Mary-Arrchie, emblematic Chicago ‘fringe’ theater, announces final season

SHARE Mary-Arrchie, emblematic Chicago ‘fringe’ theater, announces final season
SHARE Mary-Arrchie, emblematic Chicago ‘fringe’ theater, announces final season

The Mary-Arrchie Theatre Co., a long-lived, emblematic Off Loop company that thrived on a spirit of experimentation, provocation and the hippie ethos of its longtime artistic director, Richard Cotovsky, will be closing its doors at the end of the 2015-2016 season —its 30th year of operation.

“We’re losing our longtime space at Angel Island at 735 W. Sheridan [it is set to be part of a vast, block-long redevelopment project], which we’ve called home for the past 26 years, so our 30thanniversary feels like the right time to bid farewell,” said Cotovsky. “We launched the company with a bang in 1986 with Sam Shepard’s ‘Cowboy Mouth’ and ‘4-H Club,’ and have weathered many ups and downs since with the myriad challenges of producing theater. But we always managed to land our feet.”

“The loss of our building gave me the perfect opportunity to wrap things up on my own terms and just go away with a clean slate,” said Cotovsky, with both a palpable sense of relief and a gentle whiff of nostalgia. “To try and continue without having that space as our home — to be itinerant — would make what was already a difficult job even more difficult. As for handing the whole operation over to someone else, that just wouldn’t work. I tried that sort of transition and the people involved just didn’t understand the urgency of it all — the planning and fundraising essential to keeping things going with a theater company.”

The theater’s accomplishments have been many and varied —from the moment the company first set up shop in a similar second floor space a block away (the space now occupied by Strawdog Theatre, which will not be closing, but must move because of the area’s planned redevelopment).

Over the years, the company has presented 103 plays, plus 27 theater festivals. Twenty-three of Mary-Arrchie’s shows have been Joseph Jefferson Award Recommended with 32 Jeff Award nominations, 15 Jeff Awards, plus a special Jeff Award in 2013 presented to Cotovsky for four decades in the non-Equity sector.

A scene from the Mary-Arrchie Theatre Co. production of “The Glass Menagerie.”

A scene from the Mary-Arrchie Theatre Co. production of “The Glass Menagerie.”

Among the company’s most notable productions (and the list is full of 20th century classics as well as more contemporary works) were: “Curse of the Starving Class,” also by Sam Shepard, “Edmond” by David Mamet, “Detective Story” by Sidney Kingsley, “Insignificance” by Terry Johnson, “The Birthday Party” by Harold Pinter, “Modigliani” by Dennis McIntyre, “Screwtape” by James Forsyth, “The Freedom of the City” by Brian Friel, “Birdsend” by Keith Huff, “A Bright Room Called Day” by Tony Kushner, “The Hot L Baltimore” by Lanford Wilson, “Mojo” by Jez Butterworth, “Sea Marks” by Gardner McKay, “Buried Child” by Sam Shepard, “The Homecoming” by Harold Pinter, “Red Light Winter” by Adam Rapp, “Superior Donuts” by Tracy Letts, “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams, and “Hellish Half-Light: Shorter Plays” by Samuel Beckett.

Of particular note in recent seasons were David Cromer’s staging of Kirk Lynn’s “Cherrywood,” in which a huge cast all but outnumbered the audience, and Hans Fleischmann’s revelatory version of Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie,” which attracted wide attention and a remount at Theater Wit. The company also is renowned for its annual Abbie Hoffman Died for Our Sins Theater Festival, which will have its 28th edition at the end of this season, with Cotovsky reprising his signature role as Hoffman.

Cotovsky, who is still working his day job as a pharmacist (and laughs when asked if he’s given some thought to opening a medical marijuana dispensary, saying, “No, but I’d be a good poster boy”), also will continue to work as an actor. Among his many roles was as understudy for Arthur in the Steppenwolf Theatre production of Tracy Letts’ “Superior Donuts” —a role he was told was written with him in mind (and which heplayed in the Washington D. C. production). Recent performing gigs included last season’s production of “Hellcab” at Profiles Theatre and “Yankee Tavern” at American Blues Theater. For television he did three episodes of “Undercovers,” and he appears in a current Illinois Lottery commercial. He also plays God in a web series called “Devolve.”

It was while he was a pharmacy student in the 1970’s that Cotovsky became hooked on theater after seeing a production of David Mamet’s “American Buffalo” at the St. Nicholas Theatre. He studied acting, turned briefly to the world of improv, and finally got his first dramatic role in “The Heiress” with Theater on the Lake. He now points to Steppenwolf’s landmark production of Lanford Wilson’s “Balm in Gilead” in the early 1980s as his greatest inspiration.

“I feel both relieved and energized,” said Cotovsky, as he moves into Mary-Arrchie’s farewell season.

The season will open with Peter Morris’ “Guardians” (Sept. 8 – Oct. 18), with Arianna Soloway directing Jaci EntwisleandAdam Soule.

“The irony of all this is that Mary-Arrchie fertilized that little bit of real estate we call home, and for years we buffered the neighborhood, and now we’ve been kicked out,” said Cotovsky. “But that’s the way it goes.”

Tickets for the season are now on sale. Visit or call (773) 871-0442.

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