Theater 2015-16: The mood is electric at Writers as ‘curtain up’ takes on dramatic new meaning
20th in a series of season previews: Writers Theatre, which opens its season Oct. 28, will unveil its grand new home in Glencoe in March 2016 with classic works by Tom Stoppard and Stephen Sondheim.
By Lawrence B. Johnson and Nancy Malitz
Writers Theatre artistic director Michael Halberstam sees ideal choices in the two major productions planned for the spring 2016 opening of the company’s brand new home in Glencoe – Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia” and the Stephen Sondheim musical “Company.”
Stoppard’s work, which presents a perfect melding of word and performing artist, embodies our mission statement,” says Halberstam. “He is the greatest living white European dramatist, and he’s been an important part of our history.”
“Arcadia” will be the dedicatory play when Writers’ new $31 million theater officially opens March 23, 2016. Stoppard’s elegant tapestry of science, sex and temporal shifts “moves backward and forward through time and complicated human interaction,” says Halberstam, “all expressed in some of the most delicious language ever laid down on a page.”
The season opens in Writers’ intimate old venue at Books on Vernon in Glencoe with Jordan Harrison’s “Marjorie Prime,” set in a time of artificial intelligence, about an elderly woman who’s worried that she’s losing her memory.
“Company,” Sondheim’s wry look at marriage and commitment, will crown Writers’ first season in its new home. Says Halberstam: “It’s an extraordinary piece by the master of the contemporary musical.”
The 2015-16 season in brief:
- “Marjorie Prime” by Jordan Harrison (Oct. 28-Feb. 21, 2016 at Books on Vernon, 664 Vernon Ave., Glencoe): It’s the age of artificial intelligence, but 86-year old Marjorie is worried that her memory may be fading. That is, until the appearance of Walter, a mysterious and charming young visitor programmed to help Marjorie uncover the intricacies of her own past. As Walter’s true nature is revealed, new levels of complexity emerge, leading to profound questions about the limits of technology and whether memory might be a purely human invention. “It’s a fascinating play that forecasts a future in which we have these virtual manifestations of people who have been drawn from our memory,” says Halberstam. “They are something like holograms, created to help people cope with certain degrees of trauma, Alzheimer’s and depression. But it’s also about intelligence, the nature of reality and what it means to be human.”
- “Arcadia” by Tom Stoppard (March 23-April 17, 2016. Dedicatory production in Writers’ new Alexandra C. and John D. Nichols Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe): In the heart of a 19th-century English country estate awash in secret desires, illicit affairs and professional rivalries, a brilliant young student proposes an earthshaking scientific theory. Two hundred years later at that same estate, academic adversaries Hannah and Bernard race to unravel the enticing mysteries left behind in a heated battle for intellectual and sexual dominance. Part detective story and part comedy of manners, Tom Stoppard’s time-jumping drama forges a complex comedy of wit, romance, poetry, sex and scientific theory, introducing characters whose lives and passions intersect across the centuries. “It’s a play like ‘Hamlet’ in the sense that it’s a different experience every time,” says Halberstam. “It raises fundamental questions that we come to the theater to have asked, about truth and reality.”
- “Death of a Streetcar Named Virginia Woolf – a Parody” by Tim Sniffen (May 4-June 12, 2016. Dedicatory production in Writers’ new Gillian Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe): This mash-up parody from the combined imaginations of Writers Theatre and The Second City comedy troupe asks the question: What happens when the most recognizable characters from some of the greatest American plays of the 20th century suddenly find themselves sharing the same stage? When a mysterious invitation brings Blanche DuBois back to New Orleans, she finds herself once again face-to-face with the smoldering Stanley Kowalski. They are soon joined by luckless salesman Willy Lohman and hard-drinking, hard-fighting couple George and Martha, and suddenly all bets are off. Add a folksy Stage Manager and the comedy of the Second City team, and the question quickly becomes: Will the American theater ever be the same? “Tim took what might be a 10-minute sketch for Saturday Night Live and turned it into a 75-minute, plot-driven parody,” says Halberstam. “But he’s also celebrating these plays. It’s a gift to our audience. Everybody needs to laugh.”
- “Company,” with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by George Furth (June 22-July 17, 2016 in the Nichols Theatre): It’s Bobby’s 35th birthday and he’s still single, trying to find a way to have a serious relationship, without a serious commitment. But as his friends – all couples at different stages in their marriages – impose their unique perspectives of relationship function and dysfunction on him over the course of a hilarious series of dinners and cocktail hours, Bobby is forced to consider relaxing his determined grip on bachelorhood and begin exploring one of life’s greatest questions: What does it mean to be alive? Winner of seven Tony Awards, “Company” offers a witty and sophisticated look at contemporary relationships. It also boasts some of Sondheim’s best known songs, including “Side by Side by Side,” “Marry Me a Little” and “Being Alive.” Observes Halberstam: “Basically, this show says that having somebody in your life to rattle your complacency is important. I agree with that wholeheartedly. It also affirms the human terror that comes with commitment.”
Writers’ Theatre was founded in 1992 “to explore productions in which the word on the page and the artists that bring the word to life hold primary importance.” In March 2016, the company will open the doors on its new theater center at 325 Tudor Court in Glencoe, designed by 2011 MacArthur Fellow Jeanne Gang and Studio Gang Architects. The new venue offers both a 250-seat thrust stage theater and a 50-seat black box.
- Official website of Writers Theatre: Go to writerstheatre.org
- Review of “The Diary of Anne Frank” at Writers:Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Role Playing: Lance Baker as Mr. van Daan in “The Diary of Anne Frank”:Read the interview at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Review of “Isaac’s Eye” at Writers Theatre:Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Review of “Dance of Death” at Writers Theatre:Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Role Playing: Shannon Cochran as Alice in “Dance of Death”: Read the interview at ChicagoOntheAisle.com