai Theatre. Commencing its third decade with Geraldine Aron’s one-woman show “My Brilliant Divorce,” the rechristened Irish Theatre now spreads its wings by adding a third play to its season.
“When we started, in 1995, we were just thinking about producing one show,” says founding artistic director Michael Grant. “But when that went really well, the actors involved decided form an ensemble – and in 1997 we became an equity company. Now we’ve a found a wonderful home at The Den Theatre, and the time seems right to expand into a third show.”
But not at The Den. Aron’s bittersweet and tumultuous but funny tale of a middle-aged woman whose marriage has collapsed (performed by Barbara Figgins) continues through Nov. 1 in the cozy space of Chief O’Neill’s Pub & Restaurant, 3471 N. Elston Ave.
Irish Theatre then presents two shows at The Den – Gary Mitchell’s “In a Little World of Our Own,” a mystery set against the political upheaval of Northern Ireland, and Deirdre Kinahan’s “Spinning,” the emotionally layered story of a mother’s grief and the promise of renewal.
“One of the things we’re most excited about is that these are newer playwrights for the Chicago audience,” says Grant. “It’s not difficult to find a Conor McPherson play, but there are so many great Irish writers who haven’t had their voices showcased here. We’re not here just to do McPherson and Brian Friel. We want to bring the new wave.”
The 2015-16 season in brief:
- “My Brilliant Divorce” by Geraldine Aron (Midwest premiere, now through Nov. 1 at Chief O’Neill’s Pub & Restaurant, 3471 N. Elston Ave.): Angela finds herself suddenly single after her husband leaves her for younger, exotic company. In this touching one-woman show, Angela shares her perspective on these unexpected events and begins searching for the life she desires. “It’s hard to go to dark places so often as an actor,” says Grant. “This takes us to quite a different place. It’s very funny.”
- “In a Little World of Our Own” by Gary Mitchell (Midwest premiere, March 2-April 10, 2016, at The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave.): Set against the political violence in Northern Ireland, this wry morality tale and psychological thriller by one of Ireland’s preeminent playwrights finds three brothers thrust into a tense whodunit where one of them must pay for a heinous crime. “Amid the mystery about what really happened, you get a sense of mob mentality and western justice – policing their own,” says Grant. “There’s also a bit of (Steinbeck’s) ‘Of Mice and Men’ in it.”
- “Spinning” by Deirdre Kinahan (U.S. premiere, May 25-July 3 at The Den Theatre): Conor is fresh from prison, grasping at the threads of his life. Susan is grieving the loss of her teenage daughter. Two lives collide in a seaside cafe, and are forever changed. Deidre Kinahan, author of the acclaimed Irish drama “Moment,” unspools a gripping contemporary tale over three distinct timelines. “What makes Deirdre such an interesting writer is the way she first gives us the edges of a story, then, as the play unfolds, we see how much of the story is underneath,” says Grant. “There’s always more that’s not being said, and that’s where the heart of the story lies. ‘Spinning’ is told partially in flashback to events that have taken place in the past touching the mother and her teenage daughter as well as this man newly released from prison and his fiancée. As the mother is dealing with her pain, the man is seeking understanding and forgiveness.”
With the 2014-15 season, Irish Theatre of Chicago not only took a new name — dropping its original moniker as Seanachai Theatre — but also found a new permanent home at The Den Theatre, 1329 N. Milwaukee Ave. Two of the company’s expanded lineup of three productions this season will play out on its new stage in Wicker Park. The Den is about a five-minute walk north on Milwaukee from the Division Street Chicago “L” stop on the Blue Line.
- Irish Theatre of Chicago’s official website: IrishTheatreofChicago.org
- Seanachai Theatre changes its name to Irish Theatre: Read about the switch at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Review of “The Seafarer” at (the former) Seanachai Theatre: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Role Playing: Brad Armacost as Richard Harkin in “The Seafarer”: Read the interview at ChicagoOntheAisle.com