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'Bewildered' author Ron Weaver remembered
by Matt Simonette

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In his program notes for the 2017 Hell in a Handbag production Bewildered—a musical parody of Bewitched told from the vantage point of nosy neighbor Gladys Kravitz—playwright Ron Weaver wrote of his two things he loved most beyond his friends and family: musical theater and classic sitcoms.

Weaver explained, "I've always been especially drawn to the shows where one person lives in the eye of a hurricane of insane or bizarre behavior."

Weaver, who was also the longtime box office manager at North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie, passed away unexpectedly at age 52 on June 4. The cause of death was acute Guillain Barre Syndrome—a rare disorder in which the body's immune system attacks the nerves.

Jessica Hester, Weaver's best friend, said she'll always remember Weaver's sense of humor and his willingness to help her out without question.

"We obviously went out to see a lot of plays and musicals together," she recalled. "I would not have taken as much advantage of the Chicago theater scene as much if I wasn't friends with him. He was a huge comic book nerd, so we would go see a lot of superhero movies together. He was always my go-to person to help me figure out the plot-points and figure out the 'Easter eggs' in those movies."

Weaver had an extensive knowledge of "kitschy pop culture, so it was always educational to have him around," said Hester.

She said that she moved frequently in the mid-'00s, and Weaver "would always be there to to take me where I was going until I settled in and then bring me back to Chicago when it didn't work out."

Although Weaver frequently left Hester in stitches with his impressions and parody lyrics—she recalled him, for example, singing "Der Kommisar" as Tyler Perry as Madea—she said her best friend generally played it safe in many realms of his life, until he came up with the idea for Bewildered.

A longtime fan of Hell in a Handbag, cast members and staff knew, thanks to his distinctive laugh, when Weaver was in the audience, said company Artistic Director David Cerda.

"He came to all of our shows, multiple times," said Cerda. "We got to know him and talk to him. We developed a friendship that way."

Cerda explained that he is often skeptical when acquaintances pitch their ideas for Hell in a Handbag shows, but Weaver's was different.

"When he presented the idea for Bewildered—the 'elevator pitch' where he told me that it was Bewitched, but from the perspective of Gladys Kravitz—it sounded interesting to me right away," he recalled. "Most of the ideas I hear are either ones we already have thought of or are just not interested in. But this really piqued my interest. Once I realized he was really serious about it, and I heard some of his songs, and once he gave me his first draft, we decided we should do a workshop of it."

Bewildered, for which Weaver wrote the book and co-wrote music and lyrics with Aaron Benham, had its first workshop in 2014.

"That was the first time Hell in a Handbag has done a workshop from an outside person who pitched to us," Cerda said. "That's how the journey started. … It was a dream of his."

Weaver brought with him specific ideas for casting, including ensemble member Caitlin Jackson as Gladys Kravitz and Cerda as Endora.

"I told him, 'You know, I'm not the strongest singer or dancer,'" Cerda recalled. "He said, 'I don't care. I think you can play her.'"

Bewildered finally ran in late 2017.

"We really liked the show because Ron perfectly fit our mission statement," Cerda said. "We normally feature shows about misfits, people who aren't the leads in shows, and Gladys Kravitz was not your normal idea of a leading lady. [Ron] had some beautiful songs. One of them was called 'The Leading Lady.' When I first read that song, I said, 'This is you, isn't it?'"

Hester saw Bewildered twice.

"Oh, my God—I was so proud of him," she said. "He did struggle with depression for most of his life, and he would have crippling bouts of anxiety and self-doubt. But he pushed through it, and wrote something so beautiful. … He had an amazing cast, artists who 'got it' and really appreciated the material."

Funeral services for Weaver took place June 13 in Catlin, Illinois. A celebration of his life is scheduled for Monday, July 30, at North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. Hester suggested donations in his memory to either About Face Youth Theatre or the Critical Animal Relief Foundation, through which Weaver adopted one of his cats.

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