Chicago theaters keep upping the ante in their feverish goal to showcase new plays. The latest example is Victory Gardens Theater, which has long forged its identity on presenting new work, and has now announced that as of this season, its IGNITION Festival, which began in 2008, will become an annual offering rather than a biennial one.
This summer’s festival, which will run July 16-19, will feature the work of both emerging and established playwrights, including: “Confessions of a P.I.M.P.,” by actor André De Shields; “Queen,” by Madhuri Shekar; “Slay & Eat,” by A. Zell Williams; “The Last Book of Homer,” by José Rivera; “Muthaland,” by Minita Gandhi; “Office Hour,” by Julia Cho; and “Sadie River’s Drag Ball on the Lawn,” by Basil Kreimendahl. The themes dealt with range from race, to politics, gender identity and gun violence.
The seven plays selected will be presented in a festival of readings to be directed by leading artists from Chicago. Following the readings, two of the plays may be selected for intensive workshops during Victory Gardens’ 2015-16 season, and the theater may produce one of these final scripts in an upcoming season.
Here’s a closer look on what will be on tap:
+ “Confessions of a P.I.M.P.” (Written and performed by André De Shields; Thursday, July 16, 2015 | 7:30 p.m.) An IGNITION opening night party follows the performance. From the heat of urban insurrection in Baltimore, Maryland, to the incandescent glare of New York’s Great White Way, “Jelly Belly” has many stories to tell. Through song, dance, and spoken word, De Shields, Victory Gardens Theater’s Fox Foundation Resident Actor Fellow, presents an “adventure from inner city impoverishment to self-actualization.”
+ “Queen” (Written by Madhuri Shekar and directed by Associate Artistic Producer Joanie Schultz; Friday, July 17, 2015 | 7:30 p.m.) An artistic meet and greet and ice cream social follows the performance. Sanam Shah, a mathematician, and Ariel Spiegel, a biologist, are PhD candidates and best friends working together to discover the cause of the urgent crisis where bees are disappearing around the world. Just as they are about to publish a career-defining new paper on the subject, Sanam realizes the numbers don’t add up. Should she look the other way, or should she stand by her principles? What will she lose?
+ “Slay & Eat” (Written by A. Zell Williams and directed by Henry Wishcamper; Saturday, July 18, 2015 | 3:00 p.m.) A powerful black politician on Chicago’s South Side struggles to pull her family together amidst her husband’s failing business, her daughter’s drug use, and her brother’s relationship with a white dominatrix. Will she survive a scandal or go down in history as an ex-girlfriend of President Obama?
+ “The Last Book of Homer” (Written by José Rivera and directed by Jonathan Berry; Saturday, July 18, 2015| 7:30 p.m.) A cocktail hour & hang out will follow the performance. Numb Nuts is a screenwriter who gets kidnapped by a drug cartel while shooting a movie in Mexico about the Trojan War. Battling their bad knees, beer bellies, cataracts, bad hearing, and bitter divisions of the past, his four brothers – ex-military guys nicknamed God, Buddha, Weasel, and Joseph Smith – come to Mexico for the rescue.
+ “Muthaland” (Written and performed by Minita Gandhi and directed by Heidi Stillman; Sunday, July 19, 2015 | 12:30 p.m.) The life of a young Indian-American woman is forever changed when, on a retreat to her homeland, she unearths family secrets, encounters a prophet, and ultimately discovers her own voice. The familiar and the foreign swap roles in this dark comedy about culture, identity, spirituality, and sexuality.
+ “Office Hour” (Written by Julia Cho and directed by Artistic Director Chay Yew; Sunday, July 19, 2015 | 3:00 p.m.) Gina, an adjunct writing professor, meets with a troubled student whose violent writings have disrupted her class. Other professors worry he’s a ticking time bomb — “a classic shooter.” Gina isn’t so sure. But where is the line drawn between troubled and dangerous?
+ “Sadie River’s Drag Ball on the Lawn” (Written by Basil Kreimendahl and directed by Bonnie Metzgar. Sunday, July 19, 2015 | 7:30 p.m.) An IGNITION closing night celebration follows the performance. Sadie River, Mother to The House of River, teaches her unconventional drag family a new performance that she believes will change their lives. Rather than schooling them on gender performance, she attempts to educate her working-poor family in the art of passing as upper-class.
NOTE: Each play’s dramaturg will facilitate a post-show discussion to gauge audience responses to the work with a facilitator. Performances are at the Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln. Admission to all festival readings and events is free, though an RSVP is required. For more information or to RSVP, visit www.victorygardens.org/ignition/ or call 773.871.3000.