Chicago actors help bury “Six Feet Under;” J.J. Johnston performs in Victory Gardens play

WITH “SIX FEET UNDER” winding to the end of its final season, Emmy-winning writer Rick Cleveland wanted to find a way to pay tribute to Chicago, the town where he cut his early-career teeth as a playwright.

Cleveland found it: he wrote a funeral into his final script for the series and hired for actors as mourners with mugs about as Chicago as you can get. Astute observers would have recognized Jack Wallace, Danny Goldring, Ron Dean and Megan Fay.

SPEAKING OF CHICAGO TYPES, legendary tough guy J. J. Johnston is back in town to perform in “Symmetry,” a play by David Field at Tony Award-winning Victory Gardens Theater, May 27-July 10. Johnston replaces the previously-announced Dan Lauria, who had a schedule conflict (which probably means a movie role he couldn’t refuse).

Among Johnson’s numerous film and TV credits are “JFK,” “Fatal Attraction,” “Mad Dog and Glory,” “The Fixer,” “LA Law,” “Roseanne” and “King of Queens.”

But longtime theatre fans know J.J. Johnston as an actor in numerous David Mamet plays and movies, including originating the role of Donny Dubrow in Mamet’s “American Buffalo.” Johnston later played the same role on Broadway with Al Pacino and at the Duke of York Theatre in London.

What may be a surprise to fans of Johnston the Actor is that he’s now Johnston the author, too. A former boxer?why is that not a surprise?he’s the co-author of the new non-fiction book “Chicago Boxing,” a history of local pugilism from 1860-2005.

THE NEW MUSICAL “BRINGERS” by Paul Libman and Dave Hudson, winners of this year’s prestigious Richard Rodgers Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, will be featured at the June 12 Producer’s Preview Benefit. The TBC workshop composer/writer team was inspired by Carl Sandburg’s “Cornhuskers” and “Bringers” explores the repeating cycle of life in the Midwest with American music from folk to jazz.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan is honorary chair of the benefit that supports the 12th annual showcase of new and highly professional musical theatre works-in-progress.

TBC has produced over 100 Chicago premieres of new musicals in various “stages” of development. TBC nurtures new works through its Musical Theatre Writers’ Workshop and collaborates with theatre companies and artists throughout the country to develop new musicals.

The benefit will be held at the Speakwasy Supper Club, 1401 W. Devon, 5:30-9:30 p.m. Tickets at $100 include elegant hors d’oeuvres, a martini bar and fabulous desserts. To reserve, call Joan Mazzonelli, 773/929-7367, ext. 221.

CHICAGO DRAMATISTS is launching what the theatre says is the first-ever anthology of new plays through a publishing division, the Chicago Dramatists Press, underwritten by a $15,000 grant from the Sara Lee Foundation

“New Plays from Chicago” will consist of eight plays by Chicago Dramatists resident playwrights. General editors are Russ Tutterow, founder and artistic director of the 26-year old company, and managing director Ann Filmer.

The initial press run will be 1,500 copies. Chicago Dramatists managing director Brian Loevner says they hope to sell 1,000 and distribute the rest through various professional channels, seeing that copies go to producers, directors, artistic directors, dramaturgs and colleges. The soft cover book will retail for $15.

THE OAK PARK FESTIVAL THEATRE this summer celebrates 30 years of “Classics in the Park” with an expanded list of productions for the 2005-2006 season.

On June 4, the Festival Theatre presents presents “Summer Scenes,” an afternoon of Shakespeare and modern monologues and scenes, including previews of upcoming summer shows.

“Summer Scenes” is free and open to the public at the Oak Park Public Library’s Dole Branch, 225 Augusta St., Oak Park, at 3 p.m. Call 708/524-2050 for performance times or see

“BLUE MAN GROUP,” enjoying an endless run at the Topel family’s Briar Street Theatre, certainly knows who its audience is, especially during the tourist-heavy warm weather months.

Starting June 10, the North Side show will offer free shuttle bus service on Friday nights between South Loop and N. Michigan Avenue hotels and the theatre (at Halsted and Briar streets). The service will continue through September 2.

THE CITY OF CHICAGO will name a street after Irma P. Hall in honor of the 70th birthday of the homegrown star of the big and small screens and stage who ranks as Tom Hanks’ favorite African-American grandma.

The celebration begins on June 3, which the City Council has declared Irma P. Hall Day in Chicago. The honorary street dedication will be followed by a VIP reception at the Carter G. Woodson Regional Library, 9525 S. Halsted. The party continues at the Woodson Library on June 4th, with a poetry reading by Ms. Hall at 2 p.m. followed by a screening of her film with Hanks, “The Ladykillers.”

Greetings to Irma can be sent care of her longtime agent, Harrise Davidson:

A RECENT VISIT TO NEW YORK revealed Broadway stages dominated by former Chicagoans. The co-stars of “The Producers” now are Richard Kind and Alan Ruck, both young players here long before they teamed on “Spin City.”

John C. Reilly?one of Scorsese’s favorite actors?is playing Stanley Kowalski opposite Natasha Richardson in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” A block away, Northwestern University grad Denis O’Hare is starring opposite Christine Applegate in “Sweet Charity.”

The biggest dramatic hit on Broadway is a new production of David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross” with its references to Chicago streets and place such as Devon Avenue and Peterson. The production stars Alan Alda, Liev Schreiber and Tom Wopat in roles originated here by Mike Nussbaum, Joe Mantegna and William L. Peterson.

Hey, has anyone noticed that the older Alan Alda gets, the more he looks and sounds like Grandpa Munster himself, Al Lewis?