A Christmas date for “Proof” ?

By Jonathan Abarbanel

“Proof,” the film shot mostly in Chicago (plus some interiors in London) based on the award- winning play by David Auburn, is set for a Dec. 24 release date by Miramax. The play is set in Hyde Park (ours, not London’s) and concerns a University of Chicago theoretical mathematician and his daughter.

The stars are Anthony Hopkins as the professor, Gwynneth Paltrow as his daughter, Jake Gyllenhaal as the love interest, and Hope Davis as an older sister. There’s already talk about promoting Davis for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination.

Veteran Chicago actor Gary Houston is in the film, and is amused that the Miramax release announcement lists only Davis, himself and Anne Whitman in the supporting cast. Houston says he appears in two scenes and has lines in only one of them, delivering a eulogy for Hopkins’ character. Hey, Gary, our advice is to take the money and take the billing (and in that order).

A remarkable human interest story produced by local theater hopefully will have a happy ending on May 19. Two years ago, young actor Michael Patrick Thornton was on top of the world. The tall, husky actor had wowed and terrified both audiences and critics in remarkable performances as a neo-Nazi killer in “Cherry Docs” at the Next Theatre Company, and as one of two Irish brothers in “A Skull in Connemara” at Northlight Theatre. He’d co-founded the Gift Theatre Company here after studying at the University of Iowa and at Steppenwolf.

Then the unthinkable happened: although only in his twenties, Thornton suffered two nearly-fatal strokes that left him in a wheelchair. He’s spent the last year fighting back and has made tremendous progress against a lot of expectations. Now he’s well enough to return to theater, at least as a director.

He’s staging the world premiere of “A Young Man in Pieces” by fellow Gift Theatre co-founder William Nedved, and Thornton has vowed that he will walk into opening night. The play runs May 19-June 27 run at the National Pastime Theatre, 4130 N. Broadway. For ticket info, call 773-837-6358, or find it online at ticketweb.com. It will be wonderful to have the talented and courageous Thornton back again.

With his hit CBS series, “CSI,” on hiatus, William L. Petersen will return to Chicago to present an award to his friend and early mentor, Dennis Zacek, at the annual gala for the League of Chicago Theatres, May 24 at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. Zacek, who is artistic director of Victory Gardens Theater, will receive the League’s 2004 Artistic Leadership Award.

The gala also will honor Lois Weisberg, commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs, and the original Organic Theater Company ensemble. Organic founder (and now film director and writer) Stuart Gordon will be in town for the gala. It’s hoped that at least a few of the early ensemble members also will be back, among them Joe Mantegna, Dennis Franz, Meshach Taylor and Andre De Shields (who currently is on Broadway in a new play, “Prymate”). Former guv James Thompson and wife Jayne are co-chairs of the event.

A great Organic Theater hit, “Bleacher Bums,” is on stage in a new version at the Royal George Theatre, starring Gary Sandy. Conceived by Joe Mantegna (who was in the original cast), the 25-year old show is about the regulars in the Wrigley Field bleachers, back when the $2 tickets were sold the day of the game, and the Cubs were perpetual losers. Things are different now, in the bleachers and on the field, and the script has been changed to keep pace with times (and the Cubs’ shifting fortunes).

Strictly amateur night is the critics’ judgment of “The Blues Brothers Revival” at the Chicago Center for ther Performing Arts. Street gossip is that opening night was so bad, Dan Ackroyd left at intermission despite his stake in the show.

Jonathan Abarbanel covers theater for WBEZ Chicago Public Radio and is theater editor of the weekly Windy City Times newspaper.

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