Stage Left Theatre, the Chicago company devoted to thought provoking "issue" plays opens its 20th season with a newly defined directorship and a world premiere.
Kevin Heckman, formerly the volunteer co-artistic director, is the paid managing director (as of Aug. 1), and former full-time paid co-artistic director Jessi D. Hill continues as the full-time, paid artistic director.
The 2001-2002 season begins Sept. 15-Nov. 3 with the world premiere of Chagrin Falls, a play by Mia McCullough about a reporter who travels to Chagrin Falls, OK, to witness the execution of a convicted murderer. "She discovers a community that maintains an uneasy co-existence with both the death penalty and institutionalized death," according to the season announcement. Kevin Heckman directs.
McCullough's play won First Prize in the 2001 Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. She has written 10 plays, many of which have been heard in staged readings around the country.
The Sensitive Swashbuckler and Other Dating Myths, by Christian Murphy and Gail Stern, plays late nights at 11 PM Oct. 5-Nov. 3 in Downstage Left Level IV. Developed in Stage Left's new play program, the unique mix of "improvisational comedy and education" looks at the issue of sexual assault on college campuses. Writer-performers Murphy and Stern are featured (with Gwen Druyor sometimes substituting). Jessi D. Hill and Alice M. Kroman direct. "Through audience participation, the performers explore how mixed messages, societal expectations and unrealistic fantasies contribute to misunderstandings between the sexes, and how this miscommunication can lead to sexual assault," according to production notes. Murphy is an actor-educator, Stern is a former rape crisis counselor. The work has been seen on nearly 80 college campuses. Mrs. MacKenzie's Beginner's Guide to the Blues, the Chicago premiere of the Kennedy Center's Roger L. Stevens New Play Award-winner, plays Feb. 22-April 6, 2002. The play by Patty Lynch and Kent Stephens "is a gutsy look at a 31-year old music teacher's love affair with her 17-year-old student, who is a gifted blues guitarist," according to the announcement. Jessi D. Hill directs.
The play-with-music had its world premiere at the Illusion Theatre in Minneapolis. The work features Delta Blues music, and is billed as "a comedic take on a thought-provoking story that seeks to dig beneath the headlines of improper relationships between students and teachers."
Bertolt Brecht's Good Woman of Setzuan, translated by Eric Bentley, plays April 12-May 25, 2002, under the direction of David M. Schmitz. Brecht explores "the nature of morality, capitalism, sexism and the patriarchy" through a young prostitute who has trouble "staying morally 'good' under the stresses of economic strife," according to the season announcement.
The non-Equity nonprofit company, founded in 1982, has 18 ensemble members, including actors, directors, writers and designers. A relationship with Equity may be in the company's future, according to a spokesperson. The company performs at 3408 N. Sheffield in Chicago. For information, call (773) 883-8830 or visit www.stagelefttheatre.com.
— By Kenneth Jones