Smile Politely

The number on the engine was 44

The title of this release comes from a song which was chosen because this is the Station Theatre’s 44th season. After reading the synopses of the selections, I also felt it was appropriate because the lyrics read like a dark dysfunctional family-play, which at first glance seem to be readily represented during this season. I can guarantee you, though, the light at the end of this tunnel is not an oncoming train’s headlight (because we are on the train, that’s the metaphor); this season appears to get lighter and lighter as we near the end. I can’t qualify that statement — everyone’s different, some theatre-goers will prefer the dark, others the light — but it will lead you in the direction you prefer to go.

Synopses are taken from the Station Theatre’s website, all other ramblings are mine. 

OCTOBER 1–17, 2015

The Open House

by Will Eno
directed by Deb Richardson

Synopsis: People have been born into families since people started getting born at all. Playwrights have been trying to write Family Plays for a long time, too. And typically these plays try to answer endlessly complicated questions of blood and duty and inheritance and responsibility. They try to answer the question, “Can things really change?” People have been trying nobly for years and years to have plays solve in two hours what hasn’t been solved in many lifetimes. This has to stop.

Reading this synopsis, which I traced back to original publicity for the play that premiered only eighteen months ago, I nearly feel the need to state I did not paraphrase it for the opening paragraph of my review of Hay Fever. I, for one, am not an enormous fan of the “Family Play”, which is probably why I liked Coward’s sendup, and while this paragraph appears to decry it as well, the reviews from the play’s opening run seem to countermand that interpretation. According to wiki, The Open House won Eno approximately one-half of one-third of a 2014 Drama Desk Award Special Award, “For two extraordinary casts and one impressively inventive playwright.”  So it must be good.   



by Laura Marks
directed by Thom Schnarre

Synopsis: As a first-time mother about to have a home birth, Mari is certain of one thing: she can’t wait to hold her baby. The next morning she is certain of something else: the baby in her arms is not her baby. A contemporary thriller with roots echoing back to the ironic suspense of Rod Serling’s, The Twilight Zone, Laura Marks’s compelling one-act thriller Mine explores an unseen world where doubt and certainty blur and madness and reality are a breath apart.

Apparently continuing along the theme of “Incredibly New Family Plays”, this one had me at Twilight Zone. Opening only two years ago in Chicago, reviews hint that this may not actually be a thriller in a traditional sense, but it also alludes to a character who may or may not be a hallucination. I’m still sold. And while I do not tend to  think of the Station as a family-friendly venue, I feel the need to report that the Trib reports that the play features an on-stage birth, breast-feedings, bodily fluids and nudity. Whether the Station will carry through on these promises (threats?) or not remains to be seen, but honestly, don’t bring your kids to the baby-switching-thriller at the tiny theatre.

DECEMBER 3–19, 2015

The Effect of Gamma Rays On Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds

by Paul Zindel
directed by Latrelle Bright

Synopsis:Winner of the 1971 Pulitzer Prize, the Obie Award and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award as Best American Play of the season. One of Off-Broadway’s greatest successes, this powerful and moving study of an embittered, vindictive widow and her two young daughters has been hailed as one of the most significant and affecting plays of our time. 

I know Paul Zindel’s writing primarily from the Young Adult classic series The Pigman, and another novel which has until now held the award for best-title: Pardon Me, You’re Stepping On My Eyeball. Clearly, this play has usurped the throne, but it was also cited in Zindel’s award for “significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature”, and was the impetus for his book deal with Harper & Row. Although it is another entrant in the “Contemporary Family Play” category, I have never been disappointed by a Zindel work, which always blends actual trauma with a humor that strikes me as more genuine than the stuff read by the kids these days.


American Wee-Pie

by Lisa Dillman
directed by Jaclyn Loewenstein

Synopsis:A disenfranchised textbook editor returns to his small midwestern hometown to bury his mother, having no reason to expect this visit might change his life. However, after a chance encounter with an old high school acquaintance, he finds himself pulled along on a journey of self-discovery. American Wee-Pie is a big-hearted comedy about economic recession, career second acts, and the sometimes life-altering wonder of a small, good thing.

Still adhering to the theme, but starting to lean away, the halfway point of the season features another new play (but at thirty months it is edging into the territory where you want to tell the parents it is time to speak in years… two and a half, your play is 2.5 years old!) with less focus on the family and more on the fulfillment of self. The mother is dead, and there’s a cynical sister, but there are cupcakes involved, so the tunnel is inarguably filling with light.


She Kills Monsters

by Qui Nguyen

Synopsis:A comedic romp into the world of fantasy role-playing games, She Kills Monsters tells the story of Agnes Evans as she leaves her childhood home in Ohio following the death of her teenage sister, Tilly. When Agnes finds Tilly’s Dungeons & Dragons notebook, however, she stumbles into a journey of discovery and action-packed adventure in the imaginary world that was Tilly’s refuge. In this high-octane dramatic comedy laden with homicidal fairies, nasty ogres, and 90s pop culture, acclaimed young playwright Qui Nguyen offers a heart-pounding homage to the geek and warrior within us all.

Chicago playwright Nguyen is also a fight-choreographer. Hmm… anyone thinking Buffy with me? Or Buffy meets The Guild? I am not complaining at all, this description makes me as excited as Evil Dead: the Musical did, and that was a fun night spent, all told. The Denver Post suggests an evening at this show would be a perfect way for gamers’ partners to truly come to understand the game, but it seems as though anyone interested in watching a group of strong women overcome adversity would find value here.

MARCH 24–APRIL 9, 2016


by Nick Payne
directed by Kay Holley

Synopsis:In the beginning Marianne and Roland meet at a party. They go for a drink, or perhaps they don’t. They fall madly in love and start dating, but eventually they break up. After a chance encounter in a supermarket they get back together, or maybe they run into each other and Marianne reveals that she’s now engaged to someone else and that’s that. Or perhaps Roland is engaged. Maybe they get married, or maybe their time together will be short. Constellations is a play about free will and friendship; it’s also about quantum multiverse theory, love, and honey.

Payne’s two-character play has attracted some stellar talents: Rafe Spall, Sally Hawkins, Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson, so I am eager to see which two local stars will fill the roles of Roland and Marianne. With each imaginable iteration of boy-meets-girl played out in the multiverse, NYTimes reviewer Ben Brantley says the actors “must also bring the same weight and conviction to every interpretation, or else the play can feel like a virtuoso acting exercise”. The script and concept seems truly a challenge, set against a simply beautiful stage.

APRIL 21–MAY 7, 2016

The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord

by Scott Carter
directed by Gary Ambler

Synopsis:A founding father, a Victorian novelist, and a Russian revolutionary walk into a…stop me if you’ve heard this one. As Thomas Jefferson (yes, that one), Charles Dickens (the very same), and Count Leo Tolstoy (who else?) are brought together in a blistering battle of wits, this whip-smart comedy examines what happens when great men of history are forced to repeat it.

The Station is no stranger to stand-up comedians who became screenwriters for television, so Scott Carter seems a logical choice. The writer for Bill Mahr on two different shows had an asthma attack that left him near death and more open to religious experiences, so he took the opportunity to read three different Bibles authored by these three brilliant historical figures. Then he wondered what would happen if they were all in the same room, trying to decide what to keep and what to toss. The result is a philosophical and religious debate that simultaneously promotes the best of each man, and exposes the worst.


There are two immediately notable aspects of this season: for one, six of the seven plays are less than five years old; secondly, it is the first time in Station history that the female directors outnumber the men.  Both of these things seem remarkable, and make me particularly excited to ride this train. The Open House will be open for reservations soon, and keep your eyes here for casting news, previews and reviews as the time comes.

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