Playwright Christopher Shinn and director Evan Cabnet both went to New York University about the same time in the late 1990s. Yet the two never worked together until Cabnet worked as an assistant director on Shinn's Pulitzer-finalist off-Broadway drama Dying City in 2007.
Six years later, Cabnet is directing Shinn's world-premiere play Teddy Ferrara at the Goodman Theatre. It's a drama focusing on a college senior named Gabe who is head of the Queer Student Group on campus. Things are going well for Gabe until a campus tragedy involving the play's title character pulls him into a media frenzy where truth doesn't always win out.
"I was teaching undergraduates just as I was beginning to work on Teddy Ferrara and really observing them and measuring my own experiences against that," Shinn said in a statement. "It's an entirely different social world today as mediated through media and technology, and it's rare to see college students represented truthfully. I'll know I have achieved this if college-aged students respond to this play."
On one hand, Cabnet says Teddy Ferrara is partially inspired by the spate of high-profile LGBT suicides in the United States in recent years due to bullying and other factors. But Cabnet also says he and Shinn can draw upon their separate memories and shocked reactions of being at NYU when a number of students took their lives by leaping off of high-rise balconies in the Bobst Library on campus.
"A lot of what Chris is exploring in the play is basically how a lot of things have changed," said director Evan Cabnet. "The way in which young people communicate technologically speaking can heighten or exacerbate things like bullying, like the spreading of rumors and how quickly information can passed on to a huge amount of people in a very short amount of time. It's a big puzzle piece of this story."
Despite the emphasis on technology, Cabnet is not relying on multimedia imagery or TV screens to stage Teddy Ferrara. Instead, he's planning on keeping things decidedly low-tech, even though the play's characters will be practically glued to their mobile devices.
Actor Liam Benzvi is making his Goodman Theatre debut in the role of Gabe, and he's relishing the chance to play out his character's complexity in relation to the tragic events that unfold in the drama.
"This particular student group that Gabe runs is more of a social thing than really a political thing, which kind of presents a little rift when this tragedy does happen," Benzvi said. "What the play addresses is how (the title character) is turned into a martyr for gay causes and gay rights and Gabe starts questioning whether or not that is really the right thing to doto associate homosexuality with something that is inferior and victimized versus just seeing him as a person who happened to be gay."
Teddy Ferrara plays from Saturday, Feb. 2, through Sunday, March 3, at the Goodman Theatre Owen Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St. Previews run through Feb. 10, with an official opening night on Monday, Feb. 11. Performances vary during the regular run, but are largely 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays with 2 p.m. matinees Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are slated at $14-$45 with special $10 student tickets available. Call 312-443-3800 or visit www.goodmantheatre.org for more information.
Grants to go around
About Face Theatre and Chicago Shakespeare Theater were both recently announced as recipients of Global Connections grants by Theatre Communications Group (TCG), a national organization for theater. These grants are meant to encourage new and existing international cultural theater exchanges.
About Face Theatre was one of six recipients of "ON the ROAD" travel grants of up to $5,000. About Face Youth Theatre will head to Toronto to work with Buddies in Bad Times Theatre to form the first international queer youth theater exchange and to create a dramatic piece that explores larger LGBTQ issues in North America.
Chicago Shakespeare Theater was one of three recipients of "IN the LAB" grants of up to $10,000. The regional Tony Award-winning theater is to team up again with the artist collective known as "one step at a time like this" from Melbourne, Australia. The two groups are collaborating on a site-based, mobile technology-enhanced production of Shakespeare's Measure for Measure.
Hit the Wall hits New York
When I saw Ike Holter's Hit the Wall last year, I felt his Stonewall Riots-inspired drama would be perfect for New York's Barrow Street Theatre since it's literally just steps away from the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. So it's great news to hear that Hit the Wall will be playing the Barrow Street Theatre with previews beginning on Tuesday, Feb. 19 with tickets on sale through Sunday, July 7.
Hit the Wall is based upon the historic roots and mythologies that have developed around the Stonewall Riots, which is generally cited for kicking off the modern LGBTQ rights movement. The play will transfer with its original director, Eric Hoff, plus two cast members from the Chicago production that was originally staged by The Inconvenience as part of Steppenwolf Theatre's Garage Repertory series.
The Barrow Street Theatre already has a strong history with Chicago theater artists. It hosted director David Cromer's wildly acclaimed production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town that was originally produced in Chicago by The Hypocrites, plus Cromer directed the theater's recently closed hit Tribes.
For more information on the New York run of Hit the Wall, visit www. barrowstreettheatre.com .