Thursday, April 06, 2006

Announcing our 2006-07 10th Anniversary Season

On behalf of TimeLine’s entire company, I am thrilled to announce plans for our 2006-07 10th anniversary season.

To be perfectly honest, it seems quite strange to even type the words “10th anniversary season” because in so many ways it seems like we started the company just a few months ago. I don’t feel all that removed from our earliest meetings in 1997 when we had $300 to start with, and we batted around ideas about creating a theatre company that focused on exploring history. As one of the loudest squawkers in those meetings, I recall saying to Nick Bowling, our ringleader, “That sounds positively awful to me!! I don’t want to dress up like Abraham Lincoln and perform on linoleum tiles in some middle school cafeteria. That doesn’t seem like the type of theatre I’m interested in creating at all.”

As he carefully pointed out, using history as our roadmap did not mean that our plays had to be stuffy, dry, and academic. He had a vision for something far different.

And he was right. I was quite wrong.

Now – 25 productions later, and as we announce our 10th season – I am even more embarrassed by my impetuous reaction in 1997 and more grateful for the clearer heads that my fellow company members possessed. Hopefully, our work in the last nine seasons has proven Nick’s theory that “history plays” can be anything but boring and dry. Through the years, it’s been our goal to share with you daring and innovative theatre that forges a connection between the social and political issues of the past and the present. We’re proud to have built a body of work that hopefully expands your view of history and gives you new ideas to ponder, question and debate.

So it is with that same goal that we have chosen our 2006-07 season:
• THE GENERAL FROM AMERICA by Richard Nelson, to be directed by Louis Contey
• THE CHILDREN’S HOUR by Lillian Hellman, to be directed by Nick Bowling
• HARMLESS by Brett Neveu, to be directed by Ed Sobel
• THE WIDOWERS’ HOUSES by George Bernard Shaw, to be directed by Kevin Fox


Richard Nelson’s THE GENERAL FROM AMERICA has been greatly admired by our company members for many years, and we’re delighted to introduce this play to TimeLine audiences. Nelson brings us face-to-face with the man whose name has become synonymous with the word “traitor” and explores how General Benedict Arnold earned such infamy by betraying the nation. Going far beyond merely a historical portrait or biography, Nelson has crafted a sophisticated and provocative drama that dares us to examine the infancy of America and the web of complications related to nation-building. TimeLine Associate Artist Louis Contey has the task of wrangling this powerful, epic drama onto our stage, and with his productions of COPENHAGEN and AWAKE AND SING! he has proven that he’s up to the challenge.


Director Nick Bowling is no stranger to the work of Lillian Hellman, and he has become an avid fan and student of her work. In 1999 I had the pleasure of seeing Nick’s production of ANOTHER PART OF THE FOREST at Eclipse Theatre, one of the best off-Loop productions in the last 10 years. Produced for about $2.50 in a dingy basement theater, the play sprung to life with tremendous melodrama (and I mean that as a compliment), bitchiness, petty behavior and life-and-death stakes. It was great stuff! Classic Chicago storefront magic.

Since that time, it has been clear that Nick has a great flair for Hellman’s work, and his interest in directing her plays has only grown stronger. As a result, he’s been shoving the script for THE CHILDREN’S HOUR in my face at least once a year for the last few years, on a mission to bring this seldom-revived classic to the TimeLine stage. And there have really only been a couple factors that have delayed its arrival thus far – we had many other great projects filling Nick’s schedule, including THIS HAPPY BREED, GUANTANAMO and FIORELLO!; and we frankly had some uncertainty about how the melodrama of THE CHILDREN’S HOUR would play for a contemporary audience. The days have passed when this play was shocking and controversial, and the play’s third act is often considered somewhat problematic or, at the very least, in need of some strong directorial vision. Knowing full-well that Nick understands the world of Hellman and certainly possesses directorial vision aplenty, we’re confident that this play is in great hands. As always, Nick is promising a bold and innovative production that you won’t want to miss. So stay tuned…


It certainly isn’t breaking news anymore that Brett Neveu is a hot playwright with an amazingly bright future. As one of the most highly praised writers to emerge in Chicago in the last decade, Brett has built a reputation for his brilliant dialogue and harrowing stories. Like the rest of the theatre community, we’ve been big fans of his work for many years, and we’ve been chomping at the bit to produce one of his plays at TimeLine. Awhile back, we did a very informal reading of HARMLESS, and at its conclusion the entire company said, “We must do this play. Soon!” A few days later I was struck by an article I read about the number of guys who recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq and were subsequently charged with aggravated assault or murder within their first few months as “civilians” in Chicago. It made Brett’s play resonate even more in my mind as I thought about what was happening to these veterans, and why they were seemingly unable to return to a normal and stable life. These questions – among numerous others – are at the heart of Brett’s play, and it is frankly quite difficult to write a short blurb to capture “what the play is about” because no snapshot can effectively encompass the feast of ideas and issues that Brett has packed into a 90-minute, three-character play.

HARMLESS will reunite TimeLine with director Ed Sobel (A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS), who has become one of Brett’s greatest champions and strongest collaborators, having directed a superb production of Brett’s AMERICAN DEAD at American Theatre Company and the upcoming HERITAGE, also at ATC (both of those productions also have the distinction of featuring TimeLine’s own David Parkes).


And, finally, I suppose it was just a matter of time (no pun intended) before TimeLine tackled its first Shaw play. As a company fascinated by plays that are not only historically significant, but also idea-driven and thought-provoking, it seems only natural that TimeLine turn to the master of the idea-play and historical-footnote, George Bernard Shaw. But it really wasn’t until Kevin Fox presented WIDOWERS’ HOUSES that we felt like we had the right fit.

A few weeks after staring mouth-agape at the Hurricane Katrina coverage on television last fall, Kevin called me about a play that he wanted to do. It was Shaw’s first play, it was very rarely produced, and to be honest I knew absolutely nothing about it. “It’s about gentrification, slumlords, gross hypocrisy and how society turns a blind eye to the needs of the poor,” Kevin said. “Well, I can’t imagine how that would be relevant,” I replied rather sardonically.

Weeks later, we gathered some actors together to read the play out loud, and Kevin’s instinct was right on. The script was scathingly funny, shockingly ahead-of-its time, and painfully depressing in terms of how little has changed since it was written in 1892. Shaw poses some tough questions about our eagerness to cast stones at others’ code of ethics, without honestly examining our own. And even as a very young writer, Shaw shows with this first play that he was prepared to use the forum that the theatre provided to generate discussion about issues of substance and controversy. It’s not surprising that he continues to be one of the wisest and wittiest writers that the theatre has known.


So we hope you’ll join us for a wide-ranging ride in 2006-07. To celebrate year 10 it was important for us to shed light on far-reaching eras, and our four plays will take you through the 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st centuries (not necessarily in that order). And while the historical contexts for each story vary greatly, they each are filled with issues and themes that transcend time and resonate profoundly today.

We’re eager to share these plays with you and usher in a second decade of making history at TimeLine. Hope to see you at the theatre soon.


PJ Powers
Artistic Director

Monday, March 06, 2006

Bomb-makers and Chicken Farmers

Last Friday a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the AP compelled the Department of Defense to release about 5000 pages of transcripts from hearings at Guantanamo. The Pentagon still has not released a full list of the 490 names, but many previously unknown identities can now be confirmed-and even more stories told.

Not surprisingly, the transcripts show a wide spectrum of opinions about the quality of prisoner treatment, from "American people are very good. Really. They give us three meals. Fruit juice and everything!" to a colonel telling a defiant detainee, "I do not care about international law. I do not want to hear the words international law again. We are not concerned about international law."

More details of Bisher al-Rawi's hearing, and the effect of the UK's "no comment" on his previous relations with the British intelligence MI5 (since they would neither confirm nor deny his association, the judge would not accept his defense), can be read at:

And many other voices can be heard in today's NY Times article. This article details both the detainees who sound innocent and befuddled ("I'm only a chicken farmer") and some proud Al Qaeda members, who sound like the "bomb-makers" Cheney says they are.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The world is not Blue/Red

If anyone is feeling the great urge I feel to get beyond the (completely invented) Blue/Red partisan dichotomy on which the media usually thrives, there are some remarkable pieces out recently about the issues of interrogation policy. In this month's HARPER'S there's a detailed piece on the historical development of democracy's thoughts on torture. (For example, is there a difference between physically coercing someone to confession and using physical force to get information that might prevent future attacks? The "ticking bomb" scenario.) NPR also highlighted Jane Mayer's outstandingly complex piece "The Memo" in the Feb. 27 issue of THE NEW YORKER. Yes, these are media sources known primarily to people on the left. However, these pieces bring up the issues beyond party loyalty (or anti-administration disdain). "The Memo" discusses a memo written by former Navy general counsel Alberto J. Mora to Vice Admiral Church, when Church was investigating reports of abuse at Guantanamo in July 2004. It details administration policy and warns that the policies invite abuse. Mora, a faithful Republican, tried to correct what he saw as "dangerous" and "erroneous" decisions, precisely because he wanted to protect his administration. This secret (but not classified) memo directly conflicts the official story of abuses as rogue incidents. The designation of "enemy combatants," he argues, "alters the fundamental relationship of man to government.... If you make this exception, the whole Constitution crumbles. It's a transformative issue."

Monday, February 20, 2006

Guantanamo - Good Theatre or Propaganda?

First, a disclosure. I am a TimeLine board member and therefore have more than a passing interest in and involvement with TimeLine and this production.

Now, my thoughts about Guantanamo.

Theatre can have many objectives and affects, but ones I particularly relate to, especially when talking about TimeLine, were well expressed by Jennifer Shook (TimeLine’s very talented dramaturg) in her comments in Sunday’s Chicago Tribune Arts & Entertainment article, “What the heck’s a dramaturg”? Some of her comments: theatre is not “to teach you the right answer”; “Theatre feels like a communal adventure” that provides “expansion”, that says “here are some potential paths that can take you to an even bigger place than the play”; “the point of theatre is to make you think”; “the more I learn, the less I’m sure of what I thought was a really easy opinion”.

Good quality, or completeness, or professionalism, do not require that one play, or one book, or one film, present all sides of an issue. It is the obligation of consumers of ideas to obtain balance and completeness by looking to multiple sources.

On the other hand, a play, or a book, or film that is little more than one sided propaganda is not likely to find an audience among those who are looking for new information and thought provoking perspectives. Propaganda appeals to those who want to hear confirmation of, and gain ammunition to support, their own ideas, and, it is strongly rejected without consideration by those who disagree. We all enjoy propaganda at times. It is entertaining, but it does not contribute much of value - it inflames.

By these various measures, I think Guantanamo is good theatre. It meets Jennifer’s tests. It is intelligent, thoughtful and stimulating. Yes, it tells only one side. But that is OK. It is worthy testimony on a very important issue. It is not the answer - it is more the question.

Guantanamo fits wonderfully within TimeLine’s mission – “to present stories inspired by history that connect with today’s social and political issues”. We sometimes expand that mission statement with words like “provocative”, “challenging”, and “creates dialogue”. Clearly, Guantanamo fits.

For me, Guantanamo is at its best, most stimulating, and most challenging when it presents the words and feelings of the detainees and their families. It is less stimulating and challenging when it uses advocates and politicians – lobbyists so to speak - to explain the issues to us.

I know some people will choose not to see Guantanamo, or will dislike it, primarily because it presents ideas that are in disagreement with their own and with our government’s policies. I know other people will choose to see Guantanamo, and some will love it, primarily because it presents ideas that are in agreement with their own and in disagreement with our government’s policies. These positions say more about the individuals than about the play. Both perspectives are equally disappointing. They treat the play as propaganda. I don’t think it is.

As for the production itself – fantastic. It is hard to imagine a better, more sensitive, more nuanced presentation of the play. Congratulations to Nick, the cast, and all involved. Well done.

A recommendation

Last night I saw a fantastic cabaret show called "Girl in the mirror" and I highly recommend it. The show features Cassie Wooley (soon-to-be appearing in our production of FIORELLO!) and Kelli Morgan. Both are outstanding, and this gives you a great opportunity to see what a dynamic talent Cassie is before she blows the roof off of TimeLine this May. The show plays again this Sunday, February 26th at 7pm at Davenport's Piano Bar & Cabaret. Find out more at
Check 'em out...they're great!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Getting people talking....

I can't tell you how pleased I am to finally have our production of GUANTANAMO officially opened. Firstly, because I am quite proud of the production and the exquisite work of director Nick Bowling and our talented cast and design team, but I'm also glad that the doors to our theatre are finally opened for audiences to experience the show...and hopefully respond (through post-show discussions, informal & impromptu debates in the lobby, and of course this blog). Already, GUANTANAMO has generated tremendous attention from the media, and we're proud to have people talking about the ideas of the play (both what they like and what they don't like). Here are some links to a lot of those articles and interviews. I hope you enjoy reading & listening to them....and I hope you'll post your own thoughts here to keep the conversation going.....

PJ Powers
Artistic Director

Chicago Tribune review

Chicago Tribune feature

Chicago Sun-Times feature

Time Out Chicago feature

WBEZ (Chicago Public Radio) feature on "Hello Beautiful"

"Vantage Point" radio feature on WTMX-Chicago

Chicago Sun-Times review

UN wants Guantanamo prison closed

An interesting article was posted today regarding a recent United Nations report on Guantanamo Bay.....

UN Report Calls for Closure of Guantánamo
By Suzanne Goldenberg
The Guardian UK

Tuesday 14 February 2006

Prison breaks conventions on torture, say envoys. Violent force-feeding of hunger strikers criticised.
A UN inquiry into conditions at Guantánamo Bay has called on Washington to shut down the prison, and says treatment of detainees in some cases amounts to torture, UN officials said yesterday.

The report also disputes the Bush administration's legal arguments for the prison, which was sited at the navy base in Cuba with the purpose of remaining outside the purview of the US courts, and says there has been insufficient legal process to decide whether detainees continued to pose a threat to the US.

The report, prepared by five envoys from the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and due for release tomorrow, is bound to deepen international criticism of the detention centre. Drafts of the report were leaked to the Los Angeles Times and the Telegraph newspapers, but UN envoys refused to comment yesterday.

During an 18-month investigation, the envoys interviewed freed prisoners, lawyers and doctors to collect information on the detainees, who have been held for the last four years without access to US judicial oversight. The envoys did not have access to the 500 prisoners who are still being held at the detention centre.

"We very, very carefully considered all of the arguments posed by the US government," Manfred Nowak, the UN special rapporteur on torture and one of the envoys, told the LA Times. "There are no conclusions that are easily drawn. But we concluded that the situation in several areas violates international law and conventions on human rights and torture."

The report lists techniques in use at Guantánamo that are banned under the UN's convention against torture, including prolonged periods of isolation, exposure to extremes of heat and cold, and humiliation, including forced shaving.

The UN report also focuses on a relatively new area of concern in Guantánamo - the resort to violent force-feeding to end a hunger strike by inmates. Guards at Guantánamo began force-feeding the protesters last August, strapping them on stretchers and inserting large tubes into their nasal passages, according to a lawyer for Kuwaiti detainees who has had contact with the UN envoys.

The effort to break the hunger strike has accelerated since the UN envoys produced their draft, with inmates strapped in restraint chairs for hours and fed laxatives so that they defecate on themselves.

"The government is not doing things to keep them alive. It is really conducting tactics to deprive them of the ability to be on hunger strike because the hunger strike is an embarrassment to them," said Thomas Wilner, an attorney at the Washington firm Shearman & Sterlin, who represents several Kuwaiti detainees.

The report adds to a body of evidence about mistreatment. A report by the International Committee of the Red Cross last year said interrogation techniques there were "tantamount to torture".

Tom Malinowski, Washington director of Human Rights Watch, said: "This is going to solidify the already highly negative views around the world about what the United States is doing in Guantánamo, and since the Red Cross complaints are more than a year old, it will suggest to a lot of people around the world that the problems are not solved."

However, the report did not seem to carry weight in Washington. A White House spokesman said it was an al-Qaida tactic to complain of abuse, while the Pentagon does not comment on UN matters. But a Pentagon official yesterday insisted there had been no attempts to break a hunger strike with punitive measures. "All detainees at Guantánamo are being treated humanely and are being provided with excellent medical care," he said.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Chicago event and Illinois Representative

A local related event, and a Congressional update:

--Feb 17, Fri, 3 pm, DePaul University, 2320 N Kenmore, SAC 254
Hear Bill Goodman of Center for Constitutional RightsPart of Confronting Empire series

February 8, 2006
House Committee Squashes Torture Queries
Filed at 9:32 p.m. ET
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Republicans easily defeated three resolutions seeking information about the Bush administration's policies on torture after a heated committee hearing.
Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., chairman of the House International Relations Committee, said Democrats who submitted the resolutions should ''at least silently confess to themselves that their actions pose real dangers to our country.''
Hyde accused Democrats of playing politics, with an eye on November's congressional elections, by offering the three resolutions demanding:
--Information on a practice that has been called extraordinary rendition, or sending suspects abroad to countries where they would allegedly be tortured for information.
--Documents about U.S. policies regarding U.N. anti-torture conventions.
--Documents and records involving Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's December trip to Europe, during which she was dogged by reports of alleged secret European jails.
All three proposed resolutions were defeated on almost straight party-line votes.
The committee's senior Democrat, Rep. Tom Lantos of California, denied Hyde's accusations of partisan motivation.

Next Stop, U.S. House of Representatives????

Guantanamo play to be staged in British parliament

By Paul Majendie
Mon Feb 6, 12:53 PM ET

LONDON (Reuters) - A play reliving the detention of Guantanamo Bay prisoners is to be staged in the British parliament by human rights activists bidding to push their plight up the political agenda.

"This is the court of public opinion -- the idea is to educate the folks in the House of Commons on what is happening," lawyer Clive Stafford Smith said on Monday.

The reading of the play "Guantanamo - Honor Bound to Defend Freedom" is being staged on Thursday in one of the 150-seat committee rooms in the lower chamber before an invited audience of parliamentarians, lawyers and human rights organisations.

Stafford Smith has worked as legal representative for detainees at the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and is also known for his work defending death row inmates in the United States.

"This does remind us about the rule of law," he told Reuters. "This is not on the radar of some politicians. We are talking human rights here and that applies to all human beings."

Nine British citizens were held at Guantanamo, set up by the United States in early 2002 to hold suspects captured in Afghanistan and others suspected of association with al Qaeda.

Five were released in 2004 and the remaining four were freed in January 2005.

But Stafford Smith considers it essential to maintain political pressure.

"I am representing eight of the nine British residents who are still being detained in Guantanamo," he said. "They either had refugee status or leave to remain in Britain."

"Why is it that people who have lived for decades in this country, who have British children, can't get any support from the British government?"

The United States classifies the prisoners as enemy combatants and not prisoners of war, thus denying them rights accorded to PoWs under the Geneva Conventions.

The Pentagon has said the detainees are treated humanely and not tortured.

The play by British journalist Victoria Brittain and South African-born novelist Gillian Slovo is based on personal testimonies from families of the prisoners as well as statements from lawyers, government spokesmen and medical experts.

It was staged at London's Tricycle Theater in a series of "verbatim theater" productions on such subjects as the racist murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence and the Hutton inquiry into the suicide of British weapons scientist David Kelly.

Stafford Smith is set to make a surreal debut on Thursday -- for the first time he will be playing himself in the play.

"That is a truly terrifying experience -- but at least I will get to be badly dressed in my own right," he said.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

From the NY Times

Interesting the conclusion of last night's first preview for GUANTANAMO, I wandered back into my office and came across this article which had just posted on The New York Times website:

Lawyers: Many Gitmo Detainees Not Accused
Published: February 7, 2006
Filed at 11:16 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON (AP) -- More than half of the terror suspects being held at Guantanamo Bay have not been accused of committing hostile acts against the United States or its allies, two of the detainees' lawyers said in a report released Tuesday.

Compiled from declassified Defense Department evaluations of the more than 500 detainees at the Cuba facility, the report says just 8 percent are listed as fighters for a terrorist group, while 30 percent are considered members of a terrorist group and the remaining 60 percent were just ''associated with'' terrorists.

The evaluations were completed as part of the Combatant Status Review Tribunals conducted during 2004 to determine if the prisoners were being correctly held as enemy combatants. So far just 10 of the detainees have been formally charged with crimes and are headed for military tribunals.

According to the report, 55 percent of the detainees are informally accused of committing a hostile act. But the descriptions of their actions ranged from a high-ranking Taliban member who tortured and killed Afghan natives to people who possessed rifles, used a guest house or wore olive drab clothing.

The report also found that about one-third of the detainees were linked to al-Qaida; 22 percent to the Taliban; 28 percent to both; and 7 percent to either one or the other, but not specified.
''The government has detained these individuals for more than four years, without a trial or judicial hearing, and has had unfettered access to each detainee for that time,'' said the report, written by lawyers who represent two of the detainees. The lawyers -- Mark Denbeaux, a law professor at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, and Joshua Denbeaux -- were assisted by Seton Hall law students.

A Pentagon spokesman had no comment on the report.

The documents, which are publicly available, were declassified versions of evaluations that contain additional information about each detainee. Those additional details were not made public.

The Associated Press has filed a lawsuit seeking the release of the classified versions of the documents.

Of the approximately 760 prisoners brought to Guantanamo since 2002, the military has released 180 and transferred 76 to the custody of other countries.

And we're off...

Last night we had our first preview for GUANTANAMO, and it was a thrill to finally get to share this play with a live audience. We've been living with this play for so many months -- in meetings, rehearsals, readings, etc. -- but nothing quite compares with the first time you get to put it up in front of fresh eyes. As is usually the case with a first preview there were some minor hiccups and nerves were ratcheted up a notch...but overall it played well. Today, we regroup and keep working to improve the show, eliminate the hiccups and strengthen the storytelling. That's the beauty of having a week of previews -- we continue tinkering, but at last we are able to share this story with someone other than just ourselves. And now that we're into performances we hope to also start hearing from you -- the people coming to TimeLine each night to experience GUANTANAMO. I hope you'll share your thoughts about the show so we can extend the conversation beyond just your time at the theatre! If you've been at the show, I hope you'll post some comments.

--PJ Powers
Artistic Director