Playwright Gregg Opelka is quick to point out why Chicago doesn’t need another Christmas show. “It’s funny. There are all these Christmas shows right now because obviously Christmas is the bigger holiday. But you don’t get the emotional hook that you get with New Year’s Eve.” “Marrying Terry,” Opelka’s romantic comedy of mistaken identities set within Chicago’s legendary Drake Hotel on New Year’s Eve (see separate review in listings), is his attempt to correct this.
“As one of the characters in the play says, ‘New Year’s Eve is a great night for making fresh starts.’ And to me that idea gives you fertile ground as a playwright because really, what are plays about but about people starting over?” Opelka isn’t starting over as much as starting out. Although he boasts a resume that would make any composer/conductor green as the Grinch with envy—seven libretto translations for Light Opera Works; eight full-length musicals produced all across the USA and internationally—“Marrying Terry” is his first straight play. “Edna St. Vincent Millay has a line in one of her sonnets which sort of explains my desire to write a play. She wrote, ‘Never shall one room contain me quite.’ I just wanted to take a shot at it.” And why the Drake? “Ironically, I have never stayed at the Drake. In fact, until I started writing this show I’d never even set foot in it. It just seemed like the place.” In conversation the pale and bespectacled Opelka is affable and earnest, with a boy-scout charm—he’s a youthful 51—and constantly moving hands with which he indicates or runs through his head of thick, auburn hair. “When I was 12 years old I was a poetry nerd. Other kids were playing football and baseball. I was reading Keats, Shelley and Byron.” Hopeless romantic? “I like to describe myself as a pathological optimist,” he quietly laughs.
Still, he’s bummed that “Marrying Terry” won’t have an actual New Year’s Eve performance. “It would have been so great. We’ll get close with a Sunday performance, but unfortunately New Year’s Eve falls on a Monday and the theater is not open. But I tried. I pushed for it.” And then a thought hits Opelka. “Maybe we could start Sunday’s performance at ten at night so that it ends—technically—on New Year’s Eve.”
Spoken like a true pathological optimist, indeed. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
“Marrying Terry” at the Victory Gardens Greenhouse Theater, 2257 North Lincoln, (773)871-3000. This production is now closed.