Theater 2015-16: Remembering PJ Paparelli, American Theater Co. maps ‘Legacy Season’
22nd in a series of season previews: To a line-up planned by its late artistic director, ATC adds a celebratory Paparelli fave: “Xanadu.”
By Lawrence B. Johnson and Nancy Malitz
Two world premieres lead off an American Theater Company season dedicated to the memory of PJ Paparelli, the ensemble’s visionary artistic director who died last May after an automobile accident in Scotland.
Thomas Bradshaw’s new play “Fulfillment,” about a successful African-American lawyer whose world gets flipped on its head, opens the season. It will be followed by the premiere of “Bruise Easy,” Dan LeFranc’s play about an adult brother and sister whose meeting at their childhood home offers a chance to iron out old issues.
To honor Paparelli, ATC has dubbed its 31st year the Legacy Season. “PJ was a force of nature, the company’s true north,” says Bonnie Metzgar, former artistic director of About Face Theatre who has stepped in as interim artistic director at American Theater. “He was a deeply passionate person who had a singular vision for the company.”
Paparelli had set the company’s 2015-16 season in motion. Metzgar described it as “his last work.” But to top it off, his theatrical heirs at ATC chose the rousing musical “Xanadu,” a version of Paparelli’s all-time favorite film, about a down-on-his-luck artist who decides to convert an
abandoned warehouse into a roller-disco.
“We’re revealing to the world that he was a ‘Xanadu’ fanatic,” says Metzgar. “It’s a fun, lighthearted way to close the Legacy Season, which feels like the best way to honor him.”
The 2015-16 season in brief:
- “Fulfillment” by Thomas Bradshaw. (Co-world premiere with the Flea Theatre in New York City, now playing through Dec. 13): Michael has everything: the girlfriend, the condo, and the primo job at a top law firm. But after eight years, he has continually been passed over for a partnership, and he’s starting to suspect it’s because of racial discrimination. When his boss tells him the real reason, he has to decide whether he has the strength to confront a personal demon. Bradshaw must deal with the painful gray areas between the personal and the professional in America’s upper class. “We have this metaphor of the American dream, which is all about reaching,” says Metzgar. “This play is about someone who has achieved – an African-American in a sports law firm. Then someone suggests to him that he’s actually been held back by racial bias.”
- “Bruise Easy” by Dan LeFranc (World premiere, Jan. 7-Feb. 14, 2016): In the glow of florescent streetlights, two estranged siblings meet in the driveway of their childhood home and begin the conversation of a lifetime. From the writer of ATC’s recent hit play “The Big Meal” comes this haunting portrait of middle-class America. “It’s about a brother and sister united by their complicated relationship with a mom who is suddenly gone,” says Metzgar. “But it’s also about siblings transcending the torture we put each other through as kids.” This will be the second attempt at a world premiere for “Bruise Easy,” which was due to be unveiled at the Catalyst Theatre in Washington, D.C., in 2009, but the company went out of business in mid-season, just as LeFranc’s play was to open.
- “Kill Floor” by Abe Koogler (Midwest premiere, March 25-May 1, 2016): Following a long incarceration, a mother returns to her hometown to restart her life. After securing a job at the local slaughterhouse, the challenges of reentry unfold as she reunites with her teenage son, a staunch vegetarian. “Kill Floor” is a probing search for connection in modern America. The play received its world premiere in 2015 at the LCT3 Lincoln Center Theater in New York. “The woman is white, her teenage son is bi-racial,” notes Metzgar. “She’s got a big hurdle in front of her. She has disappointed him so many times, and now the cards are stacked against her. It’s heartbreaking that her son doesn’t want to truly see her. Their relationship is a half-step forward and two steps back.The play about the crack in the door, the promise of possibilities — the
perseverance and persistence required to put their lives back together.”
- “Xanadu,” music and lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar, book by Douglas Carter Beane (May 27-July 24, 2016): Struggling artist Sonny Malone seeks to create his own version of the American dream by renovating an abandoned warehouse into a venue for world-class entertainment — a roller disco. As a tribute to Paparelli, ATC closes its Legacy Season with a musical spoof of his all-time favorite movie. A 1980’s camp classic, “Xanadu” celebrates the artist’s muse, even when it comes from the most unlikely of places.“It’s all about freedom and love and combating the doldrums of everyday life,” says Metzgar. “And getting people to believe that roller-skating or art can set you free.”
American Theater Company is devoted to producing new and classic American stories that engage the issue of what it means to be an American. The theater’s 134-seat venue is a former warehouse located at 1909 W. Byron in the North Center neighborhood. It’s a five-minute walk from the el’s Irving Park station n the Brown Line.
- American Theater Company’s official website: ATCweb.org
- Review of “The Humans” at American Theater Company: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Review of “Disgraced” at ATC: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Review of “Rent” at ATC: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Review of “The Amish Project” at ATC: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Role Playing: Sadieh Rifai on portraying all seven characters in “Amish Project”: Read the interview at ChicagoOntheAisle.com