"If a play has been produced, it has a history, a reputation," says New York playwright Jill Campbell. It can survive an unfortunate production. A new play by a newish playwright is another matter. In February, Revolution Theatre, a young Chicago company, did a staged reading of Campbell's play Starf**ker at the Red Lion Pub. Campbell wasn't there for it, but she says it seemed to go well and she got some good feedback. When Revolution founder John Thurner asked if the company could do a full production, she agreed and spent the next few months revising the script. The show, which opened Labor Day weekend at the Side Studio in Rogers Park, is the story of a woman who has trouble differentiating between fantasy and real life, and when Campbell came to town to catch a performance, she says she couldn't believe what she was seeing either. "It felt like I was in a Fellini nightmare," she says. "It wasn't my play."
Campbell, whose introduction to Revolution came by way of its snappy Web site, says she was surprised by the small storefront theater, its "dodgy" location, and the tiny audience, which doubled when she walked in with two friends. Then, as the play unfolded, she says, "I flipped out." Thurner, who was directing, "had cast 20-year-olds as 40-year-olds; it's a surrealistic play and he directed it naturalistically; he cut out the whole first part and put in the beginning from an old script; three or four scenes had been changed." In Campbell's view the play had lost its narrative logic and momentum, and nearly everything that could be wrong was: "the music, the acting, the bad casting, the not following my stage directions, the misjudgments--not even getting the style of the piece."
Campbell started to wish she'd paid attention to red flags that had cropped up earlier: a phone call in July, for example, asking for money toward the production when she was the one who was supposed to get paid, or the fact that she never got a personal phone number for Thurner and found it hard to get in touch with him. She also says he was late getting the cast together and didn't inform her about changes to the script until after the actors had been told to memorize them. That did alarm her, and she asked him to send her the altered version, but she didn't get it until a few days before the opening. By that time, she says, she felt her hands were tied: "An agent told me to cancel the production or take my name off it, but I felt sorry for the actors and didn't want to give them a bad vibe." When she called Thurner to ask how the first performance had gone she got back an e-mail saying he'd "had to open it 20 minutes late because he didn't have the programs ready and one of the critics left."
Thurner has a different take on these events. An actor, he founded Revolution Theatre two years ago with Michelle Jones, his fiancee. It's mostly a mom-and-pop operation--so far they've done staged readings and a couple plays for the Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company's annual festival, Abbie Hoffman Died for Our Sins. He says they loved the Starf**ker script they used for the reading but weren't as happy with the revision and claims Campbell told him "nothing was locked in stone." Thurner also says Campbell didn't seem to have a problem when she saw the play, though he concedes she wanted to talk to him about certain points. "We pursued this with all our heart, soul, and mind to make the best production we could," he says. "She OK'd everything." But when Reader critic Jenn Goddu's review called Starf**ker "unoriginal, underwritten," confusing, and tedious, Campbell replied by e-mail that "Revolution Theatre never received my permission to produce this version of my play."
Last Saturday night the Side Studio was locked; a note on the front door said the performance was canceled because one of the cast members had suffered a death in the family. Thurner says his company's continuing the show's run but has dropped ticket prices to $5 or "pay what you can."
Don't Bet on It
The Costa Rica-based owner of the world's largest Internet betting company, BETonSPORTS.com, brought its chief executive, legal counsel, and a cadre of flacks to--where else?--the Hotel Monaco last week for the Chicago stop on its four-city "national summit tour," an attempt to create buzz in favor of regulating the industry. Why's a gaming company begging for handcuffs? Well, you can't regulate what's not legal. Right now all online gambling is illegal in Illinois (though rampant), and online sports books are illegal at the federal level everywhere within the United States. Offshore sites doing business stateside are in a murky legal terrain being explored even as they thrive. While Springfield debates where to award the state's tenth casino license, companies like BETonSPORTS have put a multitude of casinos and sports books within a click's reach.
At the conference BOS head David Carruthers said he wants a piece of the more than $100 billion wagered here on the streets and with bookies and warned that the U.S. is missing a "huge" taxation opportunity. Industry lawyer Lawrence Walters promised that online gaming, like online Viagra, is here to stay in spite of government efforts to crack down on companies that advertise it or process its transactions. Walters said gambling benefits seniors by keeping them "more alert." But former Better Government Association head Terry Brunner argued from the sidelines that the real discussion should be about public policy implications: What we've learned so far, he says, is that "there ain't no economic development from riverboat gambling in Illinois" and "the lottery is completely supported by the poorest people in the state."
Maria Mariottini, who's run the Bucktown Arts Fest for a decade, is bringing 40 artists to Pilsen's Dvorak Park this weekend, riding the coattails of the more exclusive Chicago Arts District open house weekend in the Podmajersky buildings along Halsted. The Dvorak Park Arts Festival will be held in the field house and on the grounds at 1119 W. Cullerton from 11 to 7 on October 1 and 2. . . . The Evanston Public Art Committee will discuss recent installations at 1 PM Saturday at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes in Evanston, but its biggest project, a Lincoln Schatz sculpture commissioned for a new garage four years ago, isn't on the agenda--or the garage. Evanston parks director Douglas Gaynor says "there's been some problem bringing it in on budget." The budget was $170,000.