by Hedy Weiss
Assembling a season at the Steppenwolf Theatre involves gathering the input of the large (and widely dispersed) ensemble, and some might describe it as akin to herding cats. But the intriguing eclecticism of the company's 2013-2014 lineup is a fine indication of what can happen when so many disparate talents have their input.
Actress Joan Allen, last seen at Steppenwolf in 1991 (in "Earthly Possessions"), is scheduled to return in the American premiere of a British play, "The Wheel."
Austin Pendleton (who directed the superb revival of "The Birthday Party" running through April 28 in Steppenwolf's Upstairs Theatre), will direct "Tribes," the play that has been a huge success for Chicago-bred director David Cromer in New York. And Yasen Peyankov will direct the Chicago premiere of "Russian Transport," the work of a young Brooklyn-bred playwright, that will bring Mariann Mayberry (star of "Good People") back to the stage.
Meanwhile, two world premieres are part of the mix, too. Amy Morton, back from her triumphant Broadway run in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" will put on her director's hat for "The Way West," Mona Mansour's tale of a contemporary American family that questions the pioneer spirit. And Bruce Norris, Pulitzer Prize winner for "Clybourne Park," has a new sex comedy up his sleeve with "The Qualms, directed by Pam MacKinnon (who staged Steppenwolf's "Virginia Woolf").
Here is the lineup in detail:
± "The Wheel" (Sept. 12-Nov. 10), the American premiere of Zinnie Harris' drama, directed by Tina Landau and featuring Joan Allen, Tim Hopper, Ora Jones and Yasen Peyankov. The play, which debuted in a National Theatre of Scotland production at the 2011 Edinburgh Festival, is set on a 19th century Spanish farm, where Beatriz is happily preparing for her sister's wedding when the house is overrun by soldiers and she becomes the unintentional guardian of a young girl. Beatriz's determination to reunite the child with her father sweeps her along on a journey across war zones, through time and into the curious twists of human nature in times of war.
± "Tribes" (Dec. 5, 2013-Feb. 9, 2014), the Chicago premiere of Nina Raines' play, directed by Pendleton, and featuring ensemble members Alana Arenas and Francis Guinan. First seen at London's Royal Court, and then off Broadway, the drama introduces us to Billy, deaf since birth, yet the only person who truly "listens" in his intellectual, proudly eccentric English family that has its own private languages, "inside" jokes and fiery arguments. When Billy meets his girlfriend Sylvia, he is introduced to a larger deaf community, which sparks a struggle for self-identity and rebellion against his family.
± "Russian Transport" ( Feb. 6-May 11, 2014 in the Upstairs Theatre), the Chicago premiere of Erika Sheffer's play, directed by Yasen Peyankov and featuring Tim Hopper, Mariann Mayberry and Alan Wilder). A look at the contemporary American immigrant experience, with elements of a thriller, focuses on a rowdy Russian family in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn that is hellbent on achieving the American Dream. With the arrival from the "old country" of Uncle Boris, who is engaged in mysterious business ventures, that family is challenged in unexpected ways.
± "The Way West" (April 3-June 8, 2014), a world premiere by Mona Mansour, directed by Amy Morton. In this look at the American family, set in a modern-day California town that's seen better days, Mom shares death-defying tales of pioneer crossings with her two squabbling adult daughters as she waits for her bankruptcy to come through. Infused with original prairie songs, this play explores the mixed blessing of our great frontier spirit, which has fueled both self-delusion and survival.
± "The Qualms" (July 3-Aug. 31, 2014): This world premiere by Bruce Norris, directed by Pam MacKinnon, is set at a beachside apartment complex, where a group of friends gathers for their regular evening of food, drink, drugs and partner-swapping. But things don't go as planned with the arrival of a new couple, and the questions that arise are: Does sex ruin everything? And what is the purpose of monogamy?