Smile Politely

Station Theatre: 42

Welcome to the Celebration Company at the Station Theatre in Urbana’s 41st Season’s End-of-Year banquet! Through this season’s offerings, our audience has experienced the ambiguity and emotional toll of childhood sexual abuse; the problems with revenge, greed, and psychosis in a royal family; the stranglehold of a mother’s love and its crippling effects on her children; the punk-rock slaughter of an indigenous people by a rock star American President; the struggles with disease and death visited on a pair of gay brothers; a ménage a trois of literary proportions; a bipolar meltdown in musical form; a small Chicago donut shop’s fight to survive; demons from Hell killing a passel of college students; and, finally, two historical figures debating the existence of God, the spiritual cost of suicide, and cancer of the mouth…during the Holocaust. And they say serious theatre isn’t fun!

Thus began the presentation portion of an evening celebrating the Celebration Company’s 41st Season and announcing its 42nd Season lineup. Yours truly was speaking, summing up a season that included productions of How I Learned to Drive, Hamlet, Independence, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Sons of Prophet, Or, Next to Normal, Superior Donuts, Evil Dead: the Musical, and Freud’s Last Session. It had been a busy year and a great ride, and we all needed to party!

The end-of-season banquet is traditionally held at Urbana’s The Great Impasta on a warm summer’s Sunday evening less than 24 hours after the last show has wrapped. And while Freud’s Last Session has been extended for two more performances this coming weekend (get your tickets now!), the traditional banquet began this past Sunday as usual with laughter, tears, fond memories, and at least one speech by artistic director Rick Orr (pictured above).

After pre-dinner drinks and conversation, the entire assembled company squeezed into the cozy confines of the restaurant for a lovely meal, colorful conversation, and even more drinks. Once the plates were cleared away and the chatter had died down a bit, the business of the evening commenced. The announcement of the coming season was what featured most prominently in everyone’s mind, of course, as a roomful of adults waited like children on December 24, all a-flutter to find out what excitement awaited them.

But wait they must, so wait they did, and the anticipation was typically exquisite.

Before the announcement was made, a handful of service awards and scholarshipswere handed out, along with a few tongue-in-cheek trophies. Among the seroius, heartfelt Thank Yous this evening was recognition of departing board member Shawna Smith (pictured at left), who was recognized for her efforts as a properties mistress, actress, producer, assistant director, and all-around-valuable company and board member. Her Thank You was followed by an award for “Volunteer of the Year,” an annual company award that recognizing outstanding efforts for the company by a non-board member. This year’s recipient was Jesse Folks, one of the company’s key lighting designers and a talented photographer who has donated his skills for years to keeping a photographic record of each production, as well as creating the customary end-of-season slideshow to celebrate the work of the previous year.

The next awards were given to honor young company members who have shown their dedication to The Station through performance and volunteer hours to the company. The awards were memorial scholarships to aid younger actors in theiracademic pursuits. One award, the Danny Sullivan Award, was given to a young company member who volunteered above and beyond the call, just as its beloved namesake Danny did before his passing. This year’s recipient, U of I theatre student Mark Fox (pictured at right), appeared in numerous productions and volunteered hours of set construction and face-time to support the company. This year, the company added a second set of scholarships, the Virginia Roesch Scholarships, which award one male and one female company member who have contributed to a musical theatre production. This year’s recipients, Christopher Terrell Brown and Caitlin Caruso-Dobbs, have both appeared in numerous musical productions for the company and in the C/U area.

The evening culminated in a comprehensive slide show retrospective, orchestrated by Jesse Folks, and… that’s right… the announcement of our 42nd season offerings.

Now, without further ado, here’s Season 42!

White People, a drama by J. T. Rogers, to be directed by Joel Higgins. This controversial and darkly drawn piece offers insight into the views of three whiteAmericans from various geographic and class backgrounds whose views of privilege and race reflect the state of the nation’s racial divide with grim and at times disturbingly comic effect. In a 2008 review of the play, The Austin Chronicle said, “J.T. Rogers’ drama about white people and their feelings on race has yet to lose any of its timeliness in the seven years since its premiere.” Joel Higgins, a first-time director at the Station, was seen this past season in Sons of the Prophet. White People will run October 3-19.

Come Back Little Sheba, a classic drama by William Inge, to be directed by Tom Mitchell. This classic work is a ground-breaking study of family dysfunction. It examines the sterile marriage of Doc and Lola as they are forced to deal with their lives’ disappointments and each other. Tom Mitchell, who regularly directs productions at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts is the director of the Station’s current production, Freud’s Last Session. Come Back Little Sheba runs November 7-23.

Chess, a musical with book by Richard Nelson, music by Benny Anderson and BjornUlvaeus, and lyrics by Tim Rice, to be directed by Mikel L. Matthews Jr.  A modern classic, this musical uses an international chess tournament to metaphorically examine the post-Cold War relations of Russia and the USA and the difficulties of romance, family, and loss. Ever heard the eighties hit song “One Night in Bangkok?” This is the show from whence it came. Mikel Matthews is the director of such popular Station musicals as The Full Monty, Rent, and Evil Dead: The Musical. Chess runs December 5-21.

Good Boys and True, a mystery by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, will directed by ThomSchnarre. A modern work by an emerging playwright, Good Boys and True focuses on an affluent Washington D.C. doctor, Elizabeth Hardy, whose idyllic life in 1988 is threatened when the coach of her Ivy League-bound son presents her with a grainy video tape. The tape shows an unspeakable crime performed by a boy that may be her son. As she investigates whether her child is guilty, all of Brandon’s secrets come to light, and Elizabeth is forced to confront how her choices have condoned her son’s attitudes and actions and affected all around him. Good Boys and True runs January 23-February 8.

The Clean House, a romantic comedy by Sarah Ruhl, to be directed by Katie BaldwinProsise.  A 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist for Drama, this unusual comic offering focuses on Matilde, a Brazilian maid who hates cleaning and the family she works for in “metaphysical Connecticut.” Ms. Prosise (a writer for Smile Politely) is making her directorial debut after several seasons as a character actress in the company. The Clean House runs February 20-March 8.

The sixth offering this season remains to be announced (or TBA). This top secret production will be directed by either veteran company member Gary Ambler or Station artistic director Rick Orr. All sources are mum on the title of this mystery work, but the Station is known for its love of recent Broadway hits and/or Midwest premieres. Whatever the play happens to be, it is sure to create buzz and will run March 27-April 12.

The Station’s regular fall-to-spring season will conclude with Other Desert Cities, a drama by Jon Robin Baitz, directed by Kay Bohannon Holley. A finalist for the 2012Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a recent hit at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, this play focuses on protagonist Brooke Wyeth’s Christmas homecoming after a six-year absence. Brooke–the adult child of former Hollywood stars–has taken this festive opportunity to announce to her stunned family that she is publishing a memoir that threatens to dredge up the affluent family’s troubled past and tear their world apart. Kay Holley, a Station stalwart, has recently directed such productions as Love Song, Becky Shaw, and last season’s Or. Her Other Desert Cities will run April 24-May 10.

As always, information about the Station’s season, including audition notices, casting announcements, dates, times, and prices can be found on their website.

**Photo of Rick Orr courtesy of Jesse Folks.

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