Photo: Michael Brosilow
By Johnny Oleksinski
“I never thought I’d go back to this play. Ever, ever,” emphatically states PJ Paparelli, artistic director of American Theater Company. He’s talking to me on the phone during a wintry transit, so there is an added emphasis to his assertion. Well, PJ thought wrong. A revised version of his eight-year-old “columbinus” opens this week at American Theater Company, also directed by him. So, why has he returned to it now? After all, the play has been done here before. When Paparelli moved to Chicago to take up the reins of ATC in 2008, Raven Theatre was in the throes of presenting the Chicago premiere of his widely produced work.
He wrote “columbinus” in 2005 with “Sons of the Prophet” playwright Stephen Karam based on interviews with high-school students around the country and citizens of Littleton, Colorado who had been affected by the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. The play began with a first act set in a fictional high school, and the second segued into specifically Columbine. The New York Theatre Workshop premiere was critically praised and sprouted countless productions nationally.
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Though we publish a list of “players” every year, we alternate between those whose accomplishments are most visible on-stage (the artists, last year) and those who wield their influence behind the curtain (this year). Not only does this allow us to consider twice as many people, but it also puts some temporal distance between the lists. So, the last time we visited this cast of characters, two years ago, we were celebrating the end of the Richard M. Daley years in Chicago, fretting over a nation seemingly in the mood for a Tea Party and contemplating the possibility of a Latter Day Saint in the White House. Today, we’ve got a dancer in the mayor’s office, the most prominent Mormons are in a chorus line at the Bank of America Theatre and the Tea Cup runneth dry. Call us cockeyed optimists, but things sure look better from here. And so, meet the folks who, today, bring us the best theater, dance, comedy and opera in the nation.
Written by Zach Freeman, Brian Hieggelke, Sharon Hoyer and Johnny Oleksinski
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Mike Nussbaum and Cliff Chamberlain/Photo: Katie Sikora
It’s probably blasphemy to suggest that American Theater Company’s radio rendition of this holiday tale is better than the iconic Frank Capra film, but it’s certainly close under the superb direction of Jason Gerace and artistic director PJ Paparelli.
With a swanky look and a fast-moving pace, ATC’s version starts off with a feel-good vamp from the narrator (Chris Amos) that includes quirky messages from audience members, local businesses and game-show contestants. Joining the cast this year is Cliff Chamberlain as George Bailey and Mike Nussbaum as Mr. Potter. Chamberlain does a remarkable job being convincingly boyish and deeply intense without slipping into a stale Jimmy Stewart impression. Nussbaum is both chilly as Potter and honest as Clarence, gracefully pushing past any “Touched by an Angel”-ish associations. Sadieh Rifai and Jessie Fisher bring the female characters to life in full color. Read the rest of this entry »
Penelope Walker and Kate Skinner/Photo: Peter Coombs Photography
Kicking off their twenty-eighth season, American Theater Company embarks on a spiritual journey in the aptly titled repertory-style production of “Doubt” and “Agnes of God.” John Patrick Shanley’s 2004 play “Doubt,” in which a nun suspects a priest of molestation, garnered the 2005 Pulitzer Prize and had a lengthy run on Broadway. The lesser-known “Agnes of God” by John Pielmeier was originally presented on Broadway in 1982 and tells the story of a young nun accused of infanticide.
Under the direction of PJ Paparelli, the back-to-back plays begin with a briskly paced “Doubt,” led by Kate Skinner, who gives a strong performance as Catholic School principal Sister Aloysius. Skinner’s sharp coldness takes command of each scene and the audience isn’t likely to be left with any doubt of her suspicions. Sister Aloysius meets her match in the play’s most intense scene between herself and the suspected victim’s mother Mrs. Muller, played by Penelope Walker. The accused Father Flynn is played competently by Lance Baker, who occasionally delivers Shanley’s witty lines rather illogically. The naïve Sister James is played by Sadieh Rifai, who does her best to physically embody her character’s eventual corruption. Read the rest of this entry »
AMERICAN THEATER COMPANY ANNOUNCES 2012-13 SEASON
PJ PAPARELLI’S 5th SEASON TO FEATURE RESTORED & REVISED 45TH ANNIVERSARY PRODUCTION OF HAIR;
THE CATHOLIC REPERTORY: DOUBT & AGNES OF GOD; THE RADIO REPERTORY: THE WIZARD OF OZ & IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE; AND THE WORLD PREMIERE OF THE REVISED COLUMBINUS
Chicago, IL – American Theater Company proudly announces Season 28, which kicks off with two American classics in rotating repertory – The Catholic Repertory: Doubt & Agnes of God – featuring Ensemble Member Sadieh Rifai; and a Chicago holiday repertory – The Radio Repertory: The Wizard of Oz & It’s a Wonderful Life – directed by ATC Artistic Associate Jason W. Gerace. The season continues with the World Premiere of the revised version of the United States Theatre Project’s columbinus, conceived and directed by Artistic Director PJ Paparelli. Following in the wake of contemporary shootings like those at Virginia Tech, Paparelli will return to Littleton, Colorado for the first time in ten years to conduct new interviews with survivors and community members; the revised production of columbinus will be part of the theatre community’s citywide discussion on school violence “Now Is the Time to Act,” together with Steppenwolf and About Face Theater.
Closing out Paparelli’s 5th anniversary season as Artistic Director at ATC is a restored and revised version of the classic American rock musical Hair. Following the success of The Original Grease, Paparelli now teams up with Hair co-creator James Rado to restore original material from the 1968 off-Broadway production that hasn’t been seen in 45 years. Read the rest of this entry »
Alex Agard, Alan Schmuckler, Andres Cruz, Derrick Trumbly/Photo: Michael Brosilow
That director David Cromer has developed a reputation for an ability to work magic on even the most taken-for-granted shows made his interest in “Rent” particularly intriguing, to say the least. No ordinary show, part of the mystique of “Rent” was the stranger-than-fiction reality that the composer of this updated transposition of Puccini’s “La bohème” from a nineteenth-century Paris garret with tuberculosis looming overhead to a 1990s flat in Greenwich Village with AIDS as the culprit, died suddenly of a burst aortic aneurysm on the night before “Rent” was to open in 1996. A mere thirty-five years old when he died and so living the bohemian lifestyle described in the show that the set designer made sure that the flat actually looked better than the composer’s own so as not to make him feel self-conscious, the late Jonathan Larson never lived to see or benefit from the extraordinary success of a work that he personified both in his life as a struggling artist and his untimely early death. Read the rest of this entry »
Usman Ally, Alana Arenas, Lee Stark, Benim Foster/Photo: Michael Brosilow
Amir is an American of Islamic heritage, his parents from the part of the world now known as Pakistan. He seems fully assimilated in all the ways mainstream America would want him to be: he’s disavowed the religion of his people, married a white woman and, most important of all, become an asshole corporate lawyer who wears $600 shirts. For what aspiration is more American than to be an asshole corporate lawyer?
But no one wants the assimilated Amir. Not his nephew who still clings to the Koran. Nor his wife, who’s using Islam in a contemporary version of radical chic to establish her career as an artist. And in the ultimate act of identity suppression, he’s immersed himself, it seems, in a world of American Jews—at his law firm, among his social circle. Read the rest of this entry »
Darren Criss (#4) with Team StarKid
With our criteria shifted back to artistic accomplishment in theater, dance, comedy and opera this year, our task got infinitely tougher. Because while the number of performing venues grows at a steady rate, the increase in the number of noteworthy artists seems to grow exponentially. For everyone we name on the list below, we had to leave off five, an embarrassment of riches for Chicago. We made a conscious effort to introduce a meaningful number of new faces to the list this year; the necessary absences should not be construed as a loss of worthiness as a consequence. We often find trends when we do the research these lists require; this year we’re starting to see a more meaningful effort to redefine performance itself in the internet age, from the runaway success of StarKids, to the more calculated endeavors of Silk Road. So what defines a “player”? Consider it some complex stew of career achievement, recent “heat” and, in some cases, rising stardom.
Written by Zach Freeman, Brian Hieggelke, Sharon Hoyer and Dennis Polkow
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Sadieh Rifai/Photo: Michael Brosilow
I have a hard time with the concept of forgiveness. It seems like denial of the unacceptable. I come from the Italian school of Vendetta, which stipulates that anyone who does to me and mine will bleed in the streets. Or something like that.
So I can’t understand the Amish community’s response to the 2006 murder of five young girls at a Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania Amish school. The community attended the gunman’s funeral and befriended his widow and family. They did what their faith demanded.
ATC’s simple yet mindbogglingly complex explanation of that decision is a moving testimony to the resilience of spirit and the indomitable nature of love. Read the rest of this entry »
Terry Hamilton gets Fatt
By Brian Hieggelke
When the American Blues Theater ensemble was gathered in the spring of 2010 to vote on the next season, the idea to produce Clifford Odets’ “Waiting for Lefty” spawned a spirited debate over the relevance of its subject. “We were like, ‘Does anyone even care about unions?’” says producing artistic director Gwendolyn Whiteside.
“And then after we selected ‘Waiting for Lefty,’ all hell started to break loose in Wisconsin,” Whiteside says. “I was fascinated and I couldn’t believe what was going on. And then Indiana erupted, and Ohio, and everything that was going on in world politics. I probably learned more about union politics because of these events in the past year than I had in school.”
School starts early, in mid-August, for the cast of “Lefty.” It’s the opening night of rehearsals and about three dozen or so folks are gathered in a large room that is the Remy Bumppo Rehearsal Space in Lakeview.
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