Tina Landau, who directed the Lortel-winning Floyd Collins Off-Broadway and various pieces for En Garde Arts, will stage the world premiere of Charles L. Mee's Time To Burn at Steppenwolf Theatre's mainstage, Feb. 12-March 30. She and Mee have already worked together on his Orestes and Trojan Woman: A Love Story.
Based on Maxim Gorky's The Lower Depths, Time To Burn uses poetry and music "to create a lyrical love song for a broken world." The play concerns a band of outcasts at an abandoned factory as they rhapsodize over Gershwin, argue politics and discover love."
"At the center of this play we find people," says Landau, "of different cultures, ages, sizes and politics, brought together only by their common fate of being `outsiders.' Chuck looks at the world of the underclass -- the homeless, the jobless, the sick, the marginalized -- with the steady gaze of compassion, the struggle to maintain dignity in the face of hardship, and to maintain tenderness in a cold world."
Other works by dramatist and historian Mee include Chiang Kai Chek, My House Was Collapsing Toward One Side, Another Person Is A Foreign Country and The Investigation Of The Murder In El Salvador. He also wrote the text for the Obie-winning Vienna Lusthaus and is a member of the Washington policy think tank, the Urban Institute.
Many of Mee's plays are available for downloading at his website, http://www.panix.com/~meejr/. The author even invites readers to "take and reuse the texts to make new works." Says Mee in his Website introduction, "I don't write "political plays" in the usual sense of the term; but I write out of the belief that we are creatures of our history and culture and gender and politics -- that our beings and actions arise from that complex of influences and forces and motivations, that our lives are more rich and complex than can be reduced to a single source of human motivation."
Appearing in Time To Burn at Steppenwolf are ubiquitous Chicago actresses Alexandra Billings and Mariann Mayberry, Jeb Brown, Michael Daily, Tonray Ho, Frankie Davila, Manao DeMuth, Marilyn Dodds Frank, Irma P. Hall, Romanos Isaac, Paul Mullins, Mike Nussbaum (Off-Broadway's Mr. Gogol And Mr. Preen), Yasen Peyankov, Larry Russo and John Sierros. Designers are James Schuette (set), Scott Zielinski (lighting), Mara Blumenfeld (costumes), Michael Bodeen/Rob Milburn (sound/composition), and H.M.S. Video/Scott Silberstein (video).
For tickets ($24.50-$27.50) and information on Time To Burn, opening Feb. 23, call (312) 335-1650. After the March 26 matinee, Dr. Leland Roloff, professor emeritus of Performance Studies at Northwestern University, will lead a free post show discussion as part of Steppenwolf's "Playtalks" series.
--By David Lefkowitz