Traditional theater at Steppenwolf

July 1, 1993

In a recent interview, Amy Morton, director of The Dresser, and Tracy Letts, who portrays Norman, discussed the history of Steppenwolf Theatre, their beginnings at Remains Theater, and the fact “that this group of actors is constantly renewing themselves in front of each other.”

The success of companies hinges on their choices, and Steppenwolf has always been considered “edgy.” Critics have commented that the edge has been lost, but Morton contends, “I do think as artists, we’ve grown so much that there’s a remarkable presence that ensemble members have when they step on stage.”

The Dresser exemplifies this perfectly. Tracy Letts, actor, playwright and director, honed his skills on a worldwide stage. As Norman, dresser for an aging English actor played by John Mahoney, his depth of understanding of the character brings a sensitivity to a seemingly shallow role. Norman moves from an assistant to a cranky old man to the central focus of a touring theater company playing during the Blitz in 1940s England. Letts’ ability to develop his character, moving to a final scene in which we see anguish and loss, is the heart of The Dresser.

John Mahoney’s visibility in film, television and theater makes him a familiar face and draws a faithful audience. As Sir, a confused actor, struggling to maintain his credibility, he becomes the foil for Norman. Attempting to write a biography, he thanks everyone from his leading lady to minor technicians, completely ignoring the one person who has enabled him to continue a career. Norman is devastated. The supporting cast includes ensemble members Alan Wilder, Mary Beth Fisher as Sir’s wife, Mike Nussbaum as Geoffrey Thornton, Linsey Page Morton as Irene, Peggy Roeder as Madge, and Jeff Still as Oxenby.

Playwright Ronald Harwood wrote The Dresser loosely based on personal experience as dresser for renowned Shakespearean actor Donald Wolfit. Originally staged in London, it later was filmed with Tom Courtney as Norman and Albert Finney as Sir. When it was again adapted for the stage in New York, Courtney and Finney recreated their movie roles.

Following the Steppenwolf production, several members of the cast interacted with the audience. Letts explained their interpretation of the play. By adding segments not seen previously, they felt their version was more true to Harwood’s original work.

The Dresser runs through Nov. 14. Tickets are available at (312) 335-1650 or www.steppenwolf.org

Frankie & Johnny in the Clair De Lune

Seen earlier, Frankie & Johnny, starring Laurie Metcalf and Yasen Peyankov, provided an evening of passion and frustration. Two lovers, entwined on a darkened stage, rise and begin a conversation that examines every aspect of their often confused lives. Metcalf and Peyankov, daring to reveal themselves emotionally and physically, give memorable performances.

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