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Rivendell Theatre Ensemble's
World Premiere of
by Madison Fiedler
directed by Georgette Verdin
featuring RTE members Rae Gray, Artistic Director Tara Mallen
and Krystel McNeil with Spencer Huffman
by Cath Hellmann
If you’re thinking, “Oh, I'd love to see a play about a drug addict who wreaks havoc on her family!” Yes, good times…Here is your chance! Even though it sounds like a Debbie Downer kind of evening, Rivendell’s new play called “SPAY” is actually an interesting, thought-provoking night at the theater with great acting.
Krystel McNeil, Rae Gray
Photo credit for all: Michael Brosilow
The play occurs in 2019 in West Virginia. We see kindergarten teacher Harper (Krystel McNeil) in her house (an impressive set by Lindsay Mummert), who must come to the rescue of her addict half-sister Noah (Rae Gray) once again. Harper is always picking up the pieces left broken and scattered by Noah and her heroin problem; Harper even has custody of her young nephew, Benny, Noah’s child. Harper insists that Benny is a blessing and not a burden; Noah and her drug-dealing boyfriend, Jackson (Spencer Huffman, who is a very likable drug dealer!), are the real sources of aggravation and heartache for her.
Rae Gray, Spencer Huffman
Noah’s latest overdose was a biggie---she almost died this time in front of a bunch of kids and traumatized the young children in the process. One hopes that maybe this incident will be the One that gets Noah back on track and sticking to her latest round of promises to truly clean up For Real for real this time. Harper insists that Noah has a disease. Noah admits,”I don’t know if I’d rather be a junkie or diseased.”
Entering the tense scene is an out-of-towner claiming to arrive in order to “help” the struggling family. Aubrey, played by Artistic Director Tara Mallen, insists that her presence is to guide Noah into making better choices. Aubrey is actually from an organization called “Project Prevention” whose mission is to provide sterilization to addicts to prevent more children from being raised in unstable homes. (I assumed this was an invention by the playwright for drama, but it’s truly a Thing. I had to look it up. The group is based in North Carolina and really does offer cash to addicts for using long-term birth control or agreeing to undergo surgery to stop having babies. The website lists a case study of an addict who just had her 17th baby in 24 years!)
Tara Mallen, Rae Gray
Playwright Madison Fiedler is a Northwestern graduate from North Carolina. She wrote the play to draw attention to the opioid epidemic happening in her native Appalachia. According to the program notes, there are 130 fatal opioid overdoses every day in the U.S. There were 96,700 deaths from overdoses this last year alone. Choosing to reopen the Rivendell Theater with this world premiere shows us the power of theater and sharing important, if uncomfortable, stories. You may not agree with the characters, but it’s sure to start a conversation.
What happens to Noah, Harper, and ultimately, Benny won’t be revealed here. But this is a very satisfying play filled with strong performances, especially from the two sisters.
Catherine Hellmann: teacher, mom, theater lover
Rivendell Theatre Ensemble (RTE), Chicago’s only Equity theatre dedicated to producing new work with women at the core, presents the world premiere of SPAY by Madison Fiedler, directed by RTE member Hallie Gordon. SPAY runs March 12 - May 1, 2022 at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble, 5779 N. Ridge Avenue in Chicago.
Williamson, West Virginia has been aptly nicknamed “Pilliamson” for as long as anyone can remember, certainly since the Attridge family’s been around. The now-grown sisters have taken very different paths in the wake of their mother’s overdose. As Harper raises her sister’s child vowing to tread new ground, Noah opts for the old ways and finds herself in all-too-familiar territory.
Penned by recent Northwestern graduate Madison Fiedler, SPAY is a provoking new drama about the effect of America's opioid epidemic in one small West Virginia town. SPAY is an unflinching look at addiction, Appalachia, and the families our system has failed.
Playwright Madison Fiedler comments, “I started this play because I’m from Appalachia, where the opioid epidemic has taken its highest tolls; specifically, I’m from North Carolina, where Project Prevention has made its dubious home. In a country where the opioid crisis has been declared a national public health emergency and every day brings another 130 fatal opioid overdoses, the idea that addicts shouldn’t be able to have children makes sense to a lot of people. In a comparison of addicts to dogs in need of spaying, I saw a microcosm of American society wanting to move a problem out of sight without fixing it; dehumanizing victims of a crisis to justify complacency. I wrote Spay to deanonymize the opioid epidemic and re-sensitize audiences to it in a way that no news headline can, by doing what live theatre does best: inviting a room full of people to empathize, humanize, and do something about it.”
Artistic Director Tara Mallen offers: "With SPAY, the story serves to humanize people who are suffering with opioid addiction. This is an epidemic that is literally sweeping across the country, and it's imperative that we recognize it, begin to understand it, and find a way to support people who are dealing with it."
The cast includes RTE members Rae Gray (Noah), Artistic Director Tara Mallen (Aubrey), and Krystel McNeil (Harper), with Spencer Jackson (Jackson).
The creative team is Lindsay Mummert (scenic design), Mike Mahlum (lighting design), Becca Duff (costume design), Rowan Doe (props design), Hannah Foerschler (sound design), Catherine Yu (dramaturg), Grant (dialect coach). The production manager is Erik Strebig and the stage manager is Deya Friedman.
Rivendell’s Town Hall Series
During the run of each production, Rivendell hosts Town Hall Discussions after select Saturday matinees. These are an essential touchstone for our organization to extend the conversation from the stage to the community. Panelists help field questions, present observations, and participate in supporting a thoughtful, in-depth dialogue for all involved. Audience participants need not be present for the Saturday matinee and are welcome to join the conversation following the performance.
ABOUT THE ARTISTS
Madison Fiedler (Playwright) Madison Fiedler is a Brooklyn-based, Asheville-raised playwright. Plays include Spay (2020 Kilroys List, 2022 world premiere at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble, 2021 Princess Grace Playwriting Fellowship runner-up, 2019 National Showcase of New Plays, Florida Repertory Theatre’s 2020 PlayLab, 2021 FAU Theatre Lab, 2018-2019 BoHo Theatre commission), Screech Owl (2021 finalist: Playwrights Realm Writing Fellowship, Leah Ryan Fund for Emerging Women Writers), If God Came a Callin (Barter Theatre Appalachian Festival of Plays & Playwrights), The Incubators (semi-finalist: Athena Project Plays in Process), and I Talk to the Flowers (Skidmore College, University of Kentucky). She is a National New Play Network Affiliated Artist and is represented by A3 Artists Agency. BA: Northwestern University (2019).
Georgette Verdin (Director) is a Cuban-American director and arts educator. Since 2015, she's served as the Managing Artistic Director of Interrobang Theatre Project, an award-winning storefront theater known for its gutsy productions that tackle socially-relevant topics. Select directing credits include This Wide Night by Chloë Moss (Shattered Globe Theatre/Interrobang Theatre Project), Tribes by Nina Raine (Western Michigan University), the U.S. Premiere of Out of Love by Elinor Cook, Grace and Recent Tragic Events by Craig Wright, as well as the 2013 & 2016 Yale Drama Series winners, Still by Jen Silverman and Utility by Emily Schwend (Interrobang Theatre Project). Georgette has also worked with Goodman Theatre, Lookingglass Theatre, Facility Theatre, and Chicago Dramatists, among others. Georgette holds a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Performance from McNeese State University in Lake Charles, LA and a Master in Directing from the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. She's a 2021 recipient of a 3Arts Make-A-Wave grant and an associate member of Stage Directors and Choreographers Society. For more, visit georgetteverdin.com
Rae Gray (Noah) is a Rivendell Theatre Ensemble member, and last appeared on the RTE stage in Crooked. She recently wrapped season one of Amazon Prime’s reboot series A League of Their Own, and is currently working as a series regular on a Nick Jr. animated show. Other Chicago theater credits include: Graveyard Shift, The Little Foxes, A Christmas Carol (Goodman); Domesticated, Slowgirl, The Book Thief, Wedding Band (Steppenwolf); King Charles III (Chicago Shakespeare); The North China Lover (Lookingglass); Circle Mirror Transformation (Victory Gardens); The Real Thing (Writers); Sunday in the Park with George (Ravinia); Inherit the Wind (Northlight); The Crucible, Cry of Players (TimeLine); Oliver, State Fair (Marriott); Meet Me in St. Louis (Drury Lane). Broadway: The Real Thing (Roundabout). International: The Beacon (Druid/Gate Theatre, IRL). Regional: Queens (La Jolla Playhouse); Slowgirl (Geffen Playhouse). TV: Fear the Walking Dead, Grace and Frankie, For the People, Sea Oak, Boardwalk Empire, Shameless, The Resident, Bull, Adventure Time, Chicago Fire, PD and Med. Film: Slice, I Do…Until I Don’t, Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon, The Robbery (Sundance Selection), Dismissed, Invitation to a Murder. Rae graduated with honors from the University of Chicago.
Tara Mallen (Aubrey / RTE Artistic Director) is an actor, director, and the Producing Artistic Director at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble. She was a 2017 3Arts William Franklin Grisham Awardee and the 2014 Volunteers of America Silver Star Awardee. Most recently Mallen was seen onstage in the title role in the world premiere of Kate Tarker’s Laura and The Sea. Before that she starred in The Cake for which she won the 2018 Jeff Award for Performer in a Principal Role. In 2016, she performed in the world premiere production of Lynn Nottage’s Sweat at Arena Stage. Prior to that she was in Rivendell’s Jeff-nominated world premiere productions of Look, we are breathing and Rasheeda Speaking. Tara appeared in Steppenwolf’s How Long Will I Cry: Stories of Youth Violence written by Chicago Journalist Miles Harvey. She was part of the ensemble in Rivendell’s world premiere, Jeff nominated production of The Walls and played Jolene Palmer (inspired by the true-life story of Aileen Wuornos) in Rivendell’s award winning production of Self Defense, or the Death of Some Salesmen—both productions part of Steppenwolf’s Visiting Theater Initiative.
For Rivendell, Tara has produced and acted in over 25 productions. She received a Joseph Jefferson Award for Supporting Actress in WRENS as part of that production’s Jeff-winning ensemble. She was nominated the following year for Actress in a Principal Role for her work in My Simple City. Her screen credits include Steven Soderbergh’s film Contagion, Boss (Starz), the pilot of Chicago Fire (NBC), the pilot of Doubt (CBS/Sony Pictures), Chicago P.D. and Sense8 (Netflix) directed by Lana and Andy Wachowski. With Rivendell, Tara conceived and directed the world premiere of WOMEN AT WAR, directed the Jeff nominated Midwest premieres of The Electric Baby, 26 Miles (co-production with Teatro Vista); Fighting Words; Psalms of a Questionable Nature; the co-production of Elliot, a Soldier’s Fugue with Stageworks/Hudson in Hudson, NY; and the brief and brilliant Shady Meadows by Lisa Dillman as part of the 2007 Chicago Humanities Festival.
Krystel McNeil (Harper) is excited to be working on Spay at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble (Laura and the Sea and The Cake, Women at War), where she is an ensemble member. Other credits include: Gem of The Ocean, Objects in The Mirror, and Carlyle (Goodman Theatre); In The Next Room or The Vibrator Play; Spill (Timeline Theatre Company); The Compass (Steppenwolf Theatre Company), Bootycandy (Windy City Playhouse). Tours include Defamation The Play (Canamac Productions).
Film and television credits include Chiraq (Amazon Films); Gossamer; The Chi (Showtime); Chicago P.D. (NBC) Next (Fox) Soundtrack (Netflix), Proven Innocent (FOX).
Spencer Huffman (Jackson) is a playwright, actor, and director based in Chicago. He is thrilled to be making his Chicago acting debut with Rivendell Theatre Ensemble. As a playwright, his work includes: Evil Perfect, The Baseball Gods, When We Were Little, Shine Down On Us, The Swamp Play, Like Some Deep Booming, The Vastness of the North, and If Only We Were Ghosts. His plays have earned recognition from theatres and festivals across the U.S., including The National Playwrights Conference, American Stage’s 21st Century Voices New Play Festival, Landing Theatre Co. New American Voices Festival, and Southwest Theatre Production’s Rising Artists Playwriting Competition, among others. His plays have received productions and staged readings from Bramble Theatre Co. (Chicago), The Landing Theatre Co. (Houston, TX), Broken Bell Reads (Chicago), Three Cat Productions (Chicago), and Relative Theatrics (Laramie, WY). He has been a writing fellow at Millay Arts, The Marble House Project, and the Kerouac Project of Orlando. Spencer graduated from the School at Steppenwolf in 2019 and is an ensemble member and literary manager at Bramble Theatre Company. BA: Kenyon College. www.jspencerhuffman.com
Krystel McNeil, Rae Gray
Previews: March 12 – March 19, 2022
Saturday, March 12 at 8pm
Sunday, March 13 at 3pm
Thursday, March 17 at 8pm
Friday, March 18 at 8pm
Saturday, March 19 at 8pm
Regular run: March 23 – April 17, 2022
Wednesdays at 8pm (April 6 and 13 only)
Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm (except no Saturday 8pm performances on April 9 and 16, 2022)
Sundays at 3pm (April 3 and 17 only)
Jeffs/VIP opening: March 20, 2022 at 6pm
Press opening: March 23, 2022 at 7pm
Mama’s Night: April 8 at 8pm
Post-show Town Halls: April 9 and April 16, 2022 at 4pm
Previews: $25 General Admission
$5 Student, Educators, Military/Veterans, Industry (Limited quantity, first-come, first-served)
$15 Seniors and Neighbors
Regular run: $35 General Admission
$15 Student, Educators, Military/Veterans, Industry (Limited quantity, first-come, first-served)
$25 Seniors and Neighbors
$45 Sponsor Admission (to help us pay artists fair wages by covering the full cost of a seat at the performance)
$90 Angel Admission (1 Basic Admission, plus helping to cover discounted or free tickets to people who need them)
RIV Pass: $95 (see the production plays as often as desired)
Box Office: (773) 334-7728 or http://rivendelltheatre.org
Parking and Transportation: Free parking is available in the Senn High School parking lot (located a block and a half from the theatre behind the school off Thorndale Avenue). There is limited paid and free street parking in the area. The theatre is easily accessible via the Clark (#22) or Broadway (#36) bus, and is a short walk from the Bryn Mawr Red Line el station.
About Rivendell Theatre Ensemble
Founded in 1994, Rivendell Theatre Ensemble advances the lives of women through theatre. Rivendell cultivates the talents of women artists—writers, actors, directors, designers and technicians—by seeking out innovative plays that explore unique female experiences and producing them in an intimate salon environment.
Rivendell fills an important role in the Chicago region as the only Equity theatre dedicated to producing artistically challenging and original plays created by and about women. After years of being an itinerant company, Rivendell moved into its own theater space in 2011 in Edgewater. The company is focused on becoming an integral community partner and serving as a catalyst to engage audiences in a discussion of local social issues.
For more information about Rivendell Theater Ensemble, visit http://rivendelltheatre.org. Follow Rivendell on Facebook at Facebook.com/rivendelltheatre, on Twitter @RivendellThtr, and on Instagram at @rivendelltheatre.
All visitors to Rivendell Theatre must provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination and face masks are required at all times. Please be prepared to show a physical or digital copy of your vaccine card along with your photo ID. Thank you!
Rivendell Theatre Ensemble is in alignment with the accountability efforts being led by We See You White American Theatre. Read our pledge Here.
Rivendell Theatre Ensemble is supported by generous grants from: Paul M. Angell Family Foundation; The MacArthur Funds for Culture, Equity and the Arts at The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation; The Elizabeth Morse Charitable Trust; Shubert Foundation; Illinois Arts Council Agency; The Alphawood Foundation; The Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation; Sarah and the 2 C Dogs; A.L. Luria and Jennie Luria Foundation; SIF Fund at The Chicago Community Trust; The Saints Volunteers for the Performing Arts; Arts Midwest; City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events; National Endowment for the Arts; The Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation
Rae Gray, Krystel McNeil