State to fund $18.5 million for the arts; plays about real people abound

The Illinois General Assembly is set to approve $18.5 million for the Illinois Arts Council (IAC) for Fiscal 2005, the same amount as last year. While the bulk of the money goes to performing arts organizations, presenters and museums, the IAC budget includes $5.2 million for the broadcast industry. Specifically, the funds will support Illinois’ nine public televisions stations and 14 public radio stations. In Greater Chicago, those outlets are PBS affiliates Chs. 11 and 20, and National Public Radio affiliate WBEZ.

With Illinois facing a huge budget deficit for the second year in a row ($1.7 billion-$3.5 billion, depending on whom you talk to), arts advocates privately are satisfied that the IAC figure will remain the same. Last year, facing a $5 billion deficit, new governor Rod Blagojevich cut the IAC budget by less than 10% over Fiscal 2003, a far less drastic reduction than most other state agencies absorbed.

The governor, and bi-partisan leaders in the General Assembly, understand that arts-related industries are an economic engine for the state. Publicly, advocacy groups such as the Illinois Arts Alliance continue to promote an IAC annual budget of $24 million or $2 per capita. They accept, however, that it won’t happen this year.

And you thought Orson Welles was dead. But, no. He’s appearing on stage in Chicago along with John Houseman, composer Marc Blitzstein and lefty actor Howard Da Silva. These are the characters in “It’s All True,” a serious comedy about the backstage circus that surrounded the first production of Blitzstein’s agit- prop musical, “The Cradle Will Rock” in 1937. Welles directed, Houseman produced and Da Silva starred. The show’s at Timeline Theatre (615 W. Wellington) through June 6.

Actually, our local theatres seem to have a thing just now for doing plays about real people. Next week, the Goodman Theatre (170 N. Dearborn) recreates movie mogul David O. Selznick, director Victor Fleming and screen writer (and one-time Chicagoan) Ben Hecht in the world premiere of “Moonlight and Magnolias,” about the making of “Gone With the Wind.” The Ron Hutchinson comedy is in previews now, opens May 25 and runs through June 13.

Meanwhile, great screen divas and rivals Bette Davis and Joan Crawford are doing nightly battle for Hell in a Handbag Productions, in the world premiere of “How ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?’ Happened.” This definitely is a tongue-in-cheek take since elegant Crawford is being played by the show’s author, David Cerda, while slatternly Davis is played by the show’s producer, Steve Hickson. The show is at Theatre Building Chicago (1225 W. Belmont) through June 26.

Chicago indie Latino producer/director Tadeo Garcia was in Turin, Italy last month for the international premiere of his film (written by Roger B. Domian) “On the Down Low,” a title as timely as Oprah can make it. It’s the story of the relationship between Isaac and Angel, two young Latinos involved with rival Chicago gangs. Their intimate friendship breaks all the rules both of their traditional culture and of their gangs.

“On the Down Low” will be screened here on May 28 as the opening feature of the International Latino Cinematheque, at Ice Theaters (2258 W. 62nd St.). Ice Theaters is a 10-screen complex that will devote one screen to showing international Latino films year- round, while more standard Hollywood fare continues on the other nine screens.

One of the few major film complexes to serve Chicago’s Latino community, all English-language films are shown with Spanish subtitles and all Spanish-languages films with English titles. Jesse Rodriquez is executive director of the Latino Cinematheque. For more info, call 773-489-1983.

Now that Martin Crane is married off and “Frasier” has been retired from the NBC line-up, Oak Park resident John Mahoney is returning with relish to his first love, live theatre. A member of the Steppenwolf Ensemble, Mahoney is appearing at ‘wolf currently in “I Never Sang for My Father,” playing a patriarch of far nastier stripe than Martin Crane. Mahoney’s picked up glowing reviews for the show, playing opposite Kevin Anderson as his son. “I Never Sang for My Father” runs through June 20.

Next season, Mahoney is off to Milburn, New Jersey to appear in “The Drawer Boy” at the Papermill Playhouse. He’ll be repeating a role he played at Steppenwolf two years ago. There’s talk of taking the show into New York after the New Jersey run, a move that would require a second mature actor to co-star opposite Mahoney. If “The Drawer Boy” does not move to Broadway, Mahoney will return here to appear in a new drama at Victory Gardens Theater next June and July, “Symmetry” by David C. Field.

The Sweat Girls, one of Chicago’s brightest-but-occasional theatre troupes, celebrated its 10th anniversary with a gala bash lat March. Now this group of gifted writers and performers–who have left a large footprint in commercial work, too–have released their first CD.

JONATHAN ABARBANEL covers theatre for WBEZ Chicago Public Radio, is theater editor for the weekly Windy City Times and is the Chicago correspondent for the national trade paper, Back Stage.

Oak Park resident John Mahoney has returned to theatre and will perform in other cities.