Rivendell Explores Women in the Military

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The Rivendell Theatre Ensemble, the Chicago company largely devoted to exploring the work of women playwrights and women’s stories — whose recent hit productions have included “Wrens” and “American Wee-Pie” — has put the umbrella title of “Stirring the Pot” over its upcoming 18th season.

Included in the season will be the production of three new works — contemporary stories that delve into such provocative issues as women in the military, racial tensions in the workplace and the whole matter of negative body image in women.

The season begins with “Women at War” (Nov. 21 at 7 p.m.), a Public Workshop Performance at the UIC School of Theatre & Music, 1040 W. Harrison, Room L060. This “devised work” has been developed as part of Rivendell’s annual Fresh Produce new play development series, and is being directed by RTE ensemble member Megan Carney in collaboration with VetCat: A Veterans Creative Arts Therapy Program. Additional collaborators include Rivendell’s artistic director, Tara Mallen, Regina Garcia, Susan Gaspar, Ebony Joy, Krenee Tolson and Abby Schwartz.

As debate rages over whether women should serve in combat forces, more women are being sent into active combat zones than ever before. RTE, with a grant from the Chicago Community Trust, explores the lives and challenges of female soldiers today — from military training, to deployment and combat, to eventual re-entry into civilian life.Based on extensive research and first-person interviews, this new theatrical work is woven from diverse stories of women’s military service and return to civilian life. After each performance, artists and community partners invite audience members to join in a vital conversation about how civilians can better understand and honor these women warriors.

The season continues with ‘Rasheeda Speaking” (Jan. 18-Feb. 16, 2014). Written by Chicago playwright Joel Drake Johnson and directed by Sandy Shinner, the play will feature Tara Mallen, Steppenwolf ensemble member Ora Jones, Eric Slater and Lorraine Freund.

Johnson’s play is set in motion when a white physician attempts to oust his black receptionist by enlisting a white female coworker as a spy. Tensions rise as relations between the two women quickly deteriorate, turning their once-cordial workplace into a battlefield of innuendo, paranoia and passive aggression. Johnson mines the subtleties of “post-racial” America to explore what we are really saying when we refuse to talk about race.

Concluding the season will be the Midwest premiere of “Eat Your Heart Out” (May 31-June 28, 2014), Courtney Baron’s play, directed by Hallie Hordon (artistic director of the Steppenwolf Young Adults Program).

“Eat Your Heart Out” spins the story of Alice and Gabe, who are desperate to adopt a child and create a family; single mom Nance, who is desperate to connect with her obese teenage daughter, Evie; and Evie herself, who is desperate for her best friend to fall for her despite the incredible odds. This “alternately heartbreaking and hilarious whip-smart comedy,” which weaves these stories together to delve into the complexities of family, body image and hearts and minds consumed by longing, was one of the more talked about productions of the 2012 Humana Festival of New Plays in Louisville, Kentucky.

NOTE: Both “Rasheeda Speaking” and “Eat Your Heart Out” will be staged at Rivendell Theatre’s intimate home at 5779 North Ridge. Subscriptions, tickets and information are available at www.RivendellTheatre.org.

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