The nominees for the 2008-09 Equity Joseph Jefferson Awards have been announced.
With 179 nominations in 35 categories, the "Jeff Awards" aim to honor the best of professional Chicago-area theater. But, inevitably, some people will grumble about the omissions.
This year, the Goodman Theatre leads the pack with 17 nominations spread among eight productions. Six nominations are for Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Ruined, which transferred to New York in a co-production with the Manhattan Theatre Club. ( Its off-Broadway run concludes on Sept. 6. )
Not far behind is Drury Lane Oakbrook, with 16 nominations for five musicals. Its acclaimed production of Miss Saigon has six nominations, while its revamped The Boys from Syracuse has four nominations. ( David H. Bell is up for three of those: New Work or Adaptation of a Musical, Direction of a Musical and Choreography. )
Bell's nomination for The Bowery Boys also represents one of the 15 nominations for the Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire. Its most-nominated production is Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat with five nods, while the still-running The Light in the Piazza has four nominations ( but, strangely, was omitted for overall musical production ) .
Like The Light in the Piazza, you can also still see the currently running five-time nominated TimeLine Theatre production of The History Boys and The Second City's two revues Studs Terkel's Not Working ( four nominations ) and America: All Better! ( two nominations ) .
Alas, many shows have long since closed, so you have to rely on memories to compare and contrast who should win. I'm sure one hotly contested category is going to be Actress in a Principal RoleMusical. Mary Ernster is up against herself with nominations for The Light in the Piazza and Apple Tree Theatre's Wings. Another Apple Tree nominee is McKinley Carter in John and Jen. But, ultimately, it will probably be a race to the finish between E. Faye Butler in Court Theatre's Caroline, or Change, and Hollis Resnik in Northlight Theatre's Grey Gardens.
Speaking of Grey Gardens, that wonderful Northlight staging is one of this year's glaring Jeff omissions for Musical Production. The same could be said for Tina Landau's inspired direction for Steppenwolf Theatre's first Shakespearean outing with The Tempest. And though it went to Broadway, Robert Falls' bold rethinking of Eugene O'Neill's Desire Under the Elms at the Goodman Theatre was completely shut out from the Jeff nominations ( as it was for the Tony Award nominations ) .
Some might accuse the Jeff Committee of being too conservative or careful with its choices. If you saw the show Storefront Theater Musical at the Cornservatory, the Jeff Committee ( not so subtly called the George Committee ) was ruthlessly spoofed as a group of dried-out skeletons.
But it truly is an impossible task to properly honor everyone who deserves accolades in such a large theater community and in such a subjective art form. So cross your fingers for your favorites when the winners are announced Oct. 19 at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie.
For a complete list of Jeff nominees, visit www.jeffawards.org .
From slam poet to playwright
Slam poet and actress Kristiana ColĂ"n didn't really celebrate much on her 21st birthday. News of the 2007 school shootings at Virginia Tech that very same day put a damper on her plans.
Yet that horrific event, in which 32 people were killed on a college campus, stuck in Colon's mind. And when another shooting occurred at Northern Illinois University the following year, ColĂ"n was driven to write a drama based on a college shooting spree.
It became The Darkest Pit, which was her master's thesis project for her writing degree at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Stefan BrĂźn of Prop Thtr was on one of ColĂ"n's critique panels. He liked the play so much that he rushed it onto Prop Theater's current season.
The Darkest Pit concerns a teacher and students trapped in a classroom during a school shooting. But ColĂ"n says The Darkest Pit is far from an anti-gun screed.
"It's more about violence against women and whose responsibility it is when acts of violence occur," ColĂ"n said. "Once the shooter comes into the room we discover there is a reason why the shooter is doing itit's not a psychotic spree."
ColĂ"n didn't want to divulge too much about the script, since it's full of surprises. When asked if there were any LGTBQ connections, she did point out that the college class depicted is a humanities class dealing with power and gender issues ( which all sounds very women's studies to me ) .
Profiles Theatre's hit production of Ellen Fairey's Graceland will be sticking around Chicago a little longer. Fairey's drama set in Chicago's famed Lakeview cemetery plays at Profiles Theatre through Sunday, Sept. 13. But then Profiles moves the production down the street to the National Pastime Theater for another extended run Sept. 17-Nov. 15.
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