Twelve years after Jim Sikora shot his film adaptation of Adam Langer’s play “The Critics,” the caustic satire of theatre and the people who cover it finally sees the light of day in a premiere run Feb. 18 and 19 at the Gene Siskel Film Center.
Jim Donovan, Mark Vanesse, Juliet Schaefer, Mary Beth McMahon, James William Joseph, and Maht Wells play five theater critics and their editor at Chicago alternative weekly “The New Void,” sussing out who among them has secretly written a new play that excoriates thinly veiled caricatures of each of them.
“I’d been under scrutiny before, and I wanted to turn the magnifying glass around and say ‘this is how we see you,’” Sikora says. The characters “are composites, but I’ve met some of those composites.”
“A lot of it is about the act of creation,” he says. “You see them sitting down writing, what’s going on in their heads. You see the light bulb going off. I wanted to capture that.”
Langer wrote “The Critics” at the tail end of seven years he spent as a freelancer theater reviewer for The Reader. He was inspired by a Reader critics’ meeting that “got a little heated at one point,” he says.
“It was at the very beginning rumblings of ‘uh-oh, digital’s coming, what will we do with this big, weighty four-section alternative newspaper?’”
Sikora saw Langer’s production of “The Critics” at Chicago Dramatists and proposed to Langer the idea of filming it on location with the intact stage cast (a format he’d repeat in his 2007 adaptation of Brett Neveu’s “The Earl”).
They shot most of the action over one weekend at the Northwest Side office of Book Magazine, where Langer was an editor, adding shots of each character’s apartment over the next six months.
An early digital adopter who made his first DV feature “Rock & Roll Punk” in ’96, Sikora shot on a Sony VX1000.
Langer moved to New York in 2000, going on to write the novels “Crossing California” (2004), “The Washington Story” (2005), “Ellington Boulevard” (2008) and “The Thieves of Manhattan” (2010), as well as the nonfiction “My Father’s Bonus March” (2009).
“The Critics’” first editor left the country. Then the second editor got involved in a documentary that drew him away from “The Critics,” Sikora says. Sikora moved on to other projects until dusting it off in 2009 to give new editor and producing partner Tim Baron (“Indestructible”) a crack at cutting it.
“There was a frustration about how to weave all the pieces together,” Sikora says. “Tim grasped intuitively how to solve it.”
“The Critics” screenings will also mark the debut of a teaser trailer for “I’ll Die Tomorrow,” a feature that Sikora is developing that stars Michael Shannon (“Boardwalk Empire”) as a terminally ill former punk singer on the lam, with a young woman running from her drug dealer boyfriend.
At 8:15 p.m. Friday, 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St. Sikora, cast and crew will attend the screenings. Langer will be there Saturday. See siskelfilmcenter.org/critics