Ann Kreitman was surrounded by bones when she dreamed up Les Innocents.
Touring the catacombs of Parisan underground ossuary where the remains of more than a million people rest( re )discover theatre's co-artistic director learned that the cavernous space had been a popular place for concerts in the late 19th century. She dreamed of creating a stage play set against the ghostly backdrop of the City of Light's tomblike, subterranean city of bones.
"It's literally a city underneath a city. The Nazis had a bunker down there. At one point there was a movie theatre there. I found it fascinating," Kreitman said.
( re )discover Theatre's Les Innocents is the result Kreitman's inspiration. Running through Sunday, Nov. 4 at Uptown's Preston Bradley Center, 941 W. Lawrence Ave., Kreitman's queer, immersive thriller is set in the Parisian Catacombs in a mythical era. Kreitman's new play investigates our relationships to death, duty and defeat.
How did the queerness enter into the conception of the play then? "I created this show as I was coming out," said Kreitman, who directs the piece she created. "[T]hat was when I was 24. I had to unpack the 24 years of repressing my truths. I wanted to explore how nasty that repression can make you. How it comes out in small and unsettling way. That's what this story about for me. The story is about the things we hide from each other. About the essential selfishness about being human," Kreitman elaborated.
But Kreitman wants to tell this queer story differently than many others. "A lot of times we are made out to be tragic heroes. There is a real danger to always be portrayed as tragic heroes. We are so much more than that," she said. "We are allowed to be flawed. We have the right to reckon with our death. I want to create a story about my life in a mythical proportion," she said.
Kreitman said she hopes to disrupt the simplistic narrative about queer people and human beings in general. While she started the project while she was wrestling with her own sexuality, the play itself is not about coming out. "It's not a coming out story," she said. "This is a myth with queer stories. Coming out is important to us because that's how we enter the community. We have to start talking about ourselves in order to find our community.
"But we have more stories to tell, stories about flaws, stories about fucking up, stories about being selfish, not being the perfect role model. I think that's actually a necessary representation as well. If we put ourselves on a pedestal, how do we live up to that? ... Just because we are a marginalized community doesn't mean we are perfect," she said.
In essence, the play is about all human beings wrestling with flaws and vulnerabilities; which makes the piece's Catacombs setting important as a backdrop. The story Les Innocents tells "is about living in the gut. Living in those impulses. In those base desires that we are trying to repress," Kreitman said. "Paris is the head, the logical center for us. We are seven stories below that and fight dirty."
The eerie underground setting is crucial to audience immersion into the world of Les Innocents.
"It's epic. It's huge. It takes the audience through the catacombs. Really gives them a whole immersion experience. Maybe scares them a little bit. So they can be vulnerable as well," Kreitman said.
Co-artistic director ( with Janet Howe ) if ( Re )Discover since 2017, Kreitman saisd part of her job is bring a fresh set of eyes to the company. "As ( ReDiscover ) really developed, we got more and more specific, audience immersive and interactive," she said. "I have seen the landscape and the ecology of Chicago Theatre. I am trying to see where we fit. Chicago has a reputation for being very experimental, and we are trying to live up to that expectation," she said.
Kreitman is proud that the production team and cast members for Les Innocents are predominantly LGBTQ theatre professionals and performers. It is important for her to make room for people of diverse identities and backgrounds. "This is a collaborative and a community effort. This is what queer means to me. It's about family. Bringing on collaborators has been fantastic for me," she said.
Les Innocents runs through Nov. 4 at Mason Hall in the Preston Bradley Center, 941 W. Lawrence. Tickets are $30; visit rediscovertheatre.com/the-innocents .