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Steppenwolf’s Next Up

by Anonymous – June 29, 2012

If we want to talk Cheeky, here’s where it’s at. Steppenwolf Theatre Company showcased Chicago’s next generation of theatre artists in its Next Up program of budding directors and designers which closed June 24. It is the second annual partnership between Steppenwolf and Northwestern University’s MFA programs for Direction and Design, showcasing the collaboration of graduates and professional Chicago actors in three plays in rotating repertory at the Steppenwolf Garage.

“In the Garage Theatre, Steppenwolf sets out to cultivate young artists and multi-generational audiences. NEXT UP offers a unique way for us to do this in concert with Theatre’s roots as a guild-based craft in which emerging artists learn from experienced practitioners,” comments Steppenwolf Artistic Producer Rebecca Rugg. “For Steppenwolf, this project is a natural extension of a strong association with local universities, whose stream of graduates continually feeds Chicago’s vibrant theater ecology.”

The three plays included:

Life and Limb, written by Keith Reddin and directed by Emily Campbell

South of Settling, written by Emily Schwend and directed by Adam Goldstein

The Glass Menagerie, written by Tennessee Williams and directed by Laley Lippard

Steppenwolf TheatreLet me start by saying just how Cheeky the Garage venue really is: dimly lit, it reminds me of a cozy and casual London theatre with its off-street, somewhat hidden entrance and untraditional “box office” consisting of an antique desk and vintage French chairs occupied by a roaming assemblage of enthusiastic and friendly staffers. Beyond the cozy living room-cum-lobby is the most dramatic feature of the space: 3,000 old scripts, sketches and rehearsal papers are artfully stacked on the wall with niches created for intimate accessories like an old pair of eyeglasses and a magnifying glass harking back in time, drawing you to the end of the passage.

This cheeky guy reporter must say that the plays he most enjoyed were each similar explorations of dysfunctional human relationships, only set in different times and places. In The Glass Menagerie - the classic autobiographical play by Tennessee Williams – the poet and dreamer, Tom Wingfield, weaves truth and imagination to conjure up his younger self and the family he escaped long ago, his overbearing mother. Amanda. yearning for the splendor of her youth, and his fragile sister, Laura, shy and conforming to her mother’s overbearing expectations. I found Amanda – played by Kathy Sciambiatterra – the Cheekiest of all, eternally recreating her past genteel way of life amid the decayed ambience of her present “condition.”

The Glass Menagerie is a great American play that treats the working class with poetic nobility. It is also a story of a family during an economic and spiritual crisis that is eerily mirrored in contemporary America,” notes Director Laley Lippard. Romantically depicted, Glass conjures memories and intangible emotions set amongst soft light, in direct contrast to the South of Settling set bathed in naked bright light exposing the characters’ actions and thoughts in a realistic domestic arrangement replete with a fully functioning kitchen. Super cool.

South of Settling - a play directed by Adam Goldstein and featuring a tight ensemble of actors including Joey Debettencourt, Keith Kupferer, Jeff Trainor, Janet Ulrich Brooks and Nicole Wiesner – takes place in the present and revolves around Kate and Irwin Deckhouse’s quite orderly life turned upside down by the surprise arrival of Kate’s long-estranged cousin, Amy, and her new lackluster spouse, Randall.

Life and Limb depicts the pain and tragedy of a war veterans’ return to a home and a life that seems to have eluded him. Scars of war – emotional and physical – set off a chain of events in his new life at home including the devastation of personal dreams and relationships. Sometimes cold, sometimes funny, the story depicts a reality that touches many generations.

All three plays are poignant and sometimes painful. Each told through candid humor, confronting family secrets and buried truths, revealing how dreams and desires may be shaped by expectations of others and compromises made along the way.

If you’re as big of a fan of the theatre as I am, you’ll join us for Cheeky’s Night at the Theatre on July 11 where a $35 ticket buys you into the performance of Three Sisters and a pre-show party at Sono.