Chicago theater mid-season preview, Part 1: What’s in store at Goodman, Northlight, Steep
First in a three-part series: World premiere at Goodman. Northlight recalls Nina Simone. Steep spotlights playwright Ike Holter.
By Lawrence B. Johnson
The Chicago theater scene enters its snow-to-blossoms segment with a flurry of highlights that we’ll glimpse in a three-part series of winter-spring previews. We begin Part 1 with a visit to Goodman Theatre, which launches its late-season run with the world premiere of Christina Anderson’s “How to Catch Creation,” about the long reverberation of an incident and how it affects the lives of four artists.
Then we trek to Skokie’s Northlight Theatre, where the acerbic worldview of a celebrated blues-activist unfolds in Christina Ham’s “Nina Simone: Four Women.” Finally, we circle back to Chicago’s Steep Theatre and a second-half lineup that starts with Ike Holter’s “Red Rex,” about an adventurous theater company in conflict with its own neighborhood.
- “How to Catch Creation” by Christina Anderson, world premiere, Jan. 19-Feb. 24. A wrongly convicted man is released from prison after 25 years. As he settles into a new life he begins the quest to become a father. Spanning more than 40 years, this play explores family, connection, parenthood, and right to start over. After the Goodman run, the show continues in a “rolling premiere” that takes it to the Philadelphia Theatre Company in March, Baltimore Center Stage in May and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in July. “It’s an introspective, soul-searching play,” says Goodman’s managing producer Adam Belcuore. “Six characters pursue these intertwined relationships that are connected in surprising ways.”
- “Twilight Bowl” by Rebecca Gilman, Feb. 8-March 10. After graduating from a small Wisconsin high school, Sam heads to college on scholarship – but her cousin Jaycee’s future isn’t looking as bright. As the young women and their friends face adulthood, their local bowling alley becomes a place to celebrate triumphs, confront challenges and forge new identities. “This is not a print of the American dream,” says Belcuore. “Our lives tend to be limited by the opportunities we have. The play digs into what we start with and what that provides for us.”
“Sweat” by Lynn Nottage, March 9-April 14. Winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, “Sweat” sets up a cultural collision among friends in a Rust Belt town. They have spent their lives sharing secrets and laughs on the factory floor. But when layoffs begin to chip away at their trust, they’re pitted against each other in a heart-wrenching fight. “We’re very excited to have Lynn’s play come here,” says Belcuore. “She gives us very clear characters caught in the intersections where race and class bump against one another. We watch as the American dream is stripped away.”
- “Lottery Day” by Ike Holter, March 29-April 28. Long the matriarch of a quickly gentrifying neighborhood, Mallory invites the lonely residents, hardcore activists and starving artists of her block to what she hopes will go down as a legendary barbeque – thanks to a special surprise. Her mysterious plan to revitalize her community, however, may just be the very thing that tears it apart. “There’s a monetary prize involved,” hints Belcuore, “but where did it come from, how did she get it? The play explores what holds a community together, especially in the face of adversity.”
- “The Winter’s Tale” by William Shakespeare, May 4-June 9. A paranoid king accuses his queen of infidelity, setting off a calamitous series of events spanning 16 years. Directed by Goodman artistic director Robert Falls. “This play has vexed Bob for a long time,” says Belcuore. “He sees it as a challenge. It’s a meditation on how much penitence is necessary to warrant forgiveness. Bob likes to take liberties. This is his reimagining of the play.”
- “The Music Man” by Meredith Willson, June 29-Aug. 4. He’s charming and charismatic—no wonder con man Harold Hill assumes he can easily fleece the citizens of staid River City, Iowa, with the grand promise of a marching band. But the smooth-talking swindler can’t tell a trombone from a treble clef – and Marian, the local librarian, knows it. Directed by Mary Zimmerman. “Mary’s from Nebraska, she knows these prairie towns,” says Belcuore. “Her playfulness works well with ‘The Music Man.’ It’s about the power of art in a community, and how this small town is revitalized by embracing the idea of a boys band.”
- “Nina Simone: Four Women” by Christina Ham, Jan. 24-March 2. In the aftermath of 1963’s 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, Nina Simone transformed from songstress to activist with powerful anthems such as “Mississippi Goddam,” “Old Jim Crow,” and “To Be Young, Gifted and Black.” Celebrate Ms. Simone’s lasting legacy in this provocative and personal musical journey. Northlight artistic director BJ Jones characterizes the drama as “a play with music and voices of the civil rights movement. The women she speaks with have been killed in a church bombing. It’s a play about ideas and ideals, and it fits our mission to change the perspective of our audience and to encourage compassion.
“Landladies” by Sharyn Rothstein, world premiere, March 14-April 20. Self-made landlady Marti and her new tenant Christine strike up a tentative friendship, though neither can afford the luxury of forgetting her own best interests. Faced with impossible dilemmas of fairness versus kindness, both women are determined to build a home and both know the threat of losing one. “It’s about the struggle to survive, the working poor,” says Jones. “The single mom needs a place to live but can barely pay her rent. Her new landlady is ambitious. It’s no sitcom, there are no jokes, but there’s humor in their foibles.
- “Into the Breeches” by George Brant, May 9-June 16. It’s 1942 and with the men off at war, the Oberon Play House season will be canceled… until the director’s wife rallies the troops at home for an all-female production. With the opportunity to move from the sidelines to center stage, the women forge ahead with a spirit of collaboration, and a belief in the power of art to move us forward. “The wife of the company’s artistic director has decided to do all of Shakespeare’s Henry plays,” says Jones. “It’s essentially about feminism, racism and sexism – in other words, it’s remarkably contemporary.”
- “Red Rex” by Ike Holter, Jan. 24-March 2. A small theater company moves into an abandoned Chicago storefront. Led by their adventurously thirsty artistic director, they embark on an explosive new play with the hope of finally breaking it big. When the ensemble realizes their source material might not be as original as once assumed, they are thrust into an intense confrontation with residents of their new community, who not only want them out, but will take their story back by any means necessary. “Red Rex is the sixth play in Ike Holter’s seven part “Rightlynd saga,” which also includes “Exit Strategy,” “Prowess,” and “The Wolf at the End of the Block.” Says artistic director Peter Moore: “This play couldn’t be more relevant for us, coming at a time when we were in the midst of expanding and trying to find our place in the neighborhood – and being responsible.” Steep recently expanded its operation into an adjacent bar-and-performance space dubbed the Boxcar. “The theater company in ‘Red Rex’ is young and ambitious, but they’re confronted by the question: Who has ownership of these stories?”
“First Love Is the Revolution” by Rita Kalnejais, April 18-May 25. Basti is having a rough go of it without his mom and Rdeca is struggling just to make her first kill. But when this 14-year-old boy and this young fox connect, the world just seems to make a whole lot more sense. It’s a wild take on the timeless tale of star-crossed lovers – from different sides of the animal kingdom. “Call it a punk rock love story,” says Moore. “There is a fable element in it, but it’s also about reaching across – a good lesson in a world that is becoming increasingly fractured and tribalistic and vicious toward one another.”
- “Pomona” by Alistair McDowall, July 16-Aug. 24. When Ollie’s sister goes missing, her search leads her to Pomona – a bleak, concrete island in the middle of a scarred city. Part-thriller, part-fantastical puzzle, the play twists and turns its way into the dark heart of a world built on pain and suffering and asks whether it’s even possible to be good anymore. “This is a tricky play,” says Moore, “with a fantasy-thriller vibe to it. The circular structure plays with time and narrative and incorporates role-playing games. How willing are we to look below the surface of our lives?
More Chicago theater season previews:
- In three philosophical plays, Shattered Globe probes issues intimate, epic: Read the preview
- Redtwist celebrates 15th year by raising monument in tiny space: ‘King Lear’: Read the preview
- Court maps world premiere and last play in the Wilson cycle: ‘Radio Golf’: Read the preview
- TimeLine cues four dramas, collaborates with feminist venture Firebrand: Read the preview
- Getting a real sense of home, Writers plans far-ranging season in new house: Read the preview
Tags: Adam Belcuore., Alistair McDowall, BJ Jones, Christina Anderson, Christina Ham, George Brant, Ike Holter, Lynn Nottage, Mary Zimmerman, Meredith Willson, Peter Moore, Rebecca Gilman, Rita Kalnejais, Robert Falls, Sharyn Rothstein, William Shakespeare