Medical problems not an act

By Jonathan Abarbanel

A spate of medical emergencies has affected at least three Off-Loop shows. I don’t know what a spate is, either, but it never seems to be good.

The Side Project, a small North Side troupe, pushed back “Maggie: A Girl of the Streets,” from March to May, following emergency surgery on Adam Webster, the troupe’s artisitc director. The show is a world premiere adaptation (by Webster) of the 1893 novel by Stephen Crane, about life on The Bowery in New York during the Gilded Age.

The award-winning City Lit Theatre Company pushed back the opening of “The Belle of Amherst” by a week to February 23. The one-woman show about Emily Dickinson stars Karen Platt, who rushed to South Dakota during preview week to be with her 91-year old dad when he took a tumble. Pratt’s understudy (also the show’s director) went on for two previews, but the City Lit producers decided to wait for Pratt.

Even before that, Jefferson Award winning actor Larry Yando had to withdraw from the national tour of “The Lion King” when an old knee injury flared up and required surgery. The popular Yando had co-starred as the evil Scar for nine months here in Chicago. The Walt Disney Companty, producers of “The Lion King,” have kept the door open for Yando to return whenever he can . . . that is, if there’s a Walt Disney Company to return to.

Good news. On the other hand, sometimes the medical news is good: Director Lisa Portes gave birth to a daughter on Valentine’s Day, during final previews of “Far Away,” the Caryl Churchill play she was staging at Next Theatre (Evanston). The show opened on schedule two nights later to glowing reviews from the critics.

Manager Harisse Davidson reports that actress Irma Hall also is making progress in her recuperation from an automobile accident. By Valentine’s Day, Hall was out of the hospital and at the Warren Barr Pavilion on Oak Street, a rehabilitation center. While she still has a struggle ahead of her, this is good news.

Fiscal not physical.Sometimes Off-Loop theaters suffer from fiscal problems rather than physical ones. Such is the case with the prestigious Roadworks Productions: despite 12 years of artistic success and multiple awards, the troupe suspended production last month because of a sustained deficit of $20,000 against an annual budget of $260,000. While the debt is not large, it’s one that has lingered as Roadworks has faced sluggish ticket sales for several shows and a delay in the arrival of grant money. Artistic director Geoffrey M. Curley says it’s only a temporary hiatus; an opportunity for the troupe to trim all expenses until the deficit is paid down.

Best news of all. The Chicago Shakespeare Theatre’s production of “Pacific Overtures,” which transferred last June to the Donmar Warehouse in London, won the Laurence Olivier Award for outstanding musical of the season, beating out such competitors as “Ragtime” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”

The Olivier Awards are London’s equivalent of the Tony Awards. They were presented Feb. 22 in London. Film and stage director Sam Mendes was artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse until recently, and selected “Pacific Overtures” for the house.

JONATHAN ABARBANEL talks theater on WBEZ Chicago Public Radio and reviews shows as Theater Editor of the weekly Windy City Times.