Open Rehearsal: The Court Theatre Blog

2009/2010 Season

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April 9, 2010

Fathers and their Actors III

by Drew Dir in 2009/2010 Season, The Illusion

In The Illusion, an old man visits a magician in the hope that he will help him locate his estranged son, the son he disowned fifteen years earlier. I asked members of the cast of Illusion to talk about their own fathers, and how they felt about their chosen profession.

“My father is an engineer by training and his mind is an ordered and thoughtful one. The presumption could easily be that I’m preparing to describe a two-decade battle between the son’s left-brain and the father’s right, but alas, he breaks the mold. He seeks to understand how something works in the hope that understanding will lead to a greater appreciation of its worth. That desire, partnered with a steadfast belief in my talent, has been present in all discussions over the years regarding my pursuit of a career in acting and theatre. Even at the beginning, the idea that I shouldn’t study theatre, for fear of the risks, never entered the discussion. He has always been supportive and checked any trepidation he may have felt as I plunged headfirst into a profession that never guaranteed anything but a hard road to obscurity. I know that I’ve been lucky in this. I’ve had a remarkable wind at my back as I’ve attempted to sail the rough seas of this peculiar profession. My understanding of this business’ idiosyncrasies and my place in it has always been improved by my father’s thoughtful questions and desire to understand what I do.”

“Dad was a jack of all trades.  He grew up being a farm kid; horses, cows, 4-h…that sort of thing.  His father was a horse man and refinished furniture, so Dad knew a lot about both of those talents.  He went to college in agricultural sciences and taught high school after he finished his degree. After eight years of teaching and being a high school principle he moved into construction and was a foreman for a company that demolished buildings.  Then he sold mutual funds and insurance; went onto managing a golf course in our small South Dakota town; and retired after working at a computer chip factory for about five years.  I think all that moving around from one occupation to another, is not unlike what I do jumping from role to role as an actor. Maybe I learned it from him.  Keep moving, stay active, never settle.  I always thought he would have always been happier going back to the farm.  But he never let on, and he was always supportive of my decision to be in the arts.  As long as I was happy.  He made that very clear.  Be happy and love what you do.

“I also think there was little bit of an actor in him bursting to get out. He tells a good joke and does character voices to sell it.  Now what actor doesn’t wish he could do that!”

The Illusion runs Wednesday through Sundays at Court Theatre until April 11.

 

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April 6, 2010

The Music of the Illusion

by Drew Dir in 2009/2010 Season, The Illusion

A few times a week, we’ve been asked by patrons about the music selections we’ve chosen for The Illusion. Courtesy of Nick Keenan and Josh Horvath, here is that complete list. Enjoy!

Georg Muffat - Sonata 2 Sarabande
Jean-Baptiste Lully : Porceaugnac: Le Divertissement De Chambord - Entrée Des Matassins
Biagio Marini - Balletto Secondo
Jean-Baptiste Lully : Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme - La Cérémonie Des Turcs
Marin Marais : Les Folies d’Espagne
Antonio Vivaldi : Flute Concerto “La Notte”
Zoe Keating : Frozen Angels
Marin Marais : Sarabande
Max Steiner : The Three Musketeers : Fight behind the Palace
Georg Muffat : Sonata 2, G Major - Sonata
Zoe Keating : Exurgency
Tomaso Albinoni - Adagio
Zoe Keating : Coda

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March 31, 2010

Fathers and their Actors II

by Drew Dir in 2009/2010 Season, The Illusion

In The Illusion, an old man visits a magician in the hope that he will help him locate his estranged son, the son he disowned fifteen years earlier. I asked members of the cast of Illusion to talk about their own fathers, and how they felt about their chosen profession.


    “Papa is a doctor.  Emigrating from overseas set him back nearly ten years thanks to certain discrepancies in institutional prerequisite.  That is, American had a hard time trusting his foreign (though thorough) medical education.  He’s now a rheumatologist with a very successful practice in Florida.  After all that work, it’s understandable that he’d have astronomical expectations of his first-born son.

      “It also makes sense, then, that his and my mother’s journey to acceptance of my vocational choice is still very much in progress.  See, the parameters for success in the culture of the Indo-Pakistani diaspora are very slim.  If you’ve the opportunity to receive higher education, it is generally expected you use it for medical or law studies.  If you haven’t, you can always rely on the storied Indian business sense and acquire a motel, jewelry store, liquor store, etc.  Though these expectations are changing as our people continue to put down roots here, success is mainly measured in means.  Actors have no place in this.  In fact, popular opinion holds actors in very low esteem.  The assumed image ranges from “disingenuous pretenders” to “shameless whores” who expect payment for play.

      “My parents’ initial feelings about my pursuing a life in the arts were nothing if not skeptical.  Through college, they had softened their position, seeing there was some aptitude behind my desire.  And certainly after college, they moved more toward conservatively proud.  But, having been in professional practice for years now, and particularly because of the birth of my son, the financial realities of an actor’s life have reinforced their worry.  All of it comes from a place from intense love, I well know, and considering the derogatory stance of the culture from whence we come, they have traveled an incredibly long way and continue to do so.  Yet, there is a hidden hope in their hearts that I will finally come to my senses.  For the moment, however, I remain lunatic.”


The Illusion runs Wednesday through Sundays at Court Theatre until April 11.

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March 24, 2010

Fathers and their Actors I

by Drew Dir in 2009/2010 Season, The Illusion

In The Illusion, an old man visits a magician in the hope that he will help him locate his estranged son, the son he disowned fifteen years earlier. I asked members of the cast of Illusion to talk about their own fathers, and how they felt about their chosen profession. Here’s just a peek at some of their responses:


      “My father is an international businessman.  He was not too keen on the idea of me studying theatre in college so he made it quite clear that if he was going to be footing the bill, I would have a double major of some kind.  I chose Communication with a focus on journalism and that worked for him.  As my third year was coming to a close I was finding myself struggling to carry two majors that required a great deal of out-of-classroom work and projects.  Luckily, my parents, who came and supported all my acting endeavors in school and beyond, saw a show my third year that really had an impact on my father.  As my mother recalls it: they returned to their hotel room that night and he looked at her and said, “I think she can really do this….did you see how she was affecting everyone around us?”  Within a month he was escorting me to the dean to change communication from a major to a minor.  He has been an advocate of my vocation ever since.”


      “My father is an accountant. He is also an amateur actor, singer, poet, drummer, and part-time Santa Claus. He gave me my first guitar and taught me to play “Stairway to Heaven.” My earliest memories are of sitting in the crying room of a darkened church, listening to my mom and dad practice with the schola. At three I could recite all of “The Music Man” after repeated viewings of a local production starring my mom as Marion and my dad as the quartet tenor.
      “In high school, my dad was an all-star football and baseball player. He always loved to throw a ball around with me on a summer day, and I thought it would break his heart when I quit the team, but he never showed a hint of disappointment. He sold popcorn at every performance of every high school play I ever did. He and my mom still make the drive from Minnesota to see me in everything I do. He never stops letting me know he’s proud of me.
      “Because more than being an accountant, expert griller, and Monty Python fanatic, my dad is an amazing dad.
      “And every performance is dedicated to him.”


      “My father was a small-town businessman. He owned a clothing store. But he also had a creative side. He wrote stories and had a long-standing, unfulfilled dream to own a circus. He loved animals, clowns, sawdust and show people. In fact, my parents met and fell in love doing a Ripon College production of “Death Takes a Holiday.” He was very proud that his acting professor once told him that he was just as good as Spencer Tracy (another Ripon alum). So my interest in acting was always encouraged. He was very supportive when I was accepted to Northwestern and majored in theatre. Unfortunately, he passed away from cancer while I was still in college, so he never saw me act professionally.”


The Illusion runs Wednesday through Sundays at Court Theatre until April 11.
(Make sure to visit this blog next week, where we’ll post even more anecdotes from the cast!)

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March 22, 2010

Is The Illusion a Classic?

by Drew Dir in 2009/2010 Season, The Illusion

Is The Illusion a classic? Is Tony Kushner’s “free translation” of L’Illusion Comique too unfaithful?

One audience member, via their audience feedback form, thinks so:

Fed up with your adaptations. Please do more classic stuff like in the old days.

Our commenter Andrew agrees:

The way the play itself butchered Corneille’s in its pretentiousness was very disappointing.  In the hands of Newell and Kushner Corneille became some kind of sitcom. Especially disappointing was the ending…just read Corneille’s ending and you will understand. I hope the Court will get back at doing Classic theater and stop serving us adaptations and musicals. As it is the Court has lost its true identity!!!

Another audience member liked the play, but thought less of our other shows this season:

First play of the season worth coming to. Classic theater. Be true to your audience. If we want au courant stuff, we’ll go elsewhere.

Yet another audience member put it most succinctly:

NO MORE IRMA VEP.

These remarks come from a small but fiercely loyal section of our audience who sees The Illusion as a return to our core values (or, in Andrew’s case, a disappointing missed opportunity). There’s certainly no arguing that Court’s programming has evolved over our fifty-six year history. Just compare three different seasons across time:

1975:

The Doctor in Spite of Himself by Moliere

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

1997/98:

Tartuffe by Molière

The Philadelphia Story by Philip Barry

Carmen by Prosper Mérimée, adapted by James Robinson

Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene & Giles Havergal

Old Times by Harold Pinter

2009/10:

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom by August Wilson

The Mystery of Irma Vep by Charles Ludlam

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

The Illusion by Pierre Corneille, Freely Translated by Tony Kushner

Sizwe Banzi is Dead by Athol Fugard


These seasons speak to our evolving definition of “classic.” If you compare them to thirty years of syllabi in University of Chicago core humanities classes, you’d likely witness the same evolution. Am I disappointed that we don’t do more Greek Tragedy, more Jacobin Drama, more Shakespeare? Absolutely. However, I’m also grateful that we’ve adopted a more inclusive definition of “classic” that allows us to explore “modern” classics (Sizwe Banzi is Dead), plays that are in dialogue with the classics (The Illusion), and plays we believe should be counted as classics (The Mystery of Irma Vep, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom). The plays in this season have expanded my own opinion about what makes a dramatic text really exceptional, testing my own narrow vision of what I consider to be a classic play.

Occasionally, however, Court will take on a play that cannot by any definition be deemed a classic. Caroline, or Change was one of those plays; so, too, is every play we produce by Tom Stoppard (often mistaken for a Dead White Man). This season, that show was Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, a recent adaptation of a recent bestselling memoir, and an astonishingly powerful piece of text that nevertheless has stood no test of time, no proof of its cultural endurance: it is simply too young of a play. However, while I maintain that The Year of Magical Thinking is not a classic, I also maintain that it was chosen and produced in the spirit of Court Theatre’s mission: it is a play rich in language, timeless in theme, and perfectly suited to our intimate space. Moreover, it was a text that powerfully affected its director, haunted him on a personal level, and proved for him a formidable artistic challenge. Quite often, we are suspected of having cynical or purely commercial reasons for producing non-classic shows, but in fact, it is those shows that often represent the greatest risks for us.

I believe our production of The Illusion is doing what Court Theatre does best: the production of a classic text that interrogates and doesn’t assume, that engages and doesn’t embalm. Even though Kushner hasn’t translated directly any lines of Corneille’s, his adaptation is in close dialogue with the original—and I maintain that his reading of Corneille is playful, insightful, and sheds new light on the original text.

What did you think of The Illusion? And what do you think of our recently announced 2010-11 Season? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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