Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Beth Henley, best known for her stage and screen play Crimes of the Heart, is premiering her new work Revelers, with Chicago's Center Theatre Ensemble (CTE) at the Theatre Building, September 7 through October 13.
Revelers is about a group of theatre students who create a memorial celebration for their mentor at a cottage for a weekend . The service takes each character on an unexpected journey in which they humorously and poignantly recognize something deep and true about themselves.
The production is directed by Dan LaMorte, artistic director and co founder of CTE, who also happens to be one of the students of Chicago acting teacher Edward Kaye-Martin, the mentor Revelers is loosely based on.
Although LaMorte feels that Revelers exposes a similarity to some people that were close to Kaye-Martin, he clarifies, "The only thing that actually happened is a memorial service up at a cottage. The characters and situations, story, and events are so completely original it's hard to see [any comparison]. What is definitely captured is the heart of what was done that day."
LaMorte originally met Henley as a classmate at University of Illinois. They began their professional relationship when Henley attended the rehearsals for CTE's Midwest premiere of her play Lucky Spot, after which she became an active and devoted ensemble member. She attended the Midwest premiere of her play Abundance, and workshopped and then directed the world premiere of her play Control Freaks, making her directorial debut. LaMorte says, "For a playwright, it's a wonderful thing to have the experience of the process of working with a dedicated ensemble on an original play."
Center Theatre Ensemble is a theatre collective formed around a theatre school, originally co-founded by current Goodman Artistic Director Robert Falls. CTE was formed with the intention of giving actors a reason to stay in Chicago to get professional training, as opposed to taking off for New York or Los Angeles. In fifteen years they have trained over 7500 students.
The Ensemble members consist of artists from all branches of theatre, from Chicago as well as other states, including actors, designers, lighting designers, directors, and playwrights. LaMorte says, "We are in a country based on productivity, and we lose sight that process is an important part of it. When you support the process, you take risks." At the heart of CTE is the opportunity for artists to take risks.
Perhaps Henley's committed use of CTE as a working board is partially a result of its devotion to artists, and specifically its deep respect for her work. LaMorte says "She takes a lot of risks-- I'm very proud of her. Some of the writing I've seen come out of Beth is . . . tremendous. She puts a lot of effort into creating original work and I love that about her."
LaMorte also respects Henley's commitment to the artistic process. Although she travels around the country to where her plays are produced at prestigious theatres, and has written for the stage and screen, Henley continues to develop her craft in smaller, artistically oriented venues.
After a workshop of Henley's L-Play at CTE, and then a reading with major stars in Los Angeles, it received it's world premiere this summer at Berkshire Theatre Festival. LaMorte remarked on the originality of L Play, a series of vignettes, and hopes to produce it at CTE.
Revelers was workshopped at CTE over two years ago, and then further workshopped the summer of '94 with New York Stage and Film at the Powerhouse Theatre at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie.
LaMorte is proud to direct the world premiere and believes that the Revelers revelations are so honest and strong, they will prompt audience members to reflect upon who they are and what they might need to admit to themselves about their past if they want to go on smoothly with their future. "After all," LaMorte states, "that's what it's all about."
CTE's hopes are high to honor Henley with a production of Revelers in New York or on the West Coast.
Revelers runs at The Theatre Building, 1225 West Belmont, Thu Sun, Sept. 7-Oct. 13. Tickets are $18-22, and are available by calling (312) 327-5252.
--By Blair Glaser