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SELF DEFENSE or, death of some salesmen

This fall, Steppenwolf audiences will get a chance to witness the Chicago premiere of SELF DEFENSE or, death of some salesmen by Carson Kreitzer, based on the compelling true story of "serial killer" Aileen Wuornos. Presenting this new work in the Garage is a visiting company new to our audiences - Rivendell Theatre Ensemble. Associate Artistic Director Curt Columbus talked to Tara Mallen, who is playing the central role in SELF DEFENSE, about her company and this fascinating new play. Curt Columbus: Tara, you're the Artistic Director and the founder of Rivendell Theatre Ensemble. Give me a little history of the company. Tara Mallen: When I moved to Chicago 12 years ago with Keith Kupferer [familiar to Steppenwolf audiences from his performances in Things Being What They Are and Tavern Story in the Garage], I found that while Chicago has an incredibly supportive theater community, breaking into it is a little tough. We wanted to work and wanted to introduce ourselves to Chicago theater audiences, so we got together with director Karen Kessler and produced Tennessee Williams's 27 Wagons Full of Cotton at American Theater Company. Slowly, but surely, we started developing a group of core people who would work with us, and after a couple years we formalized that group into our ensemble. You know, it's kind of a backwards way to start a company, but it worked for us. CC: What is Rivendell's mission, as a company? TM: A big part of our mission is to support women theater artists. Not just in acting and directing, but also as producers and on the design and technical side as well. At the same time, I don't want us to be ghettoized, because it's incredibly important to have male energy and input since they make up about half of the world. (laughter) We also have a commitment to maintaining an intimate relationship with our audience. There is an intimacy in the stories that we choose to tell, and the venues that we select really add to that intimate experience. In other words, maybe because the actors are sitting in their lap, the audience is forced to go on the journey with us. (laughter) CC: So you've chosen SELF DEFENSE or, death of some salesmen.... TM: I know! For us, this show is a big risk. The project is big in scope, big in its ideas; it's got a real political agenda... And those are all the things I love about it. The exciting part about undertaking the challenge is having a chance to do it with all the support that one is offered under the Steppenwolf umbrella. That makes it feel like a stretch, but not so out of reach. CC: You're going to be right in the hot seat with this one, too, by playing the central role, right? TM: Right. When I first read the play, I thought it was extremely interesting, but then I watched one of the documentaries about Aileen Wuornos and realized how much of the play came directly from her. Her own words! And there's something in the truth of that that I find horrifying and riveting and so incredibly compelling. This isn't a version compiled by somebody who read about what happened to her and went and wrote their own play. This is a playwright who actually listened to what this woman had to say. CC: That goes back to your mission, which is giving voice to the woman who is the historical subject herself.... TM: Once I saw that documentary, I thought, "We have to do this play." It's so important to me because Aileen Wournos wasn't allowed an opportunity to speak her truth. She wasn't given a fair trial. She was no saint, she killed seven men, and the play doesn't try to make excuses for her. But she was a victim of gender bias in a big bad way, and if the trial had taken place in any other state besides Florida, maybe the outcome would have been different. If it had been a man who killed seven, he certainly wouldn't have been classified as a serial killer. Nobody ever really looked into her story, nobody examined her side and certainly nobody gave her an opportunity to tell it. November 13, 2004 - December 19, 2004 Rivendell Theatre Ensemble presents as part of Steppenwolf's Visiting Company Initiative SELF DEFENSE or, death of some salesmen by Carson Kreitzer directed by Edward Sobel CHICAGO PREMIERE Jolene Palmer, a prostitute arrested for killing seven johns, finds herself thrust into a circus of law officials, film producers and erotic dancers. Based on the compelling true story of Aileen Wuornos, SELF DEFENSE juggles crime, gender politics and the media spotlight with surprising results. In the Steppenwolf Merle Reskin Garage Theatre For tickets, call (312) 335-1650 or buy online at