Monday, December 10, 2007

Signal Extends 'Old Wicked Songs'

CHICAGO, December 10, 2007 — Signal Ensemble Theatre (Ronan Marra, Christopher Prentice and Joseph Stearns, artistic directors) is pleased to announce the extension of its critically lauded staging of Old Wicked Songs by Jon Marans. The Jeff-recommended production, directed by Christopher Prentice and featuring ensemble member Vincent L. Lonergan and The House Theatre of Chicago's Shawn Pfautsch, will play an additional seven performances through December 30, 2007 at the Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division.

Old Wicked Songs depicts a clash of cultures and attitudes as a brash American piano prodigy (Pfautsch) travels to Vienna to combat an artistic block that threatens his career. A technically brilliant performer, he studies with a passionate master teacher (Lonergan) who is battling his own demons. The music of Robert Schumann's Dichterliebe weaves throughout and binds these men together, melting the stubbornness and denial that surrounds them. Old Wicked Songs was a finalist for the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Critical praise for Old Wicked Songs includes:

Critic's Choice "Pitch-perfect performances" — Justin Hayford, Chicago Reader

Critic's Pick "A play about classical pianists finding fellowship through art benefits greatly if the actors do their own musical stuntwork. In this smart production by a small treasure of a troupe, they do." — Mary Shen Barnidge, Windy City Times

Critic's Pick — Megan Powell, Time Out Chicago

" Must see" — Centerstage Chicago

" Stellar performances … One of Five shows to see now" — Dennis Polkow, Newcity Chicago

Old Wicked Songs features designs by R. Brad Criswell (scenic), Laura M. Dana (costumes), Sue Ragusa (lights) and ensemble member Anthony Ingram (sound). Deanna M. Keefe is the stage manager and ensemble member Stephanie Ehemann is the production stage manager.

Jon Marans (Playwright) is the author of Old Wicked Songs, which was a 1996 Pulitzer Prize Finalist for Drama winner of the L.A. Drama Logue Award, In England, Old Wicked Songs played the Bristol Old Vic and to London's West End at the Gielgud Theater, and starred Bob Hoskins and James Callis. The play has been translated and produced in a dozen countries around the world and was the second most performed new play in the United States in the 1997-98 season. Other produced shows include: Legacy of the Dragonslayers, a musical based on Studs Terkel’s “Coming of Age” (San Jose Repertory Theatre); Jumping for Joy (Laguna Playhouse and Independent Theater in Australia); the musical Irrationals (Village Theater in Seattle and in NYC); A Strange & Separate People (Penguin Rep in N.Y.). In film, Marans was a story editor/script doctor for Stonebridge, Michael Douglas' production company at Columbia Pictures, instrumental in the development of numerous films. And in TV he was a staff writer/lyricist for the 1991 "New Carol Burnett Show" on CBS and has written for "Cookin' in Brooklyn," a “comedy-reality” show on the Discovery Channel. Marans is a graduate of Duke University in mathematics and music.

Ensemble member Christopher Prentice (Director), Signal's producing artistic director, made his Chicago directorial debut with Conor McPherson's The Weir (three Jeff Citation nominations) last season. His work as an actor for the company includes the title role in Hamlet, The Zoo Story, She Stoops to Conquer, Waiting for Godot, Landslide, Catch-22 and Much Ado About Nothing. He was most recently seen in the title role in Robin Hood with the Oak Park Festival Theatre. His Chicago credits include The Three Musketeers (Chicago Shakespeare); The Tempest (First Folio); Practical Anatomy (Sansculottes); Pride and Prejudice (Northlight); the title roles in Hamlet (Velvet Willies) and Macbeth (Chase Park); as well as work with Stage Left, Irish Rep, Next, and New Leaf. Regional credits include Milwaukee Rep, American Players Theatre, Dallas Theater Center and Illinois Shakespeare Festival. A native Texan, he holds a B.F.A. in acting from Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Vincent L. Lonergan (Professor Josef Mashkan) is an ensemble member with Signal where his credits include Polonius in Hamlet, Mr. Hardcastle in She Stoops to Conquer and Leonato in Much Ado About Nothing. Other Chicago credits include Merlin in The People's Sword in the Stone (Quest Theatre); A Wonderful Life (Porchlight); Mother Courage and Her Children, Anna Karenina, King Lear (Vitalist Theatre); The People's Pinocchio (Quest Theatre); Any One Can Whistle (Pegasus); The Christmas Schooner (Bailiwick); City of Angels (onetheatre), Firebugs (Boxer Rebellion); Don Juan in Chicago, Empress of China, Jacques and His Master, and Shadow Box (TinFish); A Midsummer Night's Dream and A Christmas Carol (Metropolis). He understudied the role of Robert Wilson in Victory Gardens' production of Free Man of Color. Lonergan holds a B.M.E. and an M.M. from Indiana University.

Shawn Pfautsch (Stephen Hoffman) makes his Signal debut. A co-founder of The House Theatre of Chicago, he has appeared in Hope Springs Infernal, The Boy Detective Fails, the Valentine trilogy, Dave DaVinci Saves the Universe, Cave With Man, The Terrible Tragedy of Peter Pan and Death & Harry Houdini. As a playwright, his play Hatfield & McCoy won two Jeff Citation nominations and his new play The Attempters will open at The House this season. Pfautsch has also performed at Emerald City Children's Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre (Theatrical Essays) and Strawdog Theatre Company (Strawdog Radio Theatre VI). He is a graduate of Southern Methodist University's Meadows School of the Arts.

The extended performance schedule begins Sunday, Dec. 16 and continues through Dec. 30 as follows: Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 3 pm.

The previously announced schedule continues through Dec. 15 as follows: Wednesday at 7:30 pm, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm.

Ticket prices are $20 on Fridays and Saturdays and $15 on Wednesday, Thursdays and Sundays. Student and senior tickets are $10. Tickets may be purchased at or reserved at 773-347-1350. The Chopin Theatre is accessible by the CTA Blue Line train (Division) and buses (70-Division, 56-Milwaukee, 18-Ashland).

Known for its ensemble acting and producing a diverse slate of plays that range from classics to new works, Signal Ensemble Theatre uses the actor as focal point to clearly execute the playwright's vision. Founded by its three artistic directors (Ronan Marra, Christopher Prentice, Joseph Stearns), the company began producing in 2003.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Signal On Air: Vince and Shawn podcast interview

Signal Ensemble member Vincent L. Lonergan and co-founder of The House Theatre Shawn Pfautsch, the guys in Old Wicked Songs, were interviewed for Talk Theatre in Chicago by Tom Williams this week. They chatted prior to a recent performance, on topics ranging from piano playing, to preparation for the show, to acting with other companies in town, to their big five-year plans. It's a great insider look to storefront theater.