Goodman Theatre hopes for even more success with this year’s New Stages scripts

SHARE Goodman Theatre hopes for even more success with this year’s New Stages scripts
SHARE Goodman Theatre hopes for even more success with this year’s New Stages scripts

BY MARY HOULIHAN | FOR SUN-TIMES MEDIA

Want evidence that the Goodman Theatre’s New Stages initiative has been a success? Take a look at this season alone for three plays developed in the program that made it to a full production: Noah Haidle’s “Smokefall,” Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig’s “The World of Extreme Happiness,” and “The Upstairs Concierge” by Kristoffer Diaz. Then add past Goodman productions of Tracey Scott Wilson’s “Buzzer,” Brett C. Leonard’s “The Long Red Road” and Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Ruined.”

New Stages has become the rare home for young playwrights to develop new plays in workshops, readings and a developmental production without the worry of an opening night and being reviewed by the critics, says Goodman artistic associate Henry Godinez.

“It’s a rare luxury to have this extended amount of one-on-one time with director, actors and dramaturg in the developmental stage of a play,” Godinez says. “A playwright can see a work come to life in a three-dimensional form without the usual pressures of mounting a full production.”

NEW STAGES When: Wednesday to Nov. 16 Where: Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn Tickets: Free; reservations required Info: (312) 443-3800; goodmantheatre.org/newstages

The 2014 version of New Stages features staged productions (running in repertory) of the dark comedy “Feathers and Teeth” by Charise Castro Smith, “The Magic Play,” a fusion of magic and reality by Andrew Hinderaker, and “Carlyle,” an exploration of right-wing politics through the eyes of an African-American Republican, by Thomas Bradshaw. There also are three staged readings: “Women Laughing Alone with Salad” by Sheila Callaghan, “Acquainted with the Night” by Keith Reddin and “Ugly” by Tracey Scott Wilson.

“Feathers and Teeth” was the “sleeper hit” of New Stages last year, when it received a staged reading, says Godinez, who directs the current staging. “Audiences just loved it,” he notes. “This is one crazy little play with a profound emotional core.”

Smith’s play, a cross between dark comedy and horror, is set within a troubled family where a teenager is going through an unusual rebellion after her mother dies and her father begins dating the nurse who cared for her mother. Introduce into this mix an exotic and quite deadly creature, and things get even more complicated.

Smith studied acting at Yale but also developed an interest in writing after a debut play was staged and she received encouragement from playwright Paula Vogel, who at the time headed the university’s playwriting program. Smith says she takes a lot of inspiration from Shakespeare and that “Feathers and Teeth” is a “very, very different take on ‘Hamlet.’ ” But she adds there’s also inspiration drawn from the “strong aesthetic” found in horror movies of the late ’70s and early ’80s.

What sets the Goodman process apart is the audience element, Smith says. “There’s a lot of funny and theatrical and scary and weird elements in this play, but ultimately I think it’s a play about a girl who’s grieving. I’m curious to see how the audiences will react to it.”

Working on the developmental productions also is a different sort of challenge for a director, and it’s something Godinez looks forward to: “Since we have a limited budget you can’t have all the bells and whistles the script calls for. Instead you get to focus more on the relationship with the playwright and the storytelling, and that’s refreshing and exciting.”

As for Smith, she says New Stages is “one of the most positive processes I’ve been involved in. Usually a week out from the first performance, I start freaking out. But here it’s in good hands. And I feel incredibly lucky to get to experience this process.”

Mary Houlihan is a local freelance writer.

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