Illinois-Set Romance Rantoul and Die Premieres in L.A. May 14

News   Illinois-Set Romance Rantoul and Die Premieres in L.A. May 14 Playwright, comic and TV executive-producer Mark Roberts' Rantoul and Die, a hard-edged Midwestern romantic comedy, begins its world-premiere run May 14 at The Lillian Theater in Hollywood.

Opening is May 16. The cast includes Paul Dillon, Cynthia Ettinger, Rich Hutchman and Lisa Rothschiller.

Roberts is a writer and executive producer of the CBS-TV sitcom "Two and a Half Men." Erin Quigley, known for her Tony Award-nominated costume designs for The Grapes of Wrath and The Song of Jacob Zulu, directs the new play, which is produced by Stephen Eich and Don Foster.

In Rantoul and Die, according to production notes, "Rallis [Hutchman] and Debbie's [Ettinger] marriage has reached its expiration date. In fact, it's soured and stuck to the bottom of the carton. She wants him to pack his stuff and hit the bricks, but he's clingin' to the past like a cat on a screen door. How far will a man go to hang on to his lady fair? It's a thin line between love and hate. A kiss and a punch. An ice cream cone and a beer bottle to the back of the head."

The playwright said in production notes, "Rantoul, Illinois, is about a hundred miles south of Chicago and ten miles north of my hometown of Urbana, Illinois. A straight shot up Highway 57 amidst cornfields, truck stops, and Dairy Queens.

"As a teenager, I'd sneak up there at night to pick a handful of 'Rantoul Rag,' a harsh strand of pot growing wild alongside the railroad tracks. I was told John Belushi used to drive down from Wheaton, Illinois, with the same purpose. "In the early nineties, Chanute Air Force Base closed down, sending the local economy into a tailspin. Businesses closed and area residents moved away, giving Rantoul a desolate, ghost town feeling. Most of my plays take place in the Midwest, so when considering a location for this gritty, edgy play, Rantoul seemed the perfect choice."

A workshop production of Rantoul and Die was produced at the Station Theatre in Urbana, IL.

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Producer Don Foster stated, "One of the secrets to the success of 'Two and a Half Men' is Mark's ability to consistently pull handfuls of gorgeous comedic poetry from the deep recesses of his psyche — lines of dialogue that are at once rude, wrong and perfect. Reading Rantoul for the first time was a little unsettling for me to realize that the theatre is his true natural habitat."

Playwright Roberts became interested in the arts at an early age and started working at The Station Theatre, a small local performing space in a converted train station in Urbana, IL. In his early 20s he moved to Chicago to pursue a career as an actor and writer, using stand-up comedy as a way to pay the bills. Comedy took him to Los Angeles, where he appeared on "The Tonight Show" several times and that led to guest starring roles on many television series. He also worked as a series regular for three seasons on "The Naked Truth" with Téa Leoni.

While working as an actor, he wrote and produced several plays in Los Angeles, eventually catching the attention of writer-producer Chuck Lorre, with his one-act comedy Couples Counseling Killed Katie at the Plymouth Theatre Company. He and Lorre created an unproduced pilot based on the stage play and in 2004 when the Lorre-penned sitcom "Two and a Half Men" was picked up by CBS, Roberts was hired as a producer; he is now executive producer.

Roberts continues to return to the Station Theatre to produce his original plays, which include Welcome To Tolono, Whitey, Where The Great Ones Run and Parasite Drag. Several of his works have been picked up by Dramatists Play Service, Inc. and published into acting editions.

Rantoul and Die will play to July 4.

The Lillian Theatre is at 1076 Lillian Way in Hollywood. Tickets are available by calling (323) 960-4424 or online at www.RantoulAndDie.com.

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