On April 5, Northlight Theatre artistic director B.J. Jones made his first appearance at his theatre since becoming the Skokie, IL, troupe's leader, and he admits he was a little nervous, despite his years of acting on Chicago-area stages.
In David Rambo's God's Man in Texas, Jones plays a preacher wrestling with the politics and personality conflicts of a hugely successful Southern Baptist church.
Enthusiastic crowds and rave reviews followed the opening, but more importantly, Jones said, he feels he inspired confidence in his board and his subscribership.
The Chicago-area premiere of God's Man just announced a one-week extension to May 7. A further extension isn't possible, he told Playbill On Line, due to the incoming area premiere of the musical, Side Show.
Artistic directors going out on a limb and having a presence before their audience is a smart thing, Jones agreed. It breeds confidence and a sense of community, he said. "I just got a card from one of my valued board members," Jones told Playbill On-Line. "And she said that now Northlight is truly 'your theatre.' From the standpoint of my board, it's galvanizing for them, that they made the right choice hiring me." In the show, Jones plays the charismatic Dr. Jerry Mears, who is in charge of a flock of worshippers and an organization that includes fundraising, building management, programming, etc. - not unlike a nonprofit theatre. When Rev. Mears refers to the "good" people of his church, Jones said he gestures "shamelessly" to the crowd.
"I'm very hands-on in general," Jones said. "I walk the lobby during other shows. People feel no hesitation talking to me. I handled a subscriber this morning -- they call me 'Beej.'"
Jones believes that his effort to put a face on the institution is the reason why without any major subscription campaign or announcement for 2000-2001, Northlight is 45 percent subscriber-renewed.
In God's Man in Texas, Rev. Mears steps on the toes of established but aging Dr. Gottschall, whose ministry is an industry in the name of faith, via a popular TV program. Tony Mockus plays the silver-tongued, charismatic Dr. Gottschall in this Chicago-area premiere of the comedy drama.
Previews began March 29. Performances were to continue to April 30, but May 7 is now the close date. Jones had previously won a Jeff Award acting in Someone Who'll Watch Over Me at Northlight, prior to running the place.
The play was a standout in the 1999 Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, KY. The work is inspired by the true story of a preacher who ascended to the pulpit of the First Baptist Church of Dallas and then quit 22 months later.
Michael Grant is featured in God's Man in Texas as a reformed drug abuser who runs interference between the two preachers.
Susan V. Booth directs. Designers are Michael Phillipi (set and lighting), Nan Zabriske (costumes) and Joe Cerqua (sound).
Tickets are $30-$42. Northlight is at North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., adjacent to the Old Orchard Shopping Center. For information, call (847) 673 6300 or try the web site at www.northlight.org.
-- By Kenneth Jones