American Blues announces 25th-Anniversary Season

american blues theatre logo 

announces its

* 25th-Anniversary Season Productions *


Includes the regional premiere of Rantoul & Die by Mark Roberts (“Two and a Half Men”) and the new annual Blue Ink Playwriting Contest.

tobacco road 1 tobacco road 2

Pictures from most recent production, critically-acclaimed Tobacco Road

November 26 – December 31, 2010

  It’s a Wonderful Life: Live at the Biograph!
  Directed by Marty Higganbotham
In the Richard Christiansen Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln, Chicago
Featuring ABT Ensemble members Kevin Kelly, Ed Kross, John Mohrlein and Gwendolyn Whiteside
  From the original director and Ensemble that brought this holiday tradition to Chicago in 2004.  Join the American Blues family as we take you back to a 1940s radio broadcast of Frank Capra’s holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life, with live Foley sound effects, an original score, and a stellar cast of seven that bring the entire town of Bedford Falls to life.  From the moment you walk through the doors, you will be transported back to the Golden Age of Radio, and experience the story of George Bailey like never before.  Critics called this production “perfect Christmas theater” and “first class holiday fare.”


March 2011

  American Blues – Collected One Acts
  by Tennessee Williams 
In the Richard Christiansen Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln, Chicago
Directed by Dennis Zacek, Steve Scott, Brian Russell, Damon Kiely and Heather Meyers
  This one-night benefit performance celebrates American playwright Tennessee Williams’ 100th birthday.  These five short plays were selected by Williams’ in the rarely produced 1948 collection entitled “American Blues” to showcase his commitment to the blue-collar worker.  ABT is thrilled to work with directors who have made significant contributions to the success and livelihood of the Blues’ Ensemble theater throughout the 25 years.  ABT will announce the winner of the first annual “Blue Ink” Playwriting prize at this event.


April 15 – May 29, 2011

  Rantoul & Die
  Written by Mark Roberts i/a/w Stephen Eich and Don Foster
In the Richard Christiansen Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln, Chicago
Directed by Erin Quigley
Featuring ABT Ensemble members Kate Buddeke, Cheryl Graeff, and Lindsay Jones.  With guest artists Steppenwolf Ensemble members Francis Guinan and Alan Wilder.
  From the writer and executive producer of “Two and a Half Men” comes a new play with four of the funniest, ugliest,  and most heartbreakingly real characters ever, all crammed together in a grimy little world that makes the local Dairy Queen and Dante’s Inferno seem one and the same.  The Hollywood reporter calls Rantoul & Die “original and devastatingly funny!” Regional premiere.


tobacco road 3

   from Tobacco Road  (our review ★★★)

About American Blues Theater

Founded in 1985, American Blues Theater is known for its gritty, uncompromising style.  During the years 1997-2009, the Ensemble went by the name American Theater Company.  In 2009, the Ensemble reclaimed its original name and reaffirmed its commitment to its original mission.  American Blues Theater is an Ensemble of inherently collaborative theater artists, re-envisioning great American classics and reaching out to the Chicago theater community to create new work that reflects our mid-western roots and celebrates the diverse American character.  They dedicate each production to the working people of our region and partner with social service and community organizations.  In twenty-five years, the Ensemble collaborated and produced more than 70 productions, including 41 world or regional premieres.  Ensemble plaudits include more than 75 collective Joseph Jefferson nominations and awards, 15 After Dark Awards, numerous regional theater honors, two Writer Guild Awards, and one Emmy.  From May 21-June 20th, ABT capped its 2009-2010 season with Tobacco Road (our review ★★★) by Jack Kirkland, based on the novel by Erskine Caldwell, directed by Cecilie Keenan, also in the Richard Christiansen Theater at Victory Gardens.

The ABT Ensemble includes Founders Ed Blatchford, Rick Cleveland, James Leaming, and William Payne with Dawn Bach, Matthew Brumlow, Kate Buddeke, Casey Campbell, Dennis Cockrum, Lauri Dahl, Tom Geraty, Cheryl Graeff, Lindsay Jones, Kevin R. Kelly, Ed Kross, Heather Meyers, John Mohrlein, Jim Ortlieb, Suzanne Petri, Tania Richard, Carmen Roman, Editha Rosario, John Sterchi, and Gwendolyn Whiteside.

American Blues Theater is led by Producing Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside, Associate Artistic Directors James Leaming and Carmen Roman, and Literary Manager Heather Meyers


Marty Higginbotham (Director, “It’s a Wonderful Life: Live at the Biograph!”) joined the American Blues Theater family in 1991, appearing in “Desire Under the Elms,” “monsters,” “On the Waterfront,” “Tom and Jerry,” “The Homage that Follows,” “Stalag 17,” “Bus Stop,” “The Three Penny Opera,” “Working,” “The Trip to Bountiful,” “American Dead,” and “Oklahoma.” His sound design / original score credits with ABT include “Monsters,” “Monsters II,” and “Monsters III,” “Food from Trash,” “The Homage That Follows,” “The Million Bells of Ocean” and “A Lie of the Mind.” Higginbotham has also worked on and off stage at The Old Globe, The Prince Music Theatre, The Goodman, Northlight, Oak Park Festival Theater, Circle Theatre, and the Organic. Higginbotham proudly continues to helm "It’s a Wonderful Life: Live at the Biograph" at Victory Gardens’ Richard Christiansen Theater. He is also Founder and President of The Stage Channel, a video production company serving the Arts in Chicago since 2001, and now, across the country. The Stage Channel, to date, has produced more than 800 promotional videos for music, theater and dance.

Kevin Kelly (George Bailey, “It’s a Wonderful Life: Live at the Biograph!”) joined the American Blues Theater Ensemble in 1994.  American Blues Theater productions include “St. Scarlet,” “The Skin of Our Teeth,” “Scapin,” “Stalag 17,” “Flight of the Phoenix,” “One Day Only,” “Monsters III,” and “On the Waterfront.”  His work has also been seen in Chicago and Los Angeles at the Odyssey Theatre, Actor’s Rep., Lifeline Theatre, Pegasus Players, Bailiwick Repertory, Buffalo Theatre Ensemble, City Lit Theater and many others. Film credits include “The Express,” “True Nature,” “Ca$h,” “Bad News Bears,” “Of Boys and Men,” “American Dreamz,” “The Promotion,” “A Lot Like Love,” “Light It Up” and many independent films. TV credits include “Prison Break” (FOX), “Charmed” (WB), “The Inside”(FOX), “Boston Legal”(ABC), “7th Heaven”(WB), “Early Edition”(CBS) “Clubhouse”(CBS) and “Spin City” (ABC).

Gwendolyn Whiteside (Mary Bailey, “It’s a Wonderful Life: Live at the Biograph!”) joined the American Blues Theater Ensemble in 1998 and serves as the Producing Artistic Director.  At ABT, she appeared in “It’s a Wonderful Life: Live at the Biograph!,” “Augusta,” “St. Scarlet,” “Kid Simple” and “Bus Stop.”  Regional credits include “Emily in Our Town,” “Belle in A Christmas Carol,” “Izzy in Rabbit Hole” at Indiana Repertory Theatre and the solo-performance “On the House” at Lankershim Arts Center (Los Angeles). Chicago credits include solo-performance “k of d: an urban legend,” “Metamorphoses” at Lookingglass Theatre Company, “Dream Boy” at About Face Theatre and work with Northlight Theatre, Chicago Dramatists, Chicago Humanities Festival, and Victory Gardens Theater. Television credits include “Cold Case” (CBS), “Six Feet Under” (HBO), “Dawson’s Creek” (WB), “Jack & Jill” (WB), “Cupid” (WB) and a recurring role on “The Education of Max Bickford”(CBS).  She has received four Joseph Jefferson nominations and an After Dark Award.

Rick Cleveland (Founder of American Blues Theater, judge of “Blue Ink” playwriting contest) founded American Blues theater in 1985.  The theater’s first production, “Dogman” was staged at Victory Gardens Theater November 1985-January 1986.  He is the Emmy and Writer’s Guild Award Winning television writer-producer whose credits include “The West Wing” (NBC), “Six Feet Under”(HBO) and “Mad Men”(AMC). Currently he is working on Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie.”

Mark Roberts (Playwright of “Rantoul & Die”) became interested in the arts at an early age and started working at The Station Theatre, a small local performing space in a converted train station in Urbana, Illinois.  In his early twenties he moved to Chicago to pursue a career as an actor and writer, using stand-up comedy as a way to pay the bills.  Comedy took him to Los Angeles, where Mark appeared on “The Tonight Show” several times and that led to guest starring roles on numerous television series, among them, “Seinfeld” (NBC), “Friends” (NBC),“The Practice” (ABC), “The Larry Sanders Show” (HBO), “The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air” (NBC) and the films “Next Of Kin” and “Bulletproof.”  He also worked as a series regular for three seasons on “The Naked Truth” (ABC) with Téa Leoni.  While working as an actor, Mark wrote and produced several plays in Los Angeles, eventually catching the attention of writer-producer Chuck Lorre, with his one-act comedy “Couples Counseling Killed Katie’ at the Plymouth Theatre Company.  He and Lorre created an un-produced pilot based on the stage play and in 2004 when the Lorre-penned “Two and a Half Men” was picked up by CBS, Roberts was immediately hired as a producer and has been there ever since, rising to the level of Executive Producer.  Roberts continues to return to the Station Theatre to produce his original plays, which include “Welcome To Tolono,” “Whitey,” “Where The Great Ones Run” and “Parasite Drag.” Several of his works have been picked up by Dramatists Play Service, Inc. and published into acting editions.

Erin Quigley (Director of “Rantoul & Die”) worked with American Blues on BAD MOON in 1988.  She began her theatrical career as the resident costume designer for Chicago’s famed Steppenwolf Theatre, during which time she garnered two prestigious Tony Award nominations for her work on Broadway.  During the ensuing years, she designed the top-rated television sitcom “Roseanne” (ABC) and “The Jeff Foxworthy Show” (ABC/NBC) along with many other stage, television, and film projects.  Later, Erin worked as a producer and development executive for 23 Red Productions, in collaboration with 20th Century Fox and Warner Brothers Television.  She most recently directed the drag musical “Miss Desmond Behind Bars” in Los Angeles and San Francisco.  Erin is an alum of CSULB and Art Center College of Design.

Kate Buddeke (Debbie, “Rantoul & Die”) joined the American Blues Theater Ensemble in 1988.  She is currently Sister Bessie in ABT’s production of “Tobacco Road”.  She last appeared on Broadway in Tracy Letts “Superior Donuts.”.  Other Broadway credits include “Gypsy” with Bernadette Peters, “A Street Car Named Desire” with Natascha Richardson, “Death of a Salesman” with Brian Dennehy and “Carousel.”  Off Broadway credits include: “Paris Commune,” “Bug” and “Mill Fire.”  She won an Audience Choice award for “Frankie & Johnny in the Clare du Lune” at Arena Stage in Washington D.C.  In Chicago, she has appeared in many productions and is the recipient of four Joseph Jefferson Awards, for her work in “Ourselves Alone,” “Dancing At Lughnasa,” “Gypsy” and “David’s Mother.”  At American Blues Theater, she has performed in “Bad Moon,” “Peacekeeper,” “Keely & Du,” “The Mineola Twins,” “Quake” and “Augusta.”  Film and television credits include “Choking Man” with Mandy Patinkin, “Payback” with Mel Gibson, “Straight Talk,” “The Northern Kingdom” and “The Last New Yorker” with Dominic Chianese, “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” (USA), “The Sopranos” (HBO) and “Flight of the Conchords” (HBO).  One of her greatest moments however was singing the National Anthem, solo, twice, at Wrigley Field.

Cheryl Graeff (Callie, “Rantoul & Die”) joined the American Blues Theater Ensemble in 2001.  She is currently playing in “Body Awareness” at Profiles Theater.  She’s worked at the following Regional theaters: American Blues Theater, Victory Gardens, Court Theatre, Missouri Repertory, Piven Theater, Mary-Aarchie, Folio Theatre, Nebraska Repertory, Trap Door, Kansas City Repertory, Oregon Stage Company, Milwaukee Repertory, Madison Repertory, Chicago Dramatists, Famous Door, and Steppenwolf Theater Company.  She has performed at the Kennedy Center and toured throughout the U.K.  Films and television credits include “Alleyball,” “Whirleybird,” “Tinsel,” “Family Practice”(ABC) and “Stranger Than Fiction.”


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