Thursday, October 6, 2016

REVIEW: Rabe World Premiere, Visiting Edna Personifies TV and Cancer

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Visiting Edna has a slow narrative arc without much action or plot. Still, there are nuggets of dialogue that are pure gold and Debra Monk gives an excellent performance carrying the brunt of the dialogue in what almost amounts to a one woman show. We enjoyed David Rabe's clever construct of personification for both cancer and the TV. This enables some dark humor and inner dialogue with a deadly disease that's amusing yet uniquely disturbing. The TV as constant companion and distraction manages to amplify the loneliness of families scattered by distance and lack of deep communication even when they are together.

Although the rapport is decent between characters, the big reveal about the reason for the rift in the mother/son relationship was anticlimactic. Compared to Rabe's other productions, particularly Good for Otto at The Gift Theatre last season, Visiting Edna is a bit underwhelming, yet still worth a look. Recommended. 

Steppenwolf Theatre Company launches its 41st season, the first curated by Artistic Director Anna D. Shapiro, with the moving and enthralling world premiere of Visiting Edna by renowned American playwright David Rabe (Streamers, Good for Otto). Tony Award winner Anna D. Shapiro (Mary Page Marlowe, August: Osage County) directs this powerful play about the enduring connection between a mother and her son. The cast features Tony and Emmy Award winner Debra Monk as Edna and ensemble member Ian Barford as her son, Andrew. Ensemble members Tim Hopper and Sally Murphy form a supporting trio with Michael Rabe

The production runs through November 6, 2015 in the Downstairs Theatre (1650 N Halsted St). Tickets ($20 - $89) are available through Audience Services at 312-335-1650 and 

Edna has suffered a number of losses as she has aged, and now faces the stealthy advance of cancer embodied by an intimate figure that she could do without. Home for a visit, Edna’s son Andrew tries to bridge the gulf between the childhood love they shared and the aggressively polite but baffling relationship they now live with. Mother and son stumble toward honesty as they wrestle with the distractions–-both mundane and profound—that keep us from real connection. 

“Steppenwolf is thrilled to bring David Rabe back on our stage after last producing his play Streamers in 1985. Mr. Rabe, along with being a lion of the American Theatre, has impacted every generation of Steppenwolf’s ensemble. With his form-pushing narratives and deeply complex character construction, he has, decade by decade, created a sweeping body of work that represents everything Steppenwolf aspires to be: truthful, brave, original and vital,” shares Director Anna D. Shapiro

Visiting Edna marks Mr. Rabe’s 18th play and signals yet another chapter in his own formidable journey as an artist and we are deeply honored that he has chosen Steppenwolf as his partner for this next chapter,” adds Shapiro. 
Visiting Edna features three Steppenwolf ensemble members—Ian Barford, an original cast member of August: Osage County, who performed at Steppenwolf last season in Mary Page Marlowe; Tim Hopper, most recently seen in 2015’s critically acclaimed Between Riverside and Crazy; and Sally Murphy, also an original cast member of August: Osage County, who was last on the Steppenwolf stage in 2012’s Time Stands Still

Debra Monk’s stage accolades include a Tony Award for her performance in Redwood Curtain, an Obie award for The Time of the Cuckoo, two Drama Desk Awards for Curtains and Oil City Symphony, and most recently a 2012 Tony Award nomination for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Monk has appeared in numerous films and television shows, including Devil's Advocate, Center Stage and currently both TV series, Mozart in the Jungle and Mercy Street. Michael Rabe was last seen in The Future is Not What It Was at New York’s Kindling Theatre Company and makes his Steppenwolf debut with Visiting Edna

David Rabe
(Playwright) is an acclaimed American playwright, screenwriter and novelist. He completed his graduate studies in theatre after serving in the army (1965–67), and his experiences as a draftee assigned to a hospital-support unit in Vietnam provided a key influence on his early career as a playwright. Four dramas, later collected in The Vietnam Plays (1993), include his first play, The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel (1971); Sticks and Bones (1972; film 1973), the first of David’s plays to be mounted on Broadway and which won a Tony Award for Best Play; Streamers; and The Orphan (1975), a contemporary reworking of Aeschylus’s Oresteia trilogy. Subsequent plays include In the Boom Boom Room (1975); Goose and Tom Tom; Hurlyburly (1985; film 1998); Those the River Keeps (1991); A Question of Mercy (1998); The Dog Problem (2002); The Black Monk (2004), based on a Chekhov short story; and An Early History of Fire (first performed 2012). Rabe wrote the film adaptations of Streamers and Hurlyburly. He also contributed screenplays for the movies I’m Dancing As Fast As I Can (1982) and Casualties of War (1989). His fiction includes A Primitive Heart (2005), a collection of his short stories and the novels Recital of the Dog (1993); Dinosaurs on the Roof (2008); and Girl by the Road at Night (2010). Most recently, Chicago’s The Gift Theatre produced the world premiere of Good for Otto in 2015 to critical acclaim. 

Anna D. Shapiro (Director) has directed many notable productions with Steppenwolf, including most recently Mary Page Marlowe by ensemble member Tracy Letts. She won the 2008 Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards for Best Director August: Osage County, also by Letts. In 2011 she received a Tony Award nomination for her direction of The Motherf**ker with the Hat, which she also directed at Steppenwolf. Broadway credits include Larry David’s Fish in the Dark, the revival of Steppenwolf’s production of This Is Our Youth and the Broadway revival of Of Mice and Men, which National Theatre Live selected as the first American production to be broadcast to over 700 cinemas across the US and Canada. Additional Steppenwolf directing credits include A Parallelogram, Up, The Unmentionables, The Pain and the Itch (also at Playwrights Horizons), Tracy Letts’s Man from Nebraska, (named by TIME Magazine as one of the Year’s Top Ten of 2003), Side Man (also in Ireland, Australia and Colorado), among others. She is a graduate of the Yale School of Drama and Columbia College and the recipient of a 1996 Princess Grace Award, as well as the 2010 Princess Grace Statue Award. Shapiro began working with Steppenwolf in 1995 as the original director of the New Plays Lab, joined the ensemble in 2005 and became Artistic Director at the start of the 2015/16 Season. 

Visiting Edna by David Rabe opens 41st season (Sept 15 – Nov 6) Page 3 of 4 
Visiting Edna production team includes David Zinn (scenic design), Linda Roethke (costume design), Marcus Doshi (lighting design), Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen (original music and sound design). Additional credits include Jonathan Berry (artistic producer), JC Clementz and Tam Dickson (casting) and Christine D. Freeburg (stage manager) and Brian Maschka (assistant stage manager). 

Single tickets
to Visiting Edna are available through Audience Services (1650 N Halsted St), 312-335-1650 and Regular Run: $20 – $89. Prices subject to change. 20 for $20: twenty $20 tickets are available beginning at 11am on the day of each performance (1pm for Sunday performances). Rush Tickets: half-price rush tickets are available one hour before each show. Student Discounts: a limited number of $15 student tickets are available online. Limit 2 tickets per student; must present a valid student ID for each 
ticket. Group Tickets: all groups of 10 or more receive a discounted rate for any performance throughout the season, 

Subscriptions: Season Subscriptions available through mid-October for audiences who like to lock in dates and secure seats in advance. Black and Red Card Memberships: Card memberships are for audiences interested in extreme flexibility with six tickets for use any time for any production. The credits are valid for one year with the option to add additional credits as needed. Perks include easy and free exchanges, access to seats before the general public, savings on single ticket prices and bar and restaurant discounts for pre- and post-show socializing. To purchase a 2016/17 Subscription or Membership, visit Audience Services at 1650 N Halsted St, call 312-335-1650 or visit
Accessible Performances include Sunday, October 16 at 7:30pm (ASL Interpretation); Saturday, October 29 at 3pm (Open-captioned); Sunday, October 30 1:30pm touch tour with 3pm audio-described performance. 
Full performance schedule included at end of the release. Curtain Times are Tuesdays through Sundays at 7:30pm; Saturday and Sunday matinees at 3pm; Wednesday matinees at 2pm on October 19, October 26, and November 2. 

Lead support for Visiting Edna is provided by the Laurents/Hatcher Foundation and Northern Trust is the Corporate Production Sponsor. 
Major support for Steppenwolf’s New Play Development Initiative is provided by The Davee Foundation and the Zell Family Foundation. 

2016/17 SEASON 
Steppenwolf’s 2016/17 Season also includes the world premiere of The Fundamentals by Erika Sheffer, directed by ensemble member Yasen Peyankov (November 10 – December 23, 2016); the Chicago premiere of The Christians by Lucas Hnath, directed by ensemble member K. Todd Freeman (December 1, 2016 – January 29, 2017); the Chicago premiere of Straight White Men, written and directed by Young Jean Lee (February 2 – March 19, 2017); the world premiere of Linda Vista by ensemble member Tracy Letts, directed by Dexter Bullard (March 30 – May 21, 2017); and the Chicago premiere of Hir by Taylor Mac, directed by Hallie Gordon 

Steppenwolf Theatre Company is America’s longest standing, most distinguished ensemble theater, producing nearly 700 performances and events annually in its three Chicago theater spaces—the 515-seat Downstairs Theatre, the 299-seat Upstairs Theatre and the 80-seat 1700 Theatre. Formed in 1976 by a collective of actors, Steppenwolf has grown into an ensemble of 46 actors, writers and directors. Artistic programming includes a seven-play season; a two-play Steppenwolf for Young Adults season; Visiting Company engagements; and LookOut, a new multidisciplinary performance series. While firmly grounded in the Chicago community, nearly 40 original Steppenwolf productions have enjoyed success both nationally and internationally, including Broadway, Off-Broadway, London, Sydney, Galway and Dublin. Steppenwolf has the distinction of receiving the National Medal of Arts, in addition to numerous other prestigious honors including an Illinois Arts Legend Award and 12 Tony Awards. Anna D. Shapiro is the Artistic Director and David Schmitz is the Executive Director. Nora Daley is Chair of Steppenwolf’s Board of Trustees. 

For additional information, visit, and 

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