Raven Theater

Posted: October 27, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

[On Sundays, this blog looks beyond jobs, resumes, and interviews in “Sabbath.”]

Let’s Play Two

Ernie Banks loved baseball so much that he’d say, “Let’s play two.”  This week I had the pleasure of enjoying two plays at Edgewater’s Raven Theatre.  Last night I saw Horton Foote’s A Trip to Bountiful and, earlier in the week, I attended Our America, a program that Raven put on with students from Senn High School.

I knew nothing about A Trip to Bountiful before yesterday’s performance.  I knew Horton Foote was a playwright, but had never seen any of his plays.  After yesterday, I will make it a point to learn more about this talented artist and attended productions of his plays.  The play is set in 1950s Texas, and, on the surface, it is a story of family dynamics.  Deeper it is a story about the change in American culture as people moved from the country to the city.  Mrs. Watts is the center of the play.  She lives with her son and combative daughter-in-law in a cramped apartment located in Houston.

Over the course of the play, we learn that Mrs. Watts has suffered greatly throughout her life.  Still, she remains a woman of integrity and values.  Her goal in life is simple: To return to the rural city where she was raised, a swampy patch of dirt called Bountiful.  The only thing better than Foote’s writing is the way Raven’s actors bring the play to life. As always at Raven, the stage and the way it changes throughout the play complement the acting.  This play runs through November 17, and I highly recommend it.

Earlier in the week, I attended Our America: Ghetto Life 101 & Remorse: the 14 Stories of Eric Morse.   This performance was based on two NPR radio documentaries in 1993 and 1994.  In the first act, two young teen age boys, LeAlan Jones and Lloyd Newman, chronicle what it was like growing up in the Ida B. Wells housing project.  An energetic, diverse group of 12 students from Senn High School interpreted the boys' experience.  While showing the horror and fear of living in a world where people literally get their face shot off, the student actors conveyed the humanity of people who are intelligent and loving despite the challenges of urban poverty.

In the second act, Jones and Newman interviewed neighbors to investigate the death of Eric Morse, a five year old boy who was pushed out a 14th floor window after refusing to steal candy.  He was pushed out of the window by two boys age 10 and 11.  What was even more shocking in this section of the performance was the breadth of sympathy that Jones, Newman, and the Senn student actor bring to life.  I simply remembered this case as a savage murder.  Remorse challenges the audience to consider all aspects of the situation, including the punishment given to the killers.  The stories told by neighbors and relatives show that morality is not simple and punishment can outweigh the crime.  Three cheers to the students of Senn High School and Raven Theater for bringing this story to the stage.  The only downside is that the production was only staged for two days.  Later in the year, before Christmas, Raven will join with local schools to put on Seedfolks, a play about urban gardening and its significance to the local communities.

Raven Theater is a great example of how local theater can bring life to a community.  Since the 1990s, Raven has produced classic and contemporary plays by American playwrights.  It also shares its space with smaller theater companies and community groups.  It offers programs for children and teens.  Community theater helps build a community and keep it strong.  Edgewater is very lucky to have Raven Theater.

Posted: February 17, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

[On Sundays, this blog looks beyond work and careers in “Sabbath.”]

Feeling Another Person’s Pain

Today it was my pleasure to attend a performance of Rebecca Gilman’s play Boy Gets Girl at the Raven Theater in Chicago.  Simply put, the play is about a stalker and how he ruins a woman’s life.  However that description is far too simple to describe this fine play.

The main character Theresa Bedell meets Tony for a blind date.  After a second date, she informs Tony that she doesn’t want to see him again.  He sends flowers and calls and calls and calls.  Tony is not on stage for most of the play, but his presence lingers, ever more threatening.

The first half of the play speculates on why the stalking is happening.  Characters debate the meaning of relationships between men and women and how each gender sees the other differently.  The second half is much darker as Tony’s obsessions becomes more violent.  This section of the play is also more human as Theresa’s co-workers come to her support and open their lives to her.  Gilman’s power as a playwright is to make us feel a range of emotions.  For a play about stalking, she delivers many laughs and light moments.

I’ve been to several plays at Raven Theater.  It is a community that deliver outstanding performances and intriguing sets.  These qualities are present in Boy Gets Girl.  While the acting is great, I am especially impressed by the set and how effectively it uses a small space to move Theresa from her office to meetings with a film maker to a hospital room and to a raised section which was her apartment.  While there is no physical violence in the play, what occurs in the apartment brings home what it must be like to live under threat from a stalker.

One local critic suggests that the play makes Tony the “winner” because Theresa has to leave town to escape him.  On a surface level, that might be true.  However, the play also shows how a crime can bring people together and let them share feelings.  Theresa is a stronger character at the end of the play, more human even under threat.  Gilman has created a story and characters far deeper than the Lifetime stalker films she mocks during the play.  She forces the audience to think about relations between men and women.  And she reaffirms that most people are good, even when the end is not happy.  If you live in Chicago, this production runs through March 2.  It will be worth your time.