SR Digest: Chicago theater a century ago

Issue #11—March 14, 2019

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A brief newsletter this week, as I’m writing this from vacation in London. (As this email goes out at 10am Chicago time, I’m seeing the afternoon matinee of the gender-flipped Company.) Just one new review to share since last week, but I also want to highlight a few reviews of shows that have recently closed, and so are now unlocked for members of the free list to check out.

But first, a little photo treat.

Here’s what Chicago theatergoing looked like in 1923

Last November, right before I launched this newsletter, I spent a Saturday with some friends hitting up estate sales around Chicago and the suburbs. This is always a fascinating experience to me, getting a glimpse at someone’s personal effects in their own home, even if I don’t take anything home with me.

At one house in Lincolnwood, I came across a scrapbook that had been owned by one Nettie Locker, a member of the 1923 graduating class of the apparently long-gone Joseph Medill High School in what’s now University Village. Labeled The Girl Graduate—Her Own Book (blech), it was a kind of personalized yearbook, with pages to paste in photographs and have classmates sign dedications.

It’s the kind of estate-sale artifact that makes you wonder why it’s not in the possession of a great-grandchild somewhere, and it offered a compelling look at what high-school life was like for a certain class of teenager around 100 years ago.

What got me to bring it home, though, was the “Programmes” section, which revealed that our Nettie was an active theatergoer.

Among the programs she pasted into the book are plays at the Blackstone Theatre (Abraham Lincoln by John Drinkwater; “Enjoyed it very much”) and the Studebaker Theatre (the enduringly popular, critically reviled Abie’s Irish Rose; “Had a very nice time!”) as well as a Medill High School production of Eugene Pillot’s Two Crooks and a Lady, which Samuel French describes thusly: “One of the most popular one act plays, and one of the standbys of community theatres, schools, and colleges for many years. It is exceptionally clever and not at all difficult to act or produce.”

Apart from the student production, these would have been touring shows; Chicago’s first effort toward a homegrown theater, the Little Theatre in the Fine Arts Building, had already come and gone, closing in 1917. But it’s cool to get a sense of what theatergoing life was like in Chicago 96 years ago.

Reviews and other views

Michael Patrick Thornton (foreground) and Mary Ann Thebus. Photograph: Claire Demos

One new review since last week: The Gift Theatre’s production of Doubt at Steppenwolf.

And newly available for free subscribers (and non-subscribers):

The Realistic Joneses at Shattered Globe/Theater Wit (plus the second half of my interview with playwright Will Eno)

Dear Evan Hansen on tour at the James M. Nederlander Theatre

Nina Simone: Four Women at Northlight

Pipeline at Victory Gardens

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