Love and humor trumped loss at a memorial for Chicago Dramatists' Russ Tutterow | Bleader

Love and humor trumped loss at a memorial for Chicago Dramatists' Russ Tutterow



At the Russ Tutterow memorial, a cell phone tribute
  • Deanna Isaacs
  • At the Russ Tutterow memorial, a cell phone tribute

Russ Tutterow was a playwright's "greatest advocate and friend," Goodman Theatre artistic director Robert Falls said Monday night, welcoming about 300 members of Chicago's theater community to a memorial event the Goodman hosted. "Russ, in this city, was central in his vision as a playwright's agent . . . a playwright's everything," Falls said of the longtime Chicago Dramatists artistic director, who died May 4 at the age of 68 after a battle with cancer.

Falls was the first of dozens of Tutterow's colleagues, all of them also his friends, who spoke during an evening when love and humor trumped loss.

Playwright Roger Rueff noted that the world without Tutterow "will be a world less loving, less jovial, with fewer bawdy jokes."

He added that the only kind of service Tutterow would allow was one where those who'd known him would be able to share their thoughts and memories.

So, with director Richard Shavzin serving as master of ceremonies, the stories and comments tumbled out—some submitted in advance to be read onstage by a roster of playwrights (including Mia McCullough, Will Dunne, Rob Koon), others surfacing spontaneously from the crowd.

They covered everything from Tutterow's cigarettes, naps, and telephone etiquette to his laid-back demeanor and his insomnia (if you finished a play at 3 AM, he'd get right back to you). Also, discussed were his directorial astuteness (hilariously recalled in his concise instructions for a masturbation scene) and his rules: do not compare a play under discussion to any other play, do not call a postshow discussion a "talk-back," and, as playwright Reginald Edmund remembered, “Don't be afraid to celebrate your greatness or the greatness of others." ("I'd say, 'You're amazing,'" Edmund said, "And he'd say 'No, you're amazing; I'm a treasure.'")

But the speakers invariably came back to the sense of family he'd created for them at Chicago Dramatists. It was his family too—and a devoted one. Actor Craig Spidle said that at each of the hospitals Tutterow's illness took him to over the last two years, his room came to resemble a cocktail party, with the hospital staff asking, "Who the hell is this guy?"

There were songs from Judy Blue and Cheryl Coons, and a sing-along to "You've Got A Friend." Playwright Lydia Diamond observed that "Russ did not go softly, he did not want to leave us," and said that the spirit and warmth of that fight is also "a gift." A Dixieland quartet played the single piece of music Tutterow had requested: "When the Saints Come Marching In."

Then the audience waved their glowing cell phones in tribute, and everyone went out to the lobby for a drink.