Monday, May 18, 2015

EXTENDED: Piven Theatre Workshop's Melancholy Play: a chamber musical through 6/21 #Review #GuestPost

Piven Theatre Workshop extends Melancholy Play: a chamber musical through June 21, 2015

Playwright Sarah Ruhl to conduct post-show talk-backs June 18 and 21; Ruhl and composer Todd Almond return for Poetry Foundation conversation, June 24   

In this lighthearted farce, bank teller Tilly’s (Stephanie Stockstill) melancholy is of an exquisite quality. She turns her melancholy into a sexy thing, and every stranger she meets falls in love with her. One day, inexplicably, Tilly becomes happy, and wreaks havoc on the lives of her paramours, while Frances, Tilly’s hairdresser, becomes so melancholy that she turns into an almond. It is up to Tilly to get her back. Other members of the Equity production include Chris Ballou (Frank, a tailor who deeply loves Tilly’s melancholia); Lauren Paris (Frances, her hairdresser); Emily Grayson (Joan, the helpless nurse who watches her girlfriend Frances devolve into a nut), and Ryan Lanning (Lorenzo, Tilly’s eccentric therapist from an undetermined European country).  

Guest Post by Flo Mano- Exclusive to ChiIL Live Shows

"Melancholy  play" is an opera worthy musical. Four strings and a piano, come alive as Tilly, is "melancholy" and sees her European "happy" therapist, who has a "transference" on her.
And that starts the "Amelie" like happenstance of happy go lucky with a twist of "almonds". When her path crosses the tailor, who makes daily visits to the bank where she works, they fall in love. Then a hairstylist falls for Tilly, as does her lesbian nurse lover. To the dismay of the psychotherapist, she informs him that she no longer needs his services, because she's happy and leaves him a few hair strands he'd asked her for. So, this strange, outlandish farce takes us through a journey of Tilly becoming "not melancholy", but the now happy Tilly brings despair on those who love her, want her, and fight over her. 

In this utterly unique show, Tilly’s hairdresser gets so distraught, taking a downward emotional plunge, she literally turns into an "almond", A REAL ALMOND! Now her morphing brings sadness to her friends, for her altered state, and the "tears" that brought on the transformation. Yet her friends are not hopelessness or helpless as they band together in their quest to retrieve and reverse, discovering hidden secrets of the past that bond them even more.

So this surrealistic story swerves and spirals, twists and turns, and audiences following the course are anything but melancholy. Recommended.

Piven Theatre Workshop will extend performances of the critically-acclaimed Melancholy Play: a chamber musical by Tony™-nominated playwright Sarah Ruhl, with music by prolific New York composer Todd Almond and direction by Polly Noonan. The production will continue through Sunday, June 21, at Piven Theatre Workshop, 927 Noyes Street in Evanston.  The new musical was originally scheduled to close June 7.

The Piven Theatre Workshop is also pleased to announce that Melancholy Play playwright (and Piven alumna and longtime supporter) Sarah Ruhl returns to the Piven stage for post-show “talk- backs” on both Thursday evening, June 18, and Sunday afternoon, June 21.  She will be joined by the cast, plus members of the creative team on the 18th, and Piven Theatre Workshop Founder Joyce Piven on the 21st. 

Also of note, immediately following the run of Melancholy Play, Ruhl and Almond will discuss their collaboration and the transformation of Ruhl's original text with Almond’s music at the Poetry Foundation, 61 West Superior Street, Chicago, Wednesday evening, June 24, at 7 p.m.  This program is free and open to the public. For more information about this free public program at the Poetry Foundation, please visit:

Sarah Ruhl’s Melancholy Play had its world premiere in 2002 at Piven Theatre Workshop and starred Noonan in the lead role as Tilly.  A decade later, Ruhl teamed up with Almond and developed Melancholy Play as a new chamber musical.  It was workshopped in 2012 via 13p in Brooklyn, and returned to Piven Theatre Workshop for its Midwest Premiere. It will have its official World Premiere at Trinity Rep Theater in Providence, RI, on May 28, 2015.

Noonan, director of the highly acclaimed production of The Language Archive last year at Piven, returns to helm the show she once starred in over a decade ago. 

The designers of Melancholy Play: a chamber musical are Jacob Watson (set), Rachel Levy (lighting), Alex Palma (sound), Stephanie Cluggish (costumes), and Austin Kopsa (properties). Musical Direction is by Aaron Benham.

About the Playwright:

Sarah Ruhl’s plays include In the Next Room, or the vibrator play (Pulitzer Prize finalist, Tony Award nominee for best new play), The Clean House (Pulitzer Prize Finalist, 2005; The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, 2004); Passion Play, a cycle (Pen American award, The Fourth Freedom Forum Playwriting Award from The Kennedy Center); Dead Man’s Cell Phone (Helen Hayes award); Melancholy Play; Eurydice; Orlando, Demeter in the City (NAACP nomination), Late: a cowboy song, Three Sisters, and most recently, Stage Kiss, The Oldest Boy, and Dear ElizabethMelancholy Play, Eurydice, Orlando, Three Sisters, and Late: a cowboy song have all been produced at Piven Theatre Workshop.

About the Composer:

Writer/performer Todd Almond’s work includes the World Premiere of IOWA, an original musical play with playwright Jenny Schwartz and director Ken Rus Schmoll, officially opening at Playwrights Horizons, April 13, 2015.  Other theatrical credits include original music for Ruhl’s Stage Kiss, also at Playwrights Horizons; original music and lyrics for the Public Theater/Public Works’ The Tempest at the Delacorte, in which Almond also starred as Ariel; original book for Girlfriend (music and lyrics by Matthew Sweet) at Actors Theater and Berkeley Rep; original music and lyrics for On the Levee at LCT3; original music and lyrics for Yale Rep’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle; original music and lyrics for The Odyssey at the Old Globe in San Diego; and original music and lyrics for Kansas City Choir Boy, performed by Almond with rock icon Courtney Love as part of the Prototype Festival.

About Piven Theatre Workshop:
With Melancholy Play: a chamber musical, Piven Theatre Workshop continues its ongoing mission of premiering original works, and its history of celebrating the emerging voices of women. Piven Theatre Workshop has excelled as a leader in the arts community for 44 years, maintaining a distinguished legacy in the training of children and adults in the theatre arts. Annually, between onsite and off-site programming, the theatre trains over 1,000 students, provides approximately $30,000 in need-based scholarships, and maintains a professional theatre and numerous outreach programs throughout the Chicago area.

Performance schedule & tickets:
Melancholy Play: a chamber musical will be performed at the Piven Theatre Workshop, 927 Noyes Street, Evanston, through June 21, 2015. The performance schedule is: Thursday, Friday & Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday afternoons at 2:30 p.m.  Tickets are priced from $20-$35, and are available at the box office, by calling 847-866-8049, or online at

Monday, May 4, 2015

OPENING: THE LITTLE FOXES at The Goodman Theatre 5/2-6/7/15




Greed and familial betrayal is at the darkly comic heart of The Little Foxes by Tony Award-winning playwright Lillian Hellman—“an expertly constructed, grippingly paced plot machine that pits good against evil and lets evil win” (The New York Times). Artistic Associate Henry Wishcamper directs the classic 1939 play about wealth’s corrupting power—one of Hellman’s most notable works, which was adapted into a 1941 film starring Bette Davis—centering on the Hubbard family’s ruthless pursuit in the South’s post-bellum economic slump. The Little Foxes appears May 2 – June 7 in the Albert Theatre (opening night is Monday, May 11). Tickets ($25-$81; subject to change) are on sale now at, by phone at 312.443.3800 or at the box office (170 North Dearborn). The Goodman Theatre Women’s Board is the Major Production Sponsor, Ernst & Young LLP and Interactive Health are the Corporate Sponsor Partners and Towers Watson is the Opening Night Sponsor for The Little Foxes.

“The Little Foxes is a vivacious, bitingly funny American drama whose central idea—that greed can rot community, family and human beings—transcends the decades that separate us from Hellman’s characters,” said Artistic Director Robert Falls. “Henry has demonstrated an affinity and dexterity with previous classic stage works, including Charles Dickens and August Strindberg, and I’m excited for him to sink his teeth into this juicy masterwork.”

A 10-member all-star Chicago cast brings the rapacious Hubbard clan to life. Shannon Cochran, Larry Yando and Steve Pickering portray the well-to-do siblings Regina, Ben and Oscar Hubbard, who aim to compound their family fortune by opening an industrialized cotton mill in their small southern town. The venture, however, will prove impossible without the financial support of Horace (John Judd), Regina’s dying husband. In an attempt to secure the money, Oscar initially suggests Leo (Dan Waller), his son with his troubled wife Birdie (Mary Beth Fisher), marry Regina’s and Horace’s daughter Alexandra (Rae Gray). When Horace refuses to endorse the marriage, an explosive series of betrayals shatters the Hubbard clan’s genteel façade and exposes their merciless intentions. Rounding out the cast is Michael Canavan as William Marshall; Cherene Snow as Addie; and Dexter Zollicoffer as Cal. The creative team includes Todd Rosenthal (set), Jenny Mannis (costumes), David Lander (lighting) and Richard Woodbury (sound). Joseph Drummond is the production stage manager and Neena Arndt is the dramaturg.

As a complement to the production, the Goodman presents a reading of Another Part of the Forest—the play Hellman wrote as a prequel to The Little Foxes and a work the theater previously produced in its 1956/1957 season. This one-time special event takes place on Saturday, May 16 at 2pm at the Goodman. Tickets are free but reservations are required via the Goodman box office (contact information above).

Though a work of fiction, the environs The Little Foxes depicts were part of Tony Award-winning playwright Lillian Hellman’s (1905 – 1984) formative years. Born into a successful southern family in New Orleans, Hellman spent her childhood shuttling between the South and New York City and later attended New York University and Columbia University. Blacklisted after refusing to sign a loyalty clause with Columbia Pictures, she was summoned to testify in front of the House of Un-American Activities Committee in 1951, but refused to plead the fifth amendment or deny her brief involvement with the Communist party. She memorably delivered a statement in which she wrote, “I was raised in an old-fashioned American tradition…to try to tell the truth, not to bear false witness, not to harm my neighbor, to be loyal to my country… I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions.”

Hellman’s celebrated works include The Children’s Hour, Watch on the Rhine, Another Part of the Forest, The Autumn Garden, Toys in the Attic (Tony Award), My Mother, My Father and Me, Montserrat, The Searching Wind and Days to Come. She also won a Tony Award for the book of the musical Candide. Her many accolades include the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, the Gold Medal for Drama from the National Institute of Arts and Letters and the National Book Award for her memoir, An Unfinished Woman. She also subsequently wrote two more volumes of her memoirs, Pentimento: A Book of Portraits and Scoundrel Time.

EVENTS AND SPECIAL PERFORMANCES (Contact the Goodman Theatre Box Office for tickets/reservations)

May 10, Artist Encounter with Director Henry Wishcamper, 5pm discussion ($5; FREE for Subs/Donors/students)
May 13, College Night – 6pm pre-show pizza party, 7:30pm show ($10 promo COLLEGE w/valid student ID)
May 13, Sign Interpreted performance, 7:30pm; a professional ASL interpreter signs the action/text as performed
May 16, Reading of Another Part of the Forest, 2pm; Lillian Hellman’s prequel play to The Little Foxes
May 14 and 19, Student Matinee Performances, 11am (free for students in the Student Subscription Series)
May 20, Audio Described Performance, 7:30pm; the action/text is audibly enhanced via a special headset  
June 6, Open-Captioned Performance, 2pm; an LED sign presents dialogue in sync with the performance
May 15, 22 and 29, June 5, PlayTalks – Pre-show discussions with members of the Goodman’s Artistic Staff
Every Wednesday and Thursday evening, PlayBacks – Discussions with actors immediately following the show 

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