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A "Moon" Well Begotten

The drama drought on Broadway this season will end March 19, when the Goodman Theatre production of O'Neill's A Moon for the Misbegotten opens at the Walter Kerr Theatre. The Chicago critics were unanimous in praising this beautiful rendition by director Daniel Sullivan and a superlative cast featuring Roy Dotrice, Cherry Jones, and Gabriel Byrne as, respectively, Phil and Josie Hogan, and Jim Tyrone.

Playing the show in two acts, Sullivan and crew bring out all the rich, delicious comedy and Irish high spirits in the first half before turning to the dark but tender second-half valedictory for O'Neill's lost brother and his lost life. Eugene Lee's boulder-strewn set makes the feel as much Appalachian as New England, but that may be a distinction without a difference. The real magic-and several Tony Award nominations, I suspect-is in the wistful rapscallion of Dotrice's Phil, the madonna-as-whore of Jones' Josie, and the hollow-eyed detachment of Byrne's Tyrone. They act up a storm without ever showing off. Moon closes at the Goodman Feb. 19.

Hands in the Till

An internal investigation by the League of Chicago Theatres has uncovered evidence of possible embezzlement by a long-time former employee. The evidence, including records of checks signed by League Executive Director Marj Halperin but never delivered to the payees, was turned over to the Cook County States Attorney on Jan. 28.

Halperin says the League does not yet know what its total financial loss may be, or how long the check-kiting scheme may have been in operation, although a period of years is suspected. The impact on the League's current budget of $5 million will be about 4%, or $200,000, according to Halperin. A letter sent out Jan. 31 assured all League members that no current operations or programs are in jeopardy. In an unusual step, the letter was signed not only by Halperin, but by all four officers of the League board.

The fraud came to light when the League ended Fiscal 1999 with a cash shortage, despite a fine economic year. An audit was ordered, which revealed the shortfall was not happenstance, and was due to an elaborate scheme of ledger entries and manipulation of the books. At press time, the League was awaiting additional evidence from old bank records. While the League currently is in good financial health, its fiscal history is quite checkered, explained, in part, by this suspected long-term illegal cash drain. New computerized accounting procedures are expected to prevent any future incidents.

Happier League news is the launching of the third-annual Sears Theater Fever, Feb. 26-March 5, the league's successful marketing program, which this year will be promoted by the City of Chicago Department of Tourism as part of its Winterbreak program. The city-wide Sears Theater Fever includes the distribution of free tickets for a half-dozen shows (ranging from a new translation of Medea to a Rip Van Winkle for kids), plus a free sampler day in which families can participate in imaginative hands-on theatre workshops. For example, Blue Man Group will host a workshop called "The Delicate Art of Marshmallow Catching," while Lookingglass Theater will host a circus arts sampler. All participants go home with a goody bag of theatre souvenirs, gifts, and discount coupons. Last year, Free Sampler Day drew 3,500 people to five sites.

Creative Coalescing

The growing number of performing arts organizations in Evanston has led to a call to establish an Evanston Performing Arts Coalition (EPAC), with support from the Evanston Arts Council. A first organizational meeting was held Feb. 1, organized by representatives from the Actors Gymnasium (circus arts and dance), Dance Center Evanston, Mordine and Company (dance), Next Theatre, the Piven Theater Workshop, and Zapato Puppet Theater. The prosperous suburb immediately north of Chicago on Lake Michigan is home to at least a dozen other theatre, musical, and dance performing-arts organizations. Evanston also is home to Northwestern University, which operates a half-dozen campus performing venues for its School of Speech, School of Music, and undergraduate performing groups. If EPAC is to be successful, it seems important to include the University within its membership.

Class Acts

In production news, a dynamic staging of Nigel Williams' Class Enemy, by Red Hen Productions (directed by Steve Scott), has been extended through Feb. 20, following rave reviews all around. The Merce Cunningham Dance Company, absent from Chicago for 15 years, will perform Biped at the Museum of Contemporary Art, March 9-11. A Milwaukee production of Jerry's Girls came down the lake to the Gallery Theatre of the Royal George Theatre Center for a limited run. Apparently, it found an audience here, for the run now is open-ended.

Another revue, Frank McCourt's The Irish . . . and How They Got That Way, will close March 26, at the Mercury Theater, after a very respectable 55-week run. It will make way for The Last Night of Ballyhoo, produced by the reunited team of Michael Cullen (who owns the Mercury) and Sheila Henaghan. In past years, the two have partnered hit local productions of Driving Miss Daisy and I'm Not Rappaport, among other shows. Ballyhoo will star award-winning local favorites Barbara Robertson and Carmen Roman, and is expected to open in late April.

A new production of Mamet's American Buffalo, co-directed by Mike Nussbaum and Brian Russell, has become the longest-running show in the history of the American Theatre Company (ATC). It closed Feb. 5 after a run of 11 weeks to make way for Medea, in a new translation by Nicholas Rudall, and starring the aforementioned busy Carmen Roman.

Egos Centric

Austin Pendleton's Orson's Shadow, in its world premiere at the Steppenwolf Garage (Jan. 15-Feb. 13), recounts the 1960 London production of Ionesco's Rhinoceros, starring Laurence Olivier and his new amour, Joan Plowright. (He had yet to divorce the physically and emotionally fragile Vivian Leigh.) The production was directed by Orson Welles, who was fired shortly before the opening.

Pendleton's clash of the titans is a clever idea exploring enormous but insecure egos in a literate and thoughtful manner, and with lots of backstage detail and dish. It's also exposition-heavy and 20 minutes too long, partly because Pendleton has shoehorned in critic Kenneth Tynan as a supposed catalyst for the Rhinoceros project. (He wasn't, although he knew all the parties.) Building drama around Tynan's motivations is a red herring. Also, the reasons for Welles' dismissal were obscure, and remain so in the play, robbing it of the expected dramatic climax. Welles matters less and less as the play progresses, leaving the most incisive moments to confrontations between Olivier and Leigh, which are splendidly written scenes.

Young Chicago director David Cromer-remember the name-extracts first-rate performances from a cast of top Chicago actors (but no Steppenwolf ensemble members), with John Judd's Olivier and Jeff Still's Welles both physically and vocally on the money. Lee Roy Rogers as a ghostly Leigh dominates every scene she's in, and is heartbreaking. Sarah Wellington, David Warren, and Dominic Conti complete the company in substantial performances as Plowright, Tynan, and a comical Irish gofer.

Orson's Shadow is likely to have legs. Audiences will be fascinated by the stars portrayed, and actors and directors will gravitate to the script. Pendleton should continue to develop the play, for he has the savvy and intelligence to fix the problems. q

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