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Signal Ensemble to cease operation – but not before two ambitious final productions

As with all organisms – and Chicago’s storefront theaters are definitely organic entities rather than corporate creatures – there tends to be a built-in life span. And the ideal is to be able to turn out the lights while that organism is still artistically fresh, rather than waiting for some calamity of homelessness or bankruptcy.

That is the long way of saying that for the second time in the past couple of months one of Chicago’s emblematic small theater has decided to close its doors – but not before going out of operation with a couple of ambitious productions.

Signal Ensemble, which is housed in an attractive ground-floor loft space at 1802 W Berenice (just a few blocks from the home of American Theater Company), has announced that after 13 years it will take its final bows as a much-admired storefront company. But it will wrap things up in style, presenting two shows: Canadian playwright Nicolas Billon’s “The Butcher,” running Sept. 19 – Oct. 24 and “The Consultant,” by Heidi Schreck (whose fine work, “Grand Concourse,” was such a hit this past season at Steppenwolf Theatre), running Jan. 21 – Feb. 20, 2016. In this it is following the model of Mary-Arrchie Theatre, which recently announced it was losing its permanent home, and would be ceasing operation, after 30 years,

In a joint statement issued by Ronan Marra and Joseph Stearns, Signal’s co-artistic directors and co-founders, they explained: “This decision has come after some hard looks at the logistics of our operations, the growth of individual careers and the changing state of our ensemble. It’s important for us to maintain the commitment to the artistry and quality of production that marks our stage, and we feel it’s best to end our run while we still feel we are capable of providing this to our audience. Simply put, it’s time to move on for us, and we’re putting every bit of passion and craftsmanship into this, our final season.”

In its 13-season history, Signal Ensemble has produced 40 productions including world, United States and Chicago premieres. Many of these productions have garnered awards and critical acclaim, including “177” (2008), “Aftermath” (2010, 2011), “Aces” (2011), “East of Berlin” & “The Russian Play” (2011), “Lascivious Somethin” (2013), “This is War” (2013), “Plainsong” (2014), and “The Drowning Girls” (2015).

The Signal Ensemble Theatre production of “Aftermath.” (Photo: Johnny Knight)
The Signal Ensemble Theatre production of “Aftermath.” (Photo: Johnny Knight)

Here is a closer look at Signal’s two final productions:

+ “BUTCHER” (United States premiere), directed by Bries Vannon, and featuring ensemble members Vincent Lonergan, Simone Roos and Joseph Stearns, with guest artists Todd Frugia and Lauren Viteri. On Christmas Eve, an old man in a military uniform and a Santa hat is dumped at the front door of a police station. Around his neck hangs a meat hook with a simple note attached: “Arrest me.” As the night progresses, a lawyer, a police officer and a translator find themselves deep in a snare of secrets, lies and sins buried but not forgotten. Fresh off its premiere at Alberta Theatre Projects, Billon’s taut thriller confronts questions of justice, revenge and humanity’s darkest capacities.

+ “THE CONSULTANT” (Chicago premiere), directed by Ronan Marra, and featuring ensemble members Ariel Begley, Courtney Jones and Joe McCauley, with guest artists Maggie Cain and Ben Chang. After a series of brutal layoffs at Sutton, Feingold and McGrath, a precocious young consultant is brought in to save a middle-aged ad man’s job, and maybe his life. Arriving here following its world premiere at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, “The Consultant” is an incisive, darkly comic look at contemporary corporate culture.

Visit http://www.signalensemble.com for more information or to purchase tickets for these productions.