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20/20 Vision: Looking Back at 20 Years of Classic Theatre

As 2020 wraps up, we’re using this time to reflect on the past 20 years of Court’s work. If you’re feeling nostalgic or want to see how Court has developed in the past years, peruse our 2000-2020 review below! It was difficult to narrow it down, but we made sure to highlight some of the most memorable productions from the last two decades!

1999/00

Desire Under the Elms by Eugene O’Neill

Co-produced with Philadelphia’s Freedom Theatre (one of the leading professional African-American theatres in the country) Desire Under the Elms was directed by Freedom’s Artistic Director, Walter Dallas, and moved to Philadelphia following its Chicago run. Mr. Dallas transported the action of the play from New England in 1850 to 1930’s Georgia for a Southern and multicultural exploration of O’Neill’s classic. Variety wrote of the revival: “This resonant idea is itself sufficient to make the production intriguing.”

2000/01

Photo of Paxton Whitehead by Michael Brosilow.

The Invention of Love by Tom Stoppard

Staged from September to October, our production was directed by Charles Newell and starred actors such as Paxton Whitehead, Guy Adkins, Maury Cooper, and Lance Stuart Baker, among many talented others. The play follows A.E. Housman, an aged poet and classics scholar through his lifelong, though unrealized, love affair with a fellow Oxford student. Housman is best known for his poetry collection A Shropshire Lad. Court’s production was the Midwest premiere of Stoppard’s 1997 play. Revisit production photos here!

2001/02

Photo of Guy Adkins and John Reeger by Michael Brosilow.

Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Featuring Guy Adkins as Hamlet, Marilyn F. Vitale Artistic Director Charles Newell’s visceral production of Shakespeare’s famous tragedy about the Prince of Denmark was heralded for its bold direction as a “performance that pulls you in and doesn’t let go” (Newcity Stage). Newell has made a reputation for his aggressive takes on Shakespearean works, and his production of Hamlet perfectly illustrated why.

Also Noteworthy: My Fair Lady by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe.

This intimate, stripped-down performance highlighted the classic Shavian text underpinning the buoyant musical and was praised for its leading performances, including work by Kate Fry and Kevin Gudahl. Explore photos of Hamlet and My Fair Lady.

2002/03

Photo of Deanna Dunagan and Sara Minton by Michael Brosilow.

James Joyce’s “The Dead” by Richard Nelson and Shaun Davey

Staged from November to December, our production was directed by Charles Newell, alongside music director Jeff Lewis and actors like John Reeger, Hollis Resnik, and many talented others. In this lauded musical,a familiar song reignites memories of unfulfilled possibilities amongst a gathering of family and friends celebrating the turn of the 20th century. Our production was the Chicago premiere of this incredible musical, which we went on to revive again in the 2003/2004 season and in 2012. View photos from the memorable production here!

2003/04

Photo of Janice Felty and Eugene Perry by Michael Brosilow.

The Sound of a Voice by Philip Glass and David Henry Hwang

Staged from September to November, our production was directed by Robert Woodruff, in association with American Repertory Theatre. The Sound of a Voice is a musical theatre piece inspired by Japanese ghost stories and explores how intimacy is achieved between people who live in seclusion. Peruse production photos here!

2004/05

Photo of Barbara E. Robertson, Kevin Gudahl, Whitney Snead and Lance Stuart Baker by Michael Brosilow.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee

Praised as a “ferocious triumph, shaped and galvanized by the meticulous and daring direction of Charles Newell,” Court Theatre’s production of Edward Albee’s funhouse masterpiece starred Barbara E. Robertson and Kevin Gudahl in an unforgettable take on this classic American drama. Combining banality with both the vulgar and the poetic, Newell’s production was a harrowing rollercoaster ride from start to finish. Check out photos of the production here.

2005/06

Photo of Jacqueline Williams, A.C. Smith, and John Steven Crowley by Michael Brosilow.

Fences by August Wilson

Staged from January to February, Fences was directed by Ron OJ Parson and starred A.C. Smith, Jacqueline Williams, and many other talented artists. The production kicked off Court’s endeavor to stage all plays in Wilson’s Century Cycle, and garnered a total of four Jeff Awards, including Best Production – Plaay. The modern classic follows Troy Maxson, a former star of the Negro Baseball Leagues and now am embittered garbage collector, who is coming to terms with his lost dreams and struggling to keep his family together. It explores the relationship between father and son as well, examining boundaries in personal relationships as well as the lived experience of going against larger obstacles put in place by a prejudiced society. Revisit photos from the moving production here.

Also Noteworthy: Man of La Mancha by Dale Wasserman, Mitch Leigh, and Jo Darion

Staged by Charles Newell, Court’s production of Man of La Mancha was another favorite at the Jeff Awards, receiving six total awards, including Best Production – Musical. Featuring performances by Herbert Perry, Hollis Resnik, and Neil Friedman, among others, this musical take on Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote was praised “a powerful, audacious and heart-felt piece of work that rescues ‘La Mancha’ from eternal light-opera oblivion” by the Chicago Tribune. After an acclaimed run at Court Theatre, the production moved to the Long Wharf Theatre in Connecticut in February 2007. View photos from the production here.

2006/07

Photo of Mary Beth Fisher and Keith Gallagher by Michael Brosilow.

Arcadia by Tom Stoppard

Staged from May to June, our production was directed by Charles Newell such talents as Mary Beth Fisher, Gregory Anderson, Erik Hellman, Raymond Fox, and more. This play follows two sets of people, separated by nearly two centuries, who are in the same room of an English estate and are facing similar conundrums. Stoppard merges mathematics, literature, the chaos theory, human concerns, and humor in this masterpiece. View photos from the production here.

Also Noteworthy: Flyin’ West by Pearl Cleage

Resident Artist Ron OJ Parson’s production of Pearl Cleage’s Flyin’ West shone a spotlight on the power of community and Black women. Set in 1898, the lives of a small group of African American women change as they leave the oppressive South for the West where they settle together in the all-black town of Nicodemus, Kansas. At its heart, the production explored the universal themes of determination, feminism, pride, and freedom. Relive the performance by viewing production photos here.

2007/08

Photo of the cast of THE FIRST BREEZE OF SUMMER by Michael Brosilow.

The First Breeze of Summer by Leslie Lee

Despite being nominated for a Tony Award and an Obie Award, this rarely seen play featured an impressive cast of twelve actors and told an intergenerational story about an African-American family. Heralded for the chemistry of its cast, Resident Artist Ron OJ Parson’s production was noted by the Chicago Tribune for the way Parson was  energetically reviving a period drama that very few Chicagoans have seen before” and embracing “its florid, middle-brow, flashback-laced style, layering this unusual but provocative revival with lush music and filling the fake tree on Jack Magaw’s romantic setting with shimmers of sensual light.” View photos from the production here.

2008/09

Photo of Byron Glenn Willis and E. Faye Butler by Michael Brosilow.

Caroline or, Change by Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori

Staged from September to October, this poignant musical was directed by Charles Newell, with music direction by Douglas Peck. It starred E. Faye Butler, Melanie Brazill, and Kate Fry, among numerous other artists in the talented cast. The lay takes place during the civil rights movement and after JFK’s death. It is a deeply personal story, following 8-year-old Noah and the spare change that symbolizes more than coins for Caroline, an African-American housekeeper working in a Louisiana laundry room in 1963. It blends blues, gospel, and traditional Jewish melodies in its score. Peruse photos and videos from the captivating production!

Also Noteworthy: The Piano Lesson by August Wilson

Staged from May to June, our production was directed by Ron OJ Parson and starred such talents as A.C. Smith, Tyla Abercrumbie, amongst many others. This 1987 play is the fourth play written for Wilson’s Century Cycle. Set in 1930s Pittsburgh, it features two siblings in a war of wills over what to do with an inherited piano. Their battle brings forth themes of connection to one’s ancestors, self-worth, and identity. Revisit videos and photos from this remarkable production! 

2009/10

Photo of the cast of MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM by Michael Brosilow.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom by August Wilson

Staged from September to October, this production was directed by Ron OJ Parson and starred Greta Oglesby, Kelvin Roston, Jr., and James T. Alfred, among others. Set in the 1920s, it is the only play in the Cycle to be set in the South Side of Chicago instead of Pittsburgh. A recording session for blues legend Ma Rainey and her band becomes a battle of wills that explores themes of white oppression. View videos and photos from the stunning production!

Also Noteworthy: The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Written by Joan Didion, starring Mary Beth Fisher, and directed by Charles Newell, this one-woman play adapted from Didion’s own memoir as a fiercely intelligent exploration of loss. As performed by Fisher, the play was, in the Chicago Sun-Times’ words, “nothing short of hypnotic.” View production photos or a video from the play.

2010/11

Photo of the cast of PORGY & BESS by Michael Brosilow.

Porgy & Bess by George Gershwin, Dubose and Dorothy Heyward, and Ira Gershwin

Staged from May to June, this production was directed by Charles Newell, with music direction by Doug Peck and artistic counseling from Ron OJ Parson. It starred talents like Todd M. Kryger, Alexis Rogers, James Earl Jones II, and Kelvin Roston, Jr., among others. This retelling of an often contested piece of music theater is a folk opera that depicts the lives of African Americans in South Carolina in the early part of the 20th century. Videos, photos, and more from this ground-breaking production can be found here!

Also Noteworthy: Home by Samm-Art Williams

Staged from November to December, this production was directed by Ron OJ Parson, starring Kamal Angelo Bolden, Ashley Honore, and Tracey Bonner. This play, originally produced by the Negro Ensemble Company in 1981, is an enduring story of hope and resiliency told against the backdrop of political and social upheavals of the 1960s and 70s. View production photos here and videos here to be once again immersed in the brilliant performances!

2011/12

Photo of Timothy Edward Kane by Michael Brosilow.

An Iliad by Denis O’Hare and Lisa Peterson

Staged from November to December, this production was directed by Charles Newell and starred Timothy Edward Kane in the role of the Poet. The play retells the story of Homer’s The Iliad through the perspective of the unnamed Poet and delivers a searing critique of war. It was our first revival of the play after its initial performance in 2011. The play would again be staged by Court, in partnership with the Oriental Institute, in 2020. See photos from the remarkable 2013 production here!

Also Noteworthy: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, adapted to stage by Oren Jacoby

Staged from January to February, this world premiere of Jacoby’s adaptation of Ellison’s landmark novel was directed by Christopher McElroen. The play starred such talents as Teagle F. Bougere, Lance Stuart Baker, A.C. Smith, among many others. It marked the first Chicago appearance by award-winning NYC director McElroen. Revisit the incredible production by perusing production photos and videos here!

2012/13

Photo of Chaon Cross and Erik Hellman by Michael Brosilow.

Proof by David Auburn

Featuring a powerhouse performance by Chaon Cross and direction by Charles Newell, Court’s production of David Auburn’s drama brought the Pulitzer Prize-winning play back to its Hyde Park roots. With actors like Kevin Gudahl, Erik Hellman, and Megan Kohl rounding out the cast, this play about a mathematician struggling with mental illness was praised as a “revelatory new take” on the play. View production photos and videos here.

Also Noteworthy: Jitney by August Wilson

Staged from September to October, this production was directed by Ron OJ Parson and starred Caren Blackmore, Kamal Angelo Bolden, Allen Gilmore, and many other talented artists. The play follows workers at an unlicensed jitney station in 1997 Pittsburgh. Explore videos and production photos of the memorable production here!

2013/14

Photo of David Alan Anderson and Lisa Beasley by Michael Brosilow.

The Moutaintop by Katori Hall

Resident Artist Ron OJ Parson’s production of Katori Hall’s play about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was such a hit that it extended its initial run. Starring David Alan Anderson and Lisa Beasley, Parson got to the heart and humanity of Hall’s play, which The Daily Telegraph called “a beautiful and startling piece.” With stunning performances and a touch of magic, this production is one that won’t soon be forgotten. Check out photos and videos of the play here.

Also Noteworthy: Seven Guitars by August Wilson

Staged from January to February, this production was directed by Ron OJ Parson and starred such talents as Allen Gilmore, Felicia P. Fields, and Kelvin Roston, Jr. , among others. This installment of the Century Cycle takes place in the backyard of a Pittsburgh tenement, where six characters mourn the missing seventh, Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton, who died just before reaching fame as a blues guitarist. View production photos here and videos here.

2014/15

Photo of Tracey Bonner and Jerod Haynes by Michael Brosilow.

Native Son by Richard Wright, adapted for the stage by Nambi E. Kelley

Staged from September to October, Kelley’s adaptation of Wright’s iconic novel was directed by Seret Scott and starred Jerod Haynes, Tracey Bonner, and Nora Fiffer, among many other talented artists. Court co-produced the world premiere of this stage adaptation with American Blues Theater. Videos, production photos, and more can be found here

Also Noteworthy: The Good Book by Denis O’Hare and Lisa Peterson
Written by Denis O’Hare and Lisa Peterson (and directed by Lisa Peterson), the world premiere of The Good Book is one of the most ambitious projects Court has ever commissioned. Exploring faith, divine inspiration, and the Bible, The Good Book traversed a diverse array of time periods and continents, spanning ancient Mesopotamia to medieval Ireland to suburban America. Beyond the premieres of these two commissions, the 2014/15 season will also be remembered for Iphigenia in Aulis kicking off The Greek Cycle. View photos of The Good Book here.

2015/16

Photo of Jerod Haynes, Jacqueline Williams, Tyla Abercrumbie, and A.C. Smith by Michael Brosilow.

Gem of the Ocean by August Wilson

Staged from September to October, this production was directed by Ron OJ Parson and starred Jacqueline Williams, Jerod Haynes, A.C. Smith, and Alfred H. Wilson, among many others. This installment of the Century Cycle features Aunt Ester guiding a steelworker on a spiritual journey to the mythical City of Bones. Photos and video clips from the production can be found here.

Also Noteworthy: Satchmo at the Waldorf  by Terry Teachout
Court’s Midwest premiere production of Terry Teachout’s Satchmo at the Waldorf starred Barry Shabaka Henley as Louis Armstrong, arguably the greatest trumpet player of all time. Fresh from its Off-Broadway premiere and in conjunction with the Louis Armstrong Festival which brought together performing arts, visual arts, music, and more to introduce the community to “Satchmo” and his legacy through a full artistic experience, Satchmo will long be remembered for Barry Shabaka Henley’s virtuoso performance.

2016/17

Photo of Sean Parris, Celeste M. Cooper, James Vincent Meredith, and Toya Turner by Michael Brosilow.

Blues for an Alabama Sky by Pearl Cleage

Winning the Jeff Award for Best Play and Best Director, Resident Artist Ron OJ Parson’s critically-acclaimed production of Blues for an Alabama Sky was notable for being “filled with life, exuberance and plenty of laughs” (Chicago Tribune). Playwright Pearl Cleage’s striking story encounters very modern problems in a fantastically lively 1920s Harlem, with the play serving as the centerpiece for a Chicago celebration of the music, art, language, and impact of the Harlem Renaissance.

Also Noteworthy: Man in the Ring by Michael Cristoffer

Staged from September to October, this production was directed by Charles Newell and starred such talents as Kamal Angelo Bolden, Allen Gilmore, Jacqueline Williams, and Melanie Brezill, among others. The play, based on the true story of world champion boxer Emile Griffith, explored Griffith’s life in the U.S. Virgin Islands and his infamous match with his archrival, Benny “Kid” Paret. Court’s production was the world premiere of the play. Cristoffer’s work went on to have a successful production in Boston as well. For videos, photos, and more on this exceptional production, visit here.

2017/18

Photo of Darrian Ford, Lorenzo Rush, Jr., James Earl Jones II, Kelvin Roston, Jr., and Eric A. Lewis by Michael Brosilow.

Five Guys Named Moe by Clarke Peters, featuring Louis Jordan’s Hits

Directed by Resident Artist Ron OJ Parson with Associate Director Felicia P. Fields, Five Guys Named Moe is a lively musical tribute to the hit songs of saxophonist and songwriter Louis Jordan. Praised for the warmth and exuberance of its all-star cast, this musical extended due to popular demand. Featuring the familiar faces of such Chicago actors as James Earl Jones II, Darrian Ford, Lorenzo Rush, Jr., Kelvin Roston, Jr., Eric A. Lewis, and Stephen Allen, just reading about the production again may get your toe tapping!

Also Noteworthy: All My Sons by Arthur Miller

Charles Newell’s stark and blistering production of Arthur Miller’s American drama couldn’t be more different from Five Guys Named Moe but is no-less memorable. Featuring powerful performances from John Judd, Kate Collins, and Timothy Edward Kane, among others, Newell’s production clearly demonstrated why All My Sons  established playwright Arthur Miller as an American theater icon, winning the 1947 Drama Critics’ Award for Best New Play. 

2018/19

Photo of Allen Gilmore and James Vincent Meredith by Michael Brosilow.

Radio Golf by August Wilson, Manual Cinema’s Frankenstein, Photograph 51 by Anna Ziegler, For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozake Shange, and The Adventures of Augie March by David Auburn

After reading over our full season from 2018/19, we think you’ll agree that it’s an impossible task to choose just one or two productions to highlight from the year! Resident Artist Ron OJ Parson kicked us off with a prescient production of August Wilson’s Radio Golf, while Manual Cinema kept the momentum going with their world premiere production of Frankenstein, adapted from the novel by Mary Shelley. From there, 2019 began with Vanessa Stalling’s production of Photograph 51, a drama about the scientist Rosalind Franklin and her role in discovering DNA’S double helix structure. Seret Scott then staged a sold-out production of Ntozake Shange’s seminal work, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow is Enuf, adding an eighth woman to the ensemble played by Melody Angel who imbued the play with live music. Our 2018/19 season culminated in the world premiere of The Adventures of Augie March, adapted from the novel by Saul Bellow by Pulitzer Prize winner, David Auburn and directed by Charles Newell in a visually stunning, three-act production. As the Chicago Tribune noted, 2018/19 was truly a “four-star season.” 

2019/20

The cast of OEDIPUS REX by Michael Brosilow.

Without the conclusion of our 2019/20 season, it doesn’t quite seem fair to pick one play above the rest. As such, we chose to highlight each of the three productions that were a part of our season, while honoring the artists involved with our canceled productions of Henrik Ibsen’s The Lady from the Sea and William Shakespeare’s Othello.

King Hedley II by August Wilson

Staged from September to October, the production was directed by Ron OJ Parson and starred Kelvin Roston, Jr., TayLar, Kierra Bunch, and A.C. Smith, amongst many other talented artists. It follows the story of King Hedley II, a man who tries to piece his life back together in 1980s Pittsburgh after seven years in prison. Videos, photos, and more from the searing production can be found here.

Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, translated by Nicholas Rudall

Staged from November to December, the production was directed by Charles Newell and starred Kelvin Roston, Jr. as Oedipus, Kate Collins as Jocasta, and Timothy Edward Kane as Creon, among many talented artists in other roles. Videos, photos, and more from this immersive production can be found here.

The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie

Staged from January to February, this production was directed by Sean Graney and starred Kate Fry, Alex Goodrich, Erik Hellman, and Allen Gilmore, among others. It was our last in-person production before the onset of lockdowns from the COVID-19 pandemic. Videos and photos from the exuberant staging can be found here.

Despite this year’s challenges, Court has grown and adapted. We appreciate the support of our patrons, the University, and the surrounding Hyde Park community. We look forward to a new year of brilliant theatre in various forms, from virtual to in-person, and are thrilled by the opportunity to continue creating and sharing our art with you.

Posted on December 18, 2020 in Productions

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