They wuz robbed
Our (affectionate) rebuttal to the Jeff nominations.
Ah, the wonders of Chicago spring: schizophrenic temperatures that can ruin any otherwise lovely event, Cubs fans going back into therapy and the much-anticipated Non-Equity Joseph Jefferson nominations. The Jeffs inevitably offer as much whiplash-inducing “What were they thinking?” shock value as they do joy to those whose work was honored. This year, we consider what they were thinking, and even imagine it, in an attempt to figure out what makes the ever-elusive Jeff committee tick.
Here are our guesses for why some of Chicago’s finest got snubbed.
David Cromer sprang from Zeus’ head fully formed. How else could Cromer’s Our Town, which was greeted with orgasmic, near High School Musical–level enthusiasm, have garnered nominations only for best production and best director? Surely his much-lauded ensemble of actors, the revelatory street costumes of Alison Siple, the haunting, honey-hued lighting by Heather Gilbert and Jonathan Mastro’s smashing piano score had nothing to do with this production’s success, thus explaining why they all got le shaft. (Then again, it could just be that the cast included Stacy Stoltz, the Susan Lucci of the North Side.)
Eh, it was no Christmas Schooner. It may have been perched on Lake Michigan, but Dog & Pony’s As Told by the Vivian Girls, the wildly ambitious and expansive environmental theater piece that brought Henry Darger’s art to life, could never compete with the no-really-this-is-the-last-time-we’re-bringing-it-back-ever-and-we-really-mean-it-this-time sentimental chestnut about a sailing mission that failed to bring Christmas trees across Lake Michigan. Vivian Girls, a design extravaganza that will probably be imitated in years to come, wasn’t even Jeff recommended. Committee members who declined to walk through the entire show stayed in the lobby, where a single scene took place. The Christmas Schooner, incidentally, which received its 13th Bailiwick production this year, earned five noms.
Dog & Pony? Aren’t those the kids who did that weird Henry Darger play? If you’ve been hearing about Krissy Vanderwarker’s staging of Jenny Schwartz’s lyric-based family drama God’s Ear over at the Viaduct, it might be because it’s produced by Dog & Pony, that suspicious troupe of upstarts behind Vivian Girls. D&P has had a good year, which hopefully will make up for the shunned performances of Faith Noelle Hurley and Luke Hatton as a zombielike suburban couple with a dead kid, Gina D’Ercoli as a flaky adulteress, and not-nominated, dead-sexy set and lights by Grant Sabin and Aaron Weissman, respectively. (“Consolation” prize: Sound designer Stephen Ptacek, whose baroque, pan-pop musicscape was the most impressive of Vivian Girls’ many design elements, managed to bag the only nom for God’s Ear.)
British plays about people’s feelings are for New Yorkers. In a meat-and-potatoes town, there’s only one nod for the soggy tea bags of Griffin Theatre’s On the Shore of the Wide World (the lovely supporting performance of Elise Kauzlaric). Jonathan Berry’s self-effacing direction of Simon Stephens’s unsentimental look at a broken Manchester family must not have done the trick for JoJeff. Too bad, as his elegant ensemble included the likes of Paul D’Addario, Karyn Morris and Brian Deneen, among others. (Backup theory: Marianna Czaszar’s gorgeous set, which demolished the largest stage in the Theatre Building and built a handsome junk heap on top of it, disoriented Jeff voters.)
Frigid, sexless disillusionment reminds us too much of the Bush years. Looks like Marsha Harmon and Sean Patrick Fawcett, the miserable married couple in Jessica Hutchinson’s lovely little production of Six Years at New Leaf Theatre, picked the wrong season to portray aching ennui so accurately.
Rich people foolishly losing their property at their own expense reminds us too much of the Obama recession. Looks like the fine cast and design team behind Kimberly Senior’s Cherry Orchard at Strawdog Theatre—we’re looking at you, scenic designer Anders Jacobson—picked the wrong season to portray aching ennui so accurately.
Get off our back. The Neo-Futurists didn’t even invite us to that show. And it’s too bad. If the Neos had extended the olive branch to the Jeff committee members, they might well have had a blast at Fake Lake, Sharon Greene’s trippy-dippy summer-vacation-essay-as-environmental-theater piece. Not only did they miss out on the hoot of watching a play performed in an actual swimming pool, they got cheated out of hearing the boss score and superior sound design of Mikhail Fiksel. Alas. Nobody into the pool.
For a complete list of nominees, visit jeffawards.org.