Being a playwright, particularly in the Off-Loop theater world of Chicago in the 1990’s, was an ephemeral way to work as an artist. A month of rehearsal, five weeks of performances, and a production would usually vanish into the ether. Although I still hope to work in theater again soon, I have not written any plays since 2001. But I still cherish the memories of many of my theater days—the hard work for no pay, the beauty of a truthful performance, even some (but not all) of the arguments. It was an exciting time; here’s some of what went down.
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Suramo (2002)

Directed by Christopher Cartmill at One Arm Red (Brooklyn, NY)

Featuring Brian Quirk, Jeff McCauley, Suzy Devoe, Richard Spedale, Kathleen O’Grady, Ken Bolden, Benim Foster, Mary Mares, and Bill Young.

Probably my most surreal and fanciful play. The play follows the exploits of a mendacious journalist traveling to a land somewhat like America, circa 1900, but with helium bicycles, underground cities, and a mysterious island where presidents go after state-sanctioned assassinations. Christopher Cartmill (who, in addition to being a playwright and actor, is one of the most talented directors I’ve ever met) still talk about re-mounting this show in Manhattan.

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214 Minutes (2002)

Performed by Teri Garr on Selected Shorts

Not really a play, but I didn’t know where else to put it. A short-short I wrote and NPR found online. It hasn’t been published anywhere, so I thought I might as well just put the text up here.

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What Remains Forgotten (2001)

Directed by Christopher Cartmill at Calvary Church (New York, NY)

Featuring Mary Mares, Tom Palumbo, and the author.

Part of a series of one-acts written by myself, Chris Cartmill, Jane Gennaro, and Barbara Hammond, with whom I co-founded the informal writing group that we called “GROOP.” I wrote this on a trip to Ireland after getting over a long illness under the strong influence of writers such as José Saramago and Jorge Luis Borges.

Coaster (2000)

Directed by the author at Chicago Dramatists Workshop (Chicago, IL)

Featuring Joan Afton, John Gray, Melissa Kuhlmann, Hemmendy Nelson, Tricia Rogers, Ed Stevens, Scott Turner, and Maht Wells.

A favorite of mine—a hypochondriac involved in a relationship with an NPR host reassesses his life when he has a near-death experience then meets an interpretive dancer with a passion for Def Leppard. Some of the monologues were included in The Best Men’s Stage Monologues 2000 and The Best Women’s Stage Monologues 2000.

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The Critics (1999)

Directed by the author at Chicago Dramatists Workshop (Chicago, IL)

Featuring Jim Donovan, Marybeth McMahon, Juliet Schaefer, James William Joseph, Mark Vanasse and Maht Wells.

Probably my nastiest play. Five theater critics working  for a Chicago alternative weekly meet with an editor to ferret out the traitor in their midst: the person who wrote a play about them. The Critics got one of my favorite reviews when a local critic lambasted it, saying that “in one fell swoop,” I had “eradicated the integrity and credibility of the reviewing profession).”Aside from that notice, the show met with a great response and we transferred it to the Trapdoor Theater, but it didn’t catch on there. I did a screen version with legendary Chicago underground director Jim Sikora, but we never had enough money or time to edit it. Not sure what happened to the original footage.

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Three Glasses of Sherry (1998)

Directed by the author and Kenneth R. Anderson at Theater 22 (New York, NY)

Starring Gillian Geraghty

A one woman show that I wrote for an actress who really had a knack for the rhythms of my profanity-strewn monologues. I called it a show for one actress with thirteen personalities. It was one hour long, with three monologues, one of which concerned a foul-mouthed Princeton grad who wants to sleep with Bruce Springsteen in Milwaukee. I adapted that monologue recently for a short story collection called The Dictionary of Exes, edited by Meredith Broussard. I liked a lot of aspects this show and always wanted to stage it in Chicago, but we never had the chance.

Film Flam (1997)

Directed by Kay Martinovich at Live Bait Theater (Chicago, IL)

Featuring Maggie Carney, Jim Donovan, Gillian Geraghty, John Gray, James William Joseph, Arthur Morison, Kat Phillips, Mark Vanasse, and Maht Wells.

A play that married two of my favorite topics—independent film and con artists—elaborate confidence games, phony German accents, long, surreal monologues, even a madhouse. I liked this play better than some of the critics did, and after this play’s run ended early, I started to think seriously about moving to New York.

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Solo Album, Volume #1: Rock ‘n’ Roll Women (1997)

Directed by the Author and Kenneth R. Anderson at Heartland Studio Theater (Chicago, IL)

Featuring Gabrielle Brite, Doreen Calderon, Gillian Geraghty, Kendra Jaymes, Suzy Nelson, Stephanie Rogers, Juliette Schaefer, Catherine Skillman.

Written in response to Eric Bogosian’s Sex, Drugs, Rock ‘n’ Roll, the show featured monologues inspired by some of my favorite musicians—Bob Dylan, The Kinks, Joni Mitchell, Nirvana, Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen, and The Rolling Stones. A classic example of why authors shouldn’t try to direct their own work. Probably would have worked well at 80 minutes. At twice that length on crappy chairs in a theater without air conditioning, not so much.

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Crime in The City (1997)

Directed by the author, Jeffrey Ray Dainton, and Dan Torbica at Zebra Crossing Theater (Chicago, IL)

Featuring Kenneth R. Anderson, Jeffrey Ray Dainton, Ellen Fairey, Eileen Glenn, Barry Holton, Michael McCullough, Arthur Morison, and Maht Wells.

Three one-act plays about baseball card con men, crooked cops, and killers on the road. Even former Illinois governor “Big Jim” Thompson came out to see this one. The last one-act of the triptych, The Chain, was performed in a staged reading at Los Angeles’s Ensemble Studio Theater. I flew out to see it, and most people involved with the production seemed to think that I should have had better things to do than to attend. As it turned out, they might have been right.

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Dark Matter (1996)

Directed by Dan Torbica for Cave 76 Productions at O Bar (Chicago, IL)

Featuring Kenneth R. Anderson, Jeffrey Ray Dainton, and Eileen Glenn.

Me at my most deliberately obscure. Odd staccato speeches, elliptical dialogue. A disturbed night watchman at an empty museum, a laundry deliveryman, and an art forger meet somewhere outside of reality. One of those plays that perhaps benefit the artist more than the audience, but I always thought there was something interesting in it. When I was in London for an independent film festival, I dropped off copies for Ben Kingsley and Patricia Hodge, suggesting that they reassemble the cast of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal and perform it with Jeremy Irons. Never heard back from them.

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The Blank Page (1995)

Directed by Edward Cheetham for The Theater of Serviceable Villains at Urbus Orbis (Chicago, IL)

Featuring Kenneth R. Anderson, Howard Cohen, Jeffrey Ray Dainton, Gregory Rothman, Todd Sandler, Kathleen Schmidt, Valerie Stanford, Cortney Strother, and Maht Wells.

One of my most popular shows. It concerned the inner workings of a slacker magazine in Chicago, loosely based on my experiences as the managing editor of Chicago’s Subnation, which emerged on the local scene at just about the moment when folks like Liz Phair, Smashing Pumpkins, Urge Overkill, and Veruca Salt were attracting national attention. I directed a low-budget feature film adapted from the play. It was produced by independent film auteur John Covert of Covert Creative Group and distributed by Troma Pictures’ more family-friendly company 50th Street Films. Versions of this play appeared in a staged reading at Circle Rep in New York shortly before that theater company closed and also in full productions in Amherst, Massachusetts, San Francisco, and New York, but no cast came close to the energy and talent of the original Chicago ensemble, all of whom can be seen in the trailer below.

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Under The Gods (1992)

Directed by Vernon Hinkle for Maxwell Anderson Playwrights Series (Greenwich, CT)

A fairly gothic behind-the-scenes play about a traveling circus. I don’t remember who was in the cast of the staged reading; what I remember most are the post-show discussions in which cast members, spectators, the director, and even the widow of Maxwell Anderson told me in various ways that the play pretty much sucked. I didn’t agree with them, but I never tried to resurrect it.

In The Shadow of A Smile (1991)

Directed by the author for Shattered Globe Theatre (Chicago, IL)

Featuring Jill Burrichter, Joe Forbrich, Michael Hargrove, Leigh Horsley, and Brian Pudil.

A dark, violent story of a stalker, an actress, a porno shop owner, a photographer, and his girlfriend. The show opened Shattered Globe Theater’s space on Halsted Street across from the old Steppenwolf Theater. I thought the show would attract the attention of the Steppenwolf crowd and that the company’s regulars Jim True and Laurie Metcalf would want to star in it someday. Didn’t happen.

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Backstage Pass (1990)

Directed by the author for Shattered Globe Theater at Playwrights Center (Chicago, IL)

Featuring Carri Coffman, Joe Forbrich, Leigh Horsley, Rebecca Jordan, Robert Mullen, Patrick Murphy, and Timothy Sullens.

Backstage before a rock concert, a journalist with a hidden agenda threatens to disrupt the inner workings of a band. I was aiming for rock ‘n’ roll Pinter with this one. Met my future wife while I was in Java Jive on Clark and Grace putting up posters for the show, so I must have been doing something right.

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What I Need Is A Good Bonk On The Head (1989)

Directed by the author for Shattered Globe Theater at Sheffield’s School Street Café

Featuring Julie Beckett, Jane DeLaubenfels, Joe Forbrich, Brian Pudil, and Jeffrey Shivar.

My first show after graduating Vassar College was a fairly self-involved one-act that I had directed in college. A playwright’s characters come to life and write him out of their play. I starred in this show when I was at Vassar and still cringed the last time I saw myself on the videotape.

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Copyright © 2008 Adam Langer. All rights reserved.