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.