Major star power lights up Chicago theatres; Schwimmer back in 2005 with LaBute play

Chicago’s three Tony Award winning theatre companies are ramping up the star power for the opening shows of the season. The smallest of the three troupes, Victory Gardens, offers a Sept. 20-Oct. 24 run of a new comedy, “The Family Gold,” by Annie Reiner, daughter of Carl and sister of Rob. She ought to know what’s funny. Stage, film and TV veteran Harold Gould stars.

A few blocks away, Steppenwolf Theatre Company offers John Mahoney (himself a Tony Award winner) and actor/author Tracy Letts (“Killer Joe”) in Ronald Harwood’s “The Dresser,” Sept. 25-Nov. 14.

But bragging rights go to the Goodman Theatre, staging a world premiere by America’s greatest living playwright, Arthur Miller. “Finishing the Picture” runs October 5-31. Not only that, Goodman’s Tony Award? winning artistic director, Robert Falls, is staging it. Not only that, the cast features Scott Glenn, Stacy Keach, Stephen Lang, Linda Lavin, Matthew Modine and Harris Yulin.

RAN INTO DAVID SCHWIMMER while he was here meeting with fellow members of the Lookingglass Theatre Ensemble, his Chicago home base. Schwimmer told us (exclusively) that he hopes to be back at Lookingglass in 2005 to direct or act in a new Neil LaBute play. LaBute, the edgy and sometimes-nasty playwright and screenwriter, is represented locally right now with his play, “Bash,” at Circle Theatre (Forest Park).

FILM/TV DIRECTOR JOEL ZWICK (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and the soon-to-be-released “Elvis Has Left the Building”) will be represented in Chicago with a stage production, “George Gershwin Alone,” at the Royal George Theatre, Sept. 27-Oct. 24. As the title suggests, it’s a one-person show about and evening with George Gershwin, not only as a legendary pianist but also as a raconteur.

Few know that Gershwin hosted his own, live radio program in the 1930s, and this show is based on the informal character of Gershwin’s broadcasts. “George Gershwin Alone” is performed by Hershey Felder, who also wrote the piece. Both actor and concert pianist, Felder is the first person ever authorized by the Gershwin estate to portray the legendary composer on stage.

EMMY AWARD WINNING WRITER RICK CLEVELAND, who began his career as a Chicago playwright, returns for one night only, October 25, to perform his hilarious monolog “My Buddy Bill,” about his friendship (for real) with Bill Clinton. The one-night stand will be a benefit for the American Theatre Company, which Cleveland co-founded in 1985. Since his Chicago days, Cleveland has hit it big in LA writing for “The West Wing” (Emmy, Writers Guild and Humanitas awards), and as writer and executive producer for “Six Feet Under,” his current gig. Info at 773/ 929-1031.

ONE OF OUR FAVORITE GIRL GANGS, The Sweat Girls, just returned from a gig at the Acorn Theatre in Three Oaks, Michigan, where the writer/performers tried out material for “Salvaged by Sweat,” their new show. The Sweats?Jane Blass, Cindy Hanson, Dorothy Milne, Martie Sanders, Clare Nolan-Long and Pamela Webster?say the new piece is about garbage picking, thrift shopping, re-use, rebirth and rediscovery. Well, that seems to cover the universe. No date or place for “Salvaged by Sweat” has been announced. Their previous hit shows are “Sweat Dreams” and “The Motherlode.”

“ON THE DOWNLOW,” the Latino indie feature shot in Little Village, continues to rack up successes on the film festival circuit, having picked up the Best Narrative Feature Film award over the summer in New York. The story about a love affair between two members of rival Latino gangs is a first feature for director Tadeo Garcia, and has done equally well at mainstream, Latino and gay film fests, among them events in Turin, Italy, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Miami Beach.

JONATHAN ABARBANEL covers theatre for Chicago Public Radio, the weekly Windy City Times, the national trade paper Back Stage and the Chicago trade paper PerformInk. Contact him at