Theater 2015-16: With premieres, A Red Orchid takes pursuit of life on the edge to new realms
21st in a series of season previews: The company will begin and end its 23rd season with world premieres, bookending a Tennessee Williams’ tale of New Orleans’ seamy side, “The Mutilated.”
By Lawrence B. Johnson and Nancy Malitz
In pursuit of what artistic director Kirsten Fitzgerald calls “the core emotional place” of human meaning, A Red Orchid Theatre opens its 23rd season with Brett Neveu’s “Pilgrim’s Progress,” starring Fitzgerald and Michael Shannon. It’s one of two world premieres and a Midwestern first on tap during 2015-16.
Neveu’s play burrows into layers of conflict within a family gathered for Thanksgiving dinner. “It’s brutal and hilarious,” says Fitzgerald, “and it’s the kind of play this company identifies with. We absolutely explore the poetry of life on the edge. There’s a raw honesty to the work we do. I firmly believe that live theater is potentially the greatest sustenance that feeds the human spirit.”
Ensemble member Shade Murray will direct both “Pilgrim’s Progress” and the second world premiere, at season’s end, Ike Holter’s “Sender,” about a young man who returns from his apparent death with the idea of hitting reset on the life he’d left behind.
Between those peaks falls the Midwest premiere of Tennessee Williams’ “The Mutilated,” a wry comedy – set on the seedy side of New Orleans – about two women, once close pals, one of whom has just been released from prison and is looking to reattach herself to the other.
“Of all Williams’ plays, this may be the most musical,” says Fitzgerald. “It takes place on Christmas Eve, in the midst of relationships amongst people the average person might think of as the dregs of society. The central characters fight intensely, and yet there is tons of joy. If you take some of it too literally, it might seem impossible – which makes it one of our favorite kinds of things to tackle.”
The 2015-16 season in brief:
- “Pilgrim’s Progress” by Brett Neveu (World premiere, Nov. 9-29): It’s Thanksgiving Day and the McKee family is up to its eyeballs in hilarious drama. Between stirring the cranberries and debating pumpkin pie, parents Jim and Melissa relive their glory days. Meanwhile, their earth-poet son and pregnant teenage daughter navigate family contracts, holiday power grabs and decades of thinly veiled deceit. For a family with such a strong appetite for tales, are their stories more important than the truth? With homages to Albee, O’Neill, Williams and Sam Shepard, the tension rides high and the carving knife does more than just cut the turkey. “Unlike most sitcoms, there’s some real danger here,” says Fitzgerald. “These people have teeth. We see the sort of violence that family members are capable of doing to each other – even as they’re also capable of nurturing.”
- “The Mutilated” by Tennessee Williams (Midwest premiere, Jan. 18-Feb. 28, 2016): It’s Christmas Eve in New Orleans and Trinket Dugan is holed up at the Silver Dollar Hotel with a painful secret. Her only friend and confidante, Celeste, has just been released from jail and will stop at nothing to get back into her good graces, her pocket-book and her booze. Can their friendship survive the cruelty, the con men, hookers, cops, sailors and drunks? Williams described his play as “an allegory on the tragicomic subject of human existence on this risky planet.” Says Fitzgerald: “At some point, Tennessee Williams decided to let fantasy and imagination run wild. This is a world where an angel can drop down and cause a coming together. It feels like magic, but that’s true of live theater in general. We do this crazy thing of pretending – or living in honesty – in front of people, and magic happens in the form of discoveries of feelings, of people being moved.”
- “Sender” by Ike Holter (World premiere, April 16-May 29, 2016): Summertime in Chicago, more than a year after a young man’s sensational death: He returns to his former apartment alive, well and with a newfound ambition to fix what went wrong. But a miracle reunion turns into a catastrophe as the past catches up with the present and old debts resurface, with demand for payment in full. What does growing up mean, and is it even something to be wished for in this modern world? “This young man turns up wanting his old life back,” says Fitzgerald, “Through self-discovery, he has decided to make amends for the life he led. But maybe the other parties are not ready for that.
A Red Orchid Theatre, producing plays in a 75-seat venue at 1531 N. Wells St. in the Old Town neighborhood, has been a mainstay of the Chicago theater community since 1993. The company’s mission holds that passionately committed theater will attract likewise engaged audiences. It’s about a 6-minute walk from the Sedgwick stop on the Brown Line.
- Official website of A Red Orchid Theatre: ARedOrchidTheatre.org
- Review of “Accidentally, Like a Martyr” at A Red Orchid: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Role Playing: Steve Haggard as Mark in “Accidentally, Like a Martyr”: Read the interview at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Review of “Mud Blue Sky” at A Red Orchid: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Role Playing: Natalie West as Beth in “Mud Blue Sky”: Read the interview at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Review of “The Opponent” at A Red Orchid: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Role Playing: Kamal Angel Bolden as Donel in “The Opponent”: Read the interview at ChicagoOntheAisle.com