Russell Crowe

Circle Theatre got a surprise visit from an old friend Saturday afternoon.

Halfway through a bike ride in the Chicago suburbs and into the city, Hollywood actor Russell Crowe realized he was coming up on Oak Park and decided to pop in to see the Madison Street theater, a new location since his prior visit some six years ago.

“He actually walked in right when they were in the middle of painting a set,” said Circle’s artistic director, Kevin Bellie, who was away in San Francisco when he got the news. “[The crew] actually sent me a text that said, ‘By the way, Russell Crowe is here,'” he recalled. But when he pressed for more information, no one responded. They were too busy greeting their guest. Bellie got the full story later.

“He was really pleased at how things look and was really complimentary of the space,” Bellie said. In all, the visit lasted only 10-15 minutes. Crowe said he was staying in Naperville, and found himself passing through Oak Park by chance.

The New Zealand-born actor became familiar with Circle Theatre through a colleague in the movie business, Oak Park’s Catherine Ferraro, who worked as a double for actors on different film sets. While filming Master and Commander, Ferraro and Crowe, the film’s lead actor, forged a friendship over a shared love of books. At the time, Ferraro happened to be working on a project with Circle Theatre, and she told Crowe all about it. He decided to help out, and made a significant donation.

“It was $50,000,” said Bellie. Not only that, but Crowe remembered the theater group when his band, Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts, came to perform at the House of Blues in Chicago.

“They wanted to have Circle be the opening act,” Bellie said. The theater group was happy to do it.

“We had a ton of fun” with the single number they performed that night, he recalled. “It’s so different from what we normally do.”

Ever since, Crowe has had a special place in the hearts and minds of the Circle Theatre family. They were delighted and surprised to welcome him back this weekend and hope he’s up for another visit while he’s in town.

“Lori [Willis, Circle’s managing director] did invite him to come and see the opening of The Women, which opens Wednesday night,” said Bellie. “Who knows? Maybe we’ll get lucky and he’ll take us up on it.”

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