“I just believe in joy, and I think it’s imperative as theatre artists to bring it to the stage, to hear audiences laugh, and to feel a sense of community through that laughter,” she says.
Director Devon De Mayo has a deep personal history with theatre—her mother worked as a theatre critic in Orange County, California, and she spent much of her childhood watching those performances. She never considered a career in the theatre until a college professor urged her to make the leap.
“I was originally a political science major, but theatre professor Jonathan Tazewell said to me, ‘I don’t know who you’re kidding, but this is where you’re meant to be.’ I feel very lucky, because it’s rare to have someone see something in you and help you make those big life decisions,” she shares. “I realized that he was right, and I thought long and hard about what that meant to me and what role I wanted to play.”
After graduation, Devon moved to Chicago and immediately started investing in the theatre community here. She has directed productions across Chicago, as well as in Mexico, New York, and London. With her diverse experience, she brings a global perspective to her work.
Devon and actor Timothy Edward Kane have teamed up before, and their work together led her to Court. “I worked with Tim on Northlight Theatre’s Lost in Yonkers. It was a wonderful experience and we got along really well. Tim reached out to [Charles Newell, Court’s Marilyn F. Vitale Artistic Director ] and said that I was someone he needed to know.”
While new to Court, Devon is not new to the University of Chicago. She has been a lecturer in the University’s Theater and Performance Studies (TAPS) program since 2012. “I’m thrilled to connect my students with my work. My relationship with the campus and the students made [Court] a natural fit.”
So what kind of challenges and opportunities come with directing a classic comedy like Harvey, which the audience may already be familiar with when they walk through the theatre doors?
“The first opportunity is to reveal the play in a new way and surprise the audience. This play can really do that because it does feel like it’s speaking directly to our time and it feels like it is call out to be performed,” Devon explains. “We also have a few theatrical tricks up our sleeves that may surprise people!”
“The other opportunity we have is to lean into that nostalgia and familiarity, and have the play feel like the comfort of a warm embrace,” she continues. “It’s been thrilling to hear about [Pulitzer prize-winning Harvey playwright] Mary Chase: an amazing woman, writer, and activist who had strong opinions about society and class structure. She wrote the play during World War II, when a lot of women were alone. She encountered a woman grieving over her son killed in the war, and she thought, ‘I want to make that woman laugh, to bring her joy.’ I love that! It’s a lofty and compassionate goal that is completely welcoming.”
“This year I feel particularly lucky, because all of the plays that I’m directing are written by women,” she notes. “From classic American playwright Mary Chase, to a Chicago premiere by New York playwright Jaclyn Backhaus [You On the Moors Now, The Hypocrites], to a brand new play by Sarah Sander [Sycamore, Raven Theatre], spending my year with great women writers has been such a pleasure.”
How does Devon hope this visit with Harvey resonates with you—the audience—in a new way? “I want you to come away reflecting on human kindness. How can we treat each other better? But also, I hope that you leave with a sense of joy.” ■
Photo: Director Devon De Mayo at first rehearsal for Harvey (Joe Mazza).