News & Articles

The Dresser: Artistic Director Martha Lavey's Preview

by Martha Lavey

We look forward to this season with an especial attentiveness and interest. For the first time, we are inviting our subscribers to enjoy one of their five–play series in the Upstairs Theatre. Producing one of our plays Upstairs gives us the opportunity to open up new weeks in the schedule. Current subscribers can trade into those weeks for an upgrade in their seating or to change performance days. New subscribers can be welcomed to the theater with real flexibility in their seating location and choice of performance day. Single–ticket buyers have more opportunities to attend performances. All of these options have been created with no loss of intimacy in the theater–going experience (we did not have to build a larger theater to create more seating). But the most exciting outcome of this reformatting in our producing is the innovation it provides in our artistic life. We are able to offer a large ensemble cast play of a classic drama in the intimate confines of our 250–seat Upstairs Theatre. Every aspect of our production of Anton Chekhov's Cherry Orchard will bear the unique signature of Steppenwolf artists. We are premiering the translation by Associate Artistic Director Curt Columbus. Ensemble member Tina Landau, known to our audiences for her imaginative, kinetic stagings of large–scale works like The Time of Your Life, The Berlin Circle and Space, is directing a 12–person cast that includes ensemble members Amy Morton, Yasen Peyankov, Rondi Reed, Francis Guinan and Bob Breuler. To see this work and these artists in an intimate theater with the full resources of our production team is an extraordinary opportunity — and one we are proud and delighted to offer our audiences. In addition, each and every one of our plays in the Downstairs Theatre is outstanding. We begin the season with Ron Harwood's The Dresser, directed by ensemble member Amy Morton, featuring ensemble members John Mahoney, Tracy Letts and Alan Wilder. The Dresser is set in Britain during the Blitz and focuses on the last days of an actor–manager and his relationship with his acting company — and most especially with his dresser, Norman. The play is a funny, touching tribute to the theater and to the human spirit in the face of great strife — be it war or one's own debilitating mortality. It is revealing that Harwood entitles his play The Dresser — throwing the focus of the drama onto the offstage character, the man bearing witness. The saying, "no man is a hero to his valet" has currency here — the play is about the humanizing exposures of our "offstage" self. In that sense, the play's theme transcends its location in the theater: we are all of us acting a role, for which we must muster our energies, present our brave face, conquer our fears. If we are lucky, someone bears witness to our offstage self and that witnessing is…complex. To do our true duty to life is to lose our heroism (and to occupy, instead, our humanity). Intimate Apparel, our third offering of the season, is a lyrical, funny and tough–minded exploration of a woman's life and the turn toward the 20th century. Significantly, the woman at the center of the drama is 35 years old, unmarried, African American and working class — each of which identity–markers defines the horizon of her expectations and personal agency. Intimate Apparel recently won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Play, the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Play and four other national awards for Best Play. Our fourth production, a new play by Stephen Jeffreys, Lost Land, features ensemble member John Malkovich in the central role. Lost Land continues a collaboration between Stephen and John that began on the Steppenwolf stage with our production of Stephen's play, The Libertine. Stephen and John just completed the filming of The Libertine and Stephen created Lost Land out of their successful working relationship and their shared interest in political and social history. Finally, we present The Pain and the Itch, by Bruce Norris. This is the fourth play by Bruce Norris to premiere on the Steppenwolf stage and Bruce's third collaboration with director and associate artist Anna Shapiro. The production features ensemble members Tracy Letts, Rondi Reed and Jim True–Frost. Our relationship with Bruce is a premiere example of the collaborative and ensemble–based process that distinguishes Steppenwolf as a site for the development of new work and the support of artists through repeated artistic relationships. The programming for this 2004–2005 season vividly captures the range of our work and the strength of our artistic resources. We present two world premieres, a new play in its Midwest premiere and two classics — all of them animated by the unique vision of Steppenwolf artists. We understand that we are challenging you, our audience, by asking you to join us in revising the manner of our producing. By inviting you into our Upstairs Theatre, we celebrate your appetite for change, your desire to revise your theater–going experience. What we offer, in return for that willingness, is a promise of the quality and care you have come to expect from Steppenwolf and an enhanced experience of our artists working at the height of their imaginative power. Martha Lavey Artistic Director