Locals make their mark with Jeff nominations


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By Michelle Dybal

Contributing Reporter

The 50th Annual Jeff Awards will recognize outstanding achievement in Chicago-area theater later this month, but in the meantime, one local venue and several Oak Park-area performers received recognition through Jeff nominations.

Named after a highly respected, successful 19th-century Chicago actor, Joseph Jefferson III, who often played Rip Van Winkle, "the Joseph Jefferson Awards Committee evolved in response to a search by Chicago actors for a way to honor local theater talent," according to their website.

"The Jeff Awards evaluates over 250 theatrical productions and holds two awards ceremonies annually." The upcoming awards are for equity, or union, productions, while the June awards are for non-equity shows. Different from other awards, Jeff Awards do not use "best" or "winner" because they believe "there are no losers in the Chicago theater community." Instead, "Jeff recipients are cited for outstanding achievement."

Berwyn's 16th Street Theater received four nominations — the most it has ever garnered in one year. Before this year, the company has received seven Jeff nominations since Ann Filmer, who also lives in Berwyn, founded it in 2008.

The theater received two nods in the New Works category, one for The Hero's Wife by Aline Lathrop and another for Muthaland by Minita Gandhi, who also received a nomination for her Solo Performance.

"We're a playwright's theater — new work is all we do," said Filmer, the artistic director. "The playwright is always there, in casting, with designers; in most of the rehearsals they are making changes — up to a full year when it is presented to the audience."

The Hero's Wife shows the relationship between a husband returning from war, dealing with PTSD at night, and his wife who suffers through his night-time episodes, but fears for his safety if she reveals this to his day-time persona. "Even though it turns out to be a love story," Filmer said, "the audience goes through this intense experience."

In Gandhi's Muthaland, what starts as a tale of love takes a turn when there is a sexual assault during a spiritual retreat in India. According to Filmer, audiences were taken with Gandhi's real-life account. 

Resident lighting designer and artistic associate for 16th Street, Cat Wilson, also was nominated for Lighting Design, Midsize Production, for The Wolf at the End of the Block.

Oak Park actors who appeared in Chicago stage productions were recognized by the Jeff Awards as well. Teen Leo Gonzalez, sang, danced and acted in Fun Home at Victory Gardens Theater, which garnered four nominations, including one for outstanding Large Production, Musical or Revue.

Ryan Kitley appeared in Goodman Theatre's Support Group for Men this summer. The Ensemble has been nominated for its performance.

The Jeff Awards take place on Monday, Oct. 22, at Drury Lane Oak Brook.

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