Winds of Change at Chicago's Steppenwolf

Winds of Change at Chicago's Steppenwolf THEATRE TRAVEL

THEATRE TRAVEL

Steppenwolf: a name once synonymous with a visceral acting style full of raw passion--the uncompromising, in-your-face school of acting dubbed rock 'n' roll theatre--is entering adulthood. Now in its 20th anniversary year, Steppenwolf Theatre Company's aging has been greeted by critics' comments of a disintegrating edge, with the exit of long-time artistic director Randall Arney and managing director Stephen Eich. But as artistic director Martha Lavey takes the helm, Steppenwolf may prove that these are simply growing pains and all just a part of maturity.

Steppenwolf Theatre Company first started performing in 1974 and was formally founded in 1976 by Terry Kinney, Jeff Perry and Gary Sinise. Its original ensemble consisted of their friends from Illinois State University, and its first home was a suburban church basement. Its current home is a 500-seat Broadway-style mainstage auditorium and a studio theatre.

Known for its famous faces like "Roseanne's" Laurie Metcalf or "Frasier's" John Mahoney and its acclaimed productions--the Tony Award-winning "The Grapes of Wrath"--Steppenwolf is reinventing itself while reasserting its commitment to quality theatre. A Chicago-based company whose members are not wholly based in Chicago, the 20th season brings home some long-time members including Gary Sinise, who directed the season's opener: Sam Shepard's Pulitzer Prize-winning "Buried Child." In December came "Everyman," Tony Award winner Frank Galati's reworking of a medieval morality play (through Jan. 14). Then on February 14 John Malkovich will appear as the Earl of Rochester in British playwright Stephen Jeffrey's "The Libertine" (through April 7). The season concludes with the world premiere of Alexandra Gersten's "Supple in Combat" and a fifth unannounced play.

Steppenwolf also supports emerging ensembles and new play development with their Studio Theatre--a black box space seating 100-300 people, which has been used for readings and small productions since opening five years ago. This year, Steppenwolf collaborates with three other Chicago theatre companies. Shows include "S/M," a work based on the lives of the Marquis de Sade and Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch--with the Lookingglass Theatre Company January 17-February 11; "Frankenstein," which uses Redmoon Theatre's characteristic blend of puppetry, mask and movement to retell the famous story from March 27-April 21; and, lastly, Steppenwolf presents its first pairing with fellow Chicagoan David Mamet with his "The Cryptogram."How to Get There: With choices of over 289 destinations--including Chicago--and 425 hotels, American Airlines' Fly/Drive packages allow you to fly into one city, drive to others and then fly home from a different location. Starting at $180 for two nights' accommodations (Holiday Inn Hotels or Crowne Plaza Hotels), use of a Hertz economy rental car for 48 hours and breakfast vouchers, this program offers packages for every budget. For in-formation call 1-800-433-7300.

-- By Sandra Mardenfeld