Oak Parkers well represented on Chicago stages


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By Michelle Dybal

Contributing Reporter

The Chicago area is rich with quality theater offerings, and right now you don't have to look too hard to find a show with someone connected to Oak Park. 

Griffin Theatre's For Services Rendered, for instance, is Jeff Award recommended. It's being staged at The Den in Wicker Park and Lynda Shadrake, a 32-year Oak Park resident, plays the "meaty" role of Charlotte, mother of a British family in 1932 still affected by the aftermath of World War I.

The play explores themes that ring true today, from how women are treated by men and why countries go to war to what happens to veterans afterwards. Charlotte's son is blinded in WWI, and the actor who plays him is also blind.

"I feel for the most part, we're an ungrateful nation because when they come out, they're homeless, they commit suicide, there are no benefits for them, they just get tossed aside," Shadrake said in reference to today's veterans in the U.S. "And they've been broken — they come back with PTSD and lost limbs and things we will never understand."

Shadrake began acting with Griffin Theatre 10 years ago when she played her first dramatic role as the mother of military sons serving in Iraq and Afghanistan in Letters Home, a touring show.

"It changed my life and my perspective about how I view our military families," she said. "I have so much more awareness and appreciation of the sacrifice people make — the families, the soldiers. It was not something I was acutely aware of in my day-to-day life."

Shadrake's stage career began in comedy, a change made when she moved to Oak Park from Ohio, where she was a high school English and Drama teacher.

Also at The Den is actress Neala Barron, who grew up in Oak Park until she went away to college. She's in the musical Queen of the Mist, the story of the first person to go over Niagara Falls in her own custom-designed barrel at the turn of the 20th century. It is staged by Firebrand, "the first musical theatre company committed to employing and empowering women by expanding opportunities on and off the stage."

"It's been a unique privilege to create this piece with so many women and nonbinary artists," Barron said. "I can't tell you the last time I've worked or seen a woman's story be directed and produced and performed by women. … The work Firebrand is doing for representation of feminist stories and voices is essential for our storytelling community."

At Strawdog Theatre, meanwhile, Mark Guarino's Take Me is a comic-fantasia musical with original music and lyrics mixing ballads, country and rock by Jon Langford of The Mekons and Waco Brothers. Guarino spent his formative years in Oak Park, from birth through age 29, minus his college years. He is a playwright and journalist.

"I've been writing plays since college and have worked in the Chicago storefront scene for many years," Guarino said. "So journalism and theater have always worked side-by-side. I see both connected by storytelling. I like the human element in journalism — talking about how big picture things affect the average person. The same dynamic happens in theater."

The musical, inspired by a real-life event, is "about faith in the face of turmoil and what some people will do to find meaning amid situations they cannot control," Guarino said. A woman traumatized by her husband's comatose state, turns to the world of alien conspiracy theories, which leads to hearing voices directing her to build an alien-themed amusement park.

Whether it's a thought-provoking show in a British drawing room, a female-strong take on a historic event, or a modern musical with extra-terrestrials, theatergoers can drink in a show with a local twist.

"Queen of the Mist" runs through July 6 at The Den. Tickets/more: firebrandtheatre.org. "Take Me" runs through June 22 at Strawdog, 1802 W. Berenice Ave., Chicago. Tickets/more: strawdog.org.

See "For Services Rendered," Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 7:30 p.m., and Sundays, 3 p.m., through July 6, The Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago. $37; $32, veterans/students/seniors. Tickets/more: griffintheatre.com/for-services-rendered. 

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