'It's a rather challenging process," explains veteran actress Marie Goodkin. "As I prepare for any role, I'm usually really tied to the text. But this time, there is no one else to play off or connect with in the scene. It's thrilling, but preparing a monologue like this one is definitely different from the usual routine. In this play there is no single connecting plot and none of the actors interact with one another."
Goodkin is talking about the latest production of the Saltbox Theater Collective, opening at Oak Park's Madison Street Theater, 1010 Madison St., at 7:30 on Thursday, Nov. 5. The show is Talking With by Jane Martin.
"This production is pretty exciting," says director Brian Fruits. "The script consists of 11 different vignettes featuring 11 actresses. I think audiences will be fascinated by the different storylines and the energy of the performers."
Talking With contains some thematic elements that echo from one scene to the next, but this show is perhaps not really a play in the traditional sense. The 11 solo monologues, each running about 10 minutes, are essentially unrelated. The women range in age, come from a variety of backgrounds, and each one talks about her life. Some of the vignettes are touching — even intensely emotional. Others are hilarious.
"Brian is a very strong director," says cast member Joy Schoeph. "Though this is a unique preparation process, it's not really harder getting into the role. It's just different than working with an ensemble. We are all playing individual female characters, of course. My piece focuses on a woman who is dealing with her mother's death — the difficulty of letting go."
This play first surfaced in 1982 but the authorship is still open to conjecture. "Jane Martin" is a pen name. The script showed up mysteriously at the Actors Theatre of Louisville. Many now believe the 11 monologues were written by Jon Jory, the artistic director of the company. Jory is the son of Victor Jory, the Hollywood actor best remembered for playing Jonas Wilkerson, the scheming overseer in Gone With the Wind. But whoever the author, the writing is lively, sharp, and perceptive.
The 11 memorable women are all unique characters. There is a snake-handling religious fanatic, an ex-rodeo queen, a baton twirler, a McDonald's devotee, and a belabored immigrant.
"These characters are very real," says Goodkin. "But they are often amusing as well as touching. My character, Anna Mae, is lonely, yet she's created this inner world for herself. Of course, actors are used to doing brief monologues for auditions all the time. But they are usually very brief — never longer than a minute."
Andrew Pederson, an instructor at Concordia University and director of their recent hit Spamalot, is the resident playwright of the Saltbox Theater Collective. He says, "The pieces are never drippy or sentimental. They're intensely personal yet simultaneously very universal as well. Each woman makes you realize you never really know the depths of the people around you. The actresses bring to life a variety of crises coming out of everyday situations. All the stories are really human."
The Saltbox troupe had a successful run with Euripides' The Bachae, an ancient Greek tragedy, earlier this fall. Talking With runs from Nov. 5-22. Curtain is at 7:30. Tickets are $20 or $15 for seniors and students.
Broadway in Oak Park
"This event will be an amazing show," says Open Door Theater's artistic and managing director, Mary Pat Sieck. "All of the stars are professionals who are donating their time. That's a great gift to both us and our audience. All of the performers are working in Chicago right now but many of them have been in national companies. The caliber of talent is incredible."
Sieck is talking about Broadway in Oak Park, a special one-night-only benefit performance for Open Door Theater this Saturday night, Nov. 7, at 8 p. m. Tickets, which cost $50, include a complimentary beverage and a buffet of both sweet and savory snacks.
"Each of the performers will be singing songs they have chosen that they love, so we know this show will be really thrilling," explains Sieck. "We were completely sold out last year. Like most small theaters and not-for-profit groups, we have steep financial challenges. We continually struggle to keep our ticket prices affordable. So this fundraiser really is important."
Ashton Byrum, Oak Park resident, actor, Columbia College theater professor, and Open Door board member, says, "We have rounded up a number of well-known theatrical comrades. They are all happy to help out and support Open Door. We're so lucky to have such a great lineup of talent. Last year's event was so well-received. This show is completely different. Some of the performers were featured last year, but we have a number of new people who are looking forward to performing songs they've chosen just for this show.
"We have Michael Gillis who toured in Phantom of the Opera, Landree Fleming from the Drury Lane, and James Lee who was in Oklahoma at the Lyric Opera," notes Byrum. "We have Sharon Carlson from WTTW, Audrey Billings from the Marriott Lincolnshire, Steve Stafford who's been on Chicago Fire and performs in Las Vegas, Elya Bottinger, Dakota Hughes, and Paul Amandes and his wife Beth Ann O'Reilly, who live in the area. Charlotte Rivard-Hoster will be our pianist and accompanist. We've definitely got quite a high-powered cast. We're so lucky to have them all." Byrum himself, I might add, will be performing, too.
"Audiences last year were blown away by the wonderful show with such outstanding entertainers," Sieck says. "This year there will be other surprises as part of the evening— like both a live auction and a silent auction."
Broadway in Oak Park will play Saturday night only at Open Door Theater, 902 S. Ridgeland, just north of the Eisenhower Expressway and one door south of Harrison Street. Phone 708-386-5510 for reservations.
Answer Book 2018
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