Strawdog Theatre announces new artistic staff and ensemble members


As part of their ongoing celebration of 22 years(!) in Chicago theatre, Strawdog Theatre Company proudly announces the hiring of new Managing Director Hank Boland, new General Manager Cortney Hurley, the addition of four new ensemble members: Amy Dunlap, Paul Fagen, Mike Przygoda and Justine C. Turner and the appointment of Matt Hawkins as Strawdog Artistic Associate and Resident Director.

hboland_large Hank Boland replaces Alex J. Goodman as Managing Director of Strawdog Theatre Company.  Boland’s work with Strawdog Theatre Company includes writing Season Seventeen’s epic musical The True Ballad of Fall’s Blessings, directed by Strawdog’s Artistic Director Nic Dimond and written in collaboration with Strawdog Theatre Company. In 2006, Dimond asked Boland to develop a writing initiative for Strawdog Ensemble Members.  Billed the The Hit Factory, this program regularly schedules late night events and graduations to showcase new work. The Hit Factory now also offers tuition based classes to the public, please see our website for more information. The Hit Factory is committed to creating new works, and strengthening the working relationships between Strawdog Theatre Company and other members of the Chicago theatre community. Boland holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Film from Columbia College in Chicago where he is an adjunct faculty member in the screenwriting department.

Cortney Hurley, Strawdog’s Production Manager since 2006, has been promoted to General Manager, overseeing Strawdog’s growing theatrical complex located at

Strawdog Theatre Company is now home to a 70-seat mainstage theatre, 40-seat Hugen Hall cabaret space complete with bar and liquor license and 400 square foot rehearsal space called Nowhere Mountain.

Strawdog Theatre Company is also pleased to announce the addition of four new ensemble members: Amy Dunlap has appeared on the Strawdog stage in Cherry Orchard, Marathon ‘33 and the Strawdog Radio Theatre Series. Dunlap graduated from Boston University’s College of Fine Arts and has been seen in productions at several Chicago theatres including 16th Street Theater, Lifeline Theatre, Factory Theatre, Chicago Dramatists, Adventure Stage Chicago and Estrogen Fest.

Paul Fagen was last seen as Father Toulon in Strawdog’s critically-acclaimed production of Red Noses. Originally from Annapolis, MD, Fagen has also acted in productions at The House Theatre of Chicago, Speaking Ring Theater and Quest Theatre Ensemble.

Mike Przygoda was most recently the Musical Director and Arranger for Strawdog’s Red Noses. Przygoda holds a BFA in music composition from Columbia College Chicago.  He has worked on numerous shows in Chicago both as a composer and as a performing musician for companies such as The House Theatre of Chicago (Valentine Victorious, Ellen Under Glass, The Boy Detective Fails, Hatfield & McCoy, The Sparrow, The Magnificents, The Nutcracker, The Rose & Rime), American Theatre Company (Oklahoma!), The Hypocrites (Camille/La Traviata), Trapdoor (AmeriKafka), Next Theatre (The Busy World Is Hushed, 365 Days/Plays), The Neo-Futurists (Beer) and has written music for Serendipity Theatre Collective‘s Second Story.  He served as a musical director for the Second City Touring Company.

Justine C. Turner joins the Strawdog Ensemble after appearing in Red Noses. Originally from Oak Park, IL and a graduate of Columbia College, Turner was most recently seen in the remount of Rivendell Theatre’s These Shining Lives at Theatre on the Lake and appeared in Ren Faire last summer at The Factory Theatre.

Director of Strawdog’s smash, sold-out production of Red Noses Matt Hawkins joins Artistic Associates Kimberly Senior and Shade Murray in their growing ensemble of Resident Directors. Hawkins previously directed Hatfield & McCoy for The House Theatre of Chicago, On My Parents Hundredth Wedding Anniversary for the side project and will direct Cabaret for The Hypocrites next spring.

Strawdog’s staff includes Artistic Director Nic Dimond, Managing Director Hank Boland and General Manager Cortney Hurley. The complete Strawdog ensemble includes Jennifer Avery, Hank Boland, Abigail Boucher, Don Cardiff, Erin Carlson, Michael Dailey, Anita Deely, Amy Dunlap, Paul Fagen, John Ferrick, Mikhail Fiksel, Aly Renee Greaves, Carmine Grisolia, Christopher Hainsworth, Kyle Hamman, Erik Hellman, Tom Hickey, Shannon Hoag, Anderson Lawfer, Sean Mallary, Kat McDonnell, Gregor Mortis, Stacy Parker Hirsch, Michaela Petro, Mike Przygoda, John Henry Roberts, Justine C. Turner, Jamie Vann and James Anthony Zoccoli.

Map to Strawdog Theatre:

2008 After Dark Awards Announced!

Gay Chicago Magazine has just announced this year’s After Dark AwardsBelow is an abbreviated list.  For the complete list, as well as production photos, go to Venus Zarris’s website: Chicago State Review


2008 After Dark Awards.  For more information go to

Best Production

Passion Play: A Cycle in Three Parts (Goodman Theatre)

The Mark of Zorro (Lifeline Theatre)

Hunchback (Redmoon Theatre)


Outstanding New Work

Sarah Ruhl – Passion Play: A Cycle in Three Parts (Goodman Theatre)

Anna CariniSweet Confinement (SiNNERMAN Ensemble)

Tracy LettsSuperior Donuts (Steppenwolf Theatre)


Outstanding Adaptation

Shishir KurupMerchant on Venice (Silk Road Project)

Devon de Mayo and Ensemble – As Told By The Vivian Girls (Dog & Pony Theatre)


Outstanding Musical

Old Town (Strawdog Theatre)


Outstanding Direction

David Cromer – Our Town  (Hypocrites Theatre)

John MossmanJuno and the Paycock (Artistic Home)

Anna Bahow – Sweet Confinement  (SiNNERMAN Ensemble)

Peter Robel – Merchant of Venice (Bohemian Theatre Ensemble)


Outstanding Direction of a Musical

Fred Anzevino – “Cabaret” and Jacque Brel’s Lonesome Losers of the Night  (Theo Ubique Theatre)


Outstanding Musical Direction

Joshua Stephen Kartes – Jacque Brel’s Lonesome Losers of the Night  (Theo Ubique Theatre)


Outstanding Performance in a Play

Jennifer Grace – Our Town  (Hypocrites Theatre)

Mark Ulrich – Juno and the Paycock  (Artistic Home)

Nicole Wiesner – Passion Play: A Cycle in Three Parts (Goodman Theatre)

Keland Scher – Much Ado About Nothing  (First Folio Theatre)

Madeline Long – Soldiers: The Desert Stand (LiveWire Chicago Theatre)

Sadieh Rafai – Speech and Debate (American Theatre Company)

Jeremy Sher – Hunchback (Redmoon Theatre)

Annabel Armour – Fiction  (Remy Bumppo)

Jenn Remke – Resort 76  (Infamous Commonwealth)

Andy Hager – Red Light Winter (Thunder and Lightning Ensemble)

Polly Noonan – Passion Play: A Cycle in Three Parts  (Goodman Theatre)

Nick Vatterott – Love is Dead: A NecRomantic Musical Comedy  (Annoyance Theatre)

Adam Kander – The Merchant of Venice (Bohemian Theatre Ensemble)


Outstanding Performance in a Musical or Review

E. Faye Butler – Ain’t Misbehavin’   (Goodman Theatre)

Kat McDonnell – Old Town (Strawdog Theatre)

Summer Smart – Sweet Charity  (Drury Lane Oakbrook)

Bethany Thomas – Nine  (Porchlight Music Theatre)


Outstanding Ensemble

Emma  (Trapdoor Theatre)

As Told by the Vivian Girls  (Dog & Pony Theatre)

Juno and the Paycock  (The Artistic Home)

Sweet Confinement  (SiNNERMAN Ensemble)

Superior Donuts  (Steppenwolf Theatre)


For the complete listing of all 2008 After Dark Awards, including full descriptions and great pictures, go to my friend Venus Zarris’s theatre blog:   Go Venus!!

Review – “Dolly West’s Kitchen” at TimeLine Theatre

Dolly West Kitchen eggProduction: Dolly West’s Kitchen
Producers: TimeLine Theatre (map)
Review: It’s often said that the heart of every home is the kitchen.  In Dolly West’s kitchen however, this is an understatement – the kitchen comes to an emotional full boil during the extent of this adventursome and often-hillarious work.  The play, taking place in war-time Ireland, revolves around the three West-family women: matriarch Rima, free-spirited Dolly and tightly-wound Esther.  Though all three women appear strong, much of their choices and present-day predicaments stem from theif womanizing father, who has long ago left the family (leaving Dolly to escape to Italy where she ends up running a restaurant, only returning to Ireland when Mussolini comes to full power; Esther marrying a weak but reliable Ned Horgan, who Esther does not love, but chooses because she knows he will never leave her). Soon Dolly West’s kitchen comes to life with the appearance of three mail visitors – Dolly’s bisexual ex-boyfriend Alec Redding, and two American soldiers – the quiet Jamie O’Brien, and his blatantly gay cousin Joshua Rollins. 

Playwright Frank McGuinness creates wide swathes of lyrical dialogue, interspersed with some sexually-charged outbursts, as Dolly West’s Kitchen lays out for us the complex issues occuring in war-time Ireland, juxtaposed with issues of sexual identity and the results of a dysfunctional family history.  

Strengths: This show is a perfect example of the powerful ensemble acting that Chicago is known for.  The womens’ performances are flawless, especially the women on the extremes: the aged, cantankerous matriarch Rima West (played by the mesmerizing Kathleen Ruhl), and the spunky, lower-class teenage maid Anna Owens (portrayed by the energetic Sara Hoyer).  Accompanying these two are the actresses playing the West sisters, Kat McDonnell and Danica Ivancevic, (these two who have shared their impressive talents with Chicago in recent productions  – Kat McDonnell in The Sparrow; Danica Ivancevic in Faith Healer).  The set is brilliant – a cozy kitchen which thrusts out diagonally into the audience, a subtle garden on one side of the kitchen and an overturned boat near the shore on the other side of the kitchen. Director Kimberly Senior should be commended for harnessing all of this talent into one eloquent voice.   

Weaknesses: Even a strong cast and ingenious set can’t totally rescue the weaknesses of the script. For example, we are immediately asked to accept that a World War II era Irish family administers full acceptance of the several gay characters in the play – including Dolly’s brother, Dolly’s ex-lover (actually presented as being bisexual) and an American soldier who consequently becomes the brother’s lover.  Oddly, then, when looking at the historical display in the lobby during intermission, we are told that homosexuality was abhorred in Ireland at the time.  Furthermore, the play’s final scenes occur once the war is over, and we witness the psychologically debilitating effect the war has had on all of the men (including the two Americans who, one would think, would have gone home after the war rather than back to Dolly’s kitchen).  Considering how complex such issues of distress caused by seeing the ugliness of war, the playwright chooses to end the play with several Hallmark-moments as each soldier miraculously gains their samity, and life is beautiful once more.      

Aside: Altough this specific play didn’t work for me, I have always enjoyed TimeLine’s exemplary productions.  Their plays reliably present a historic viewpoint, including the creation of study guides and lobby displays.  In a whacky way, I like to think of TimeLine as a theatrical version of “School House Rock” – where as a child I was greatly entertained by these Saturday-morning cartoons, while coercively learning how a bill gets passed in Congress, the anatomy of a conjunction, and when to use an exclamation point !! 

Summary: Though Dolly West’s Kitchen is impeccably performed, looks great and has a plethora of hilarious lines, the play sabotages itself through a confusing depiction of 1940’s gay acceptance as well as a Hallmark-esque view of complex catastophes which are conveniently mended in the end. 

Rating: ««½

Personnel and Show Information

Playwright: Frank McGuinness
Director: Kimberly Senior
Sets: Brian Sidney Bembridge
Lights: Charles Cooper
Costumes: Christine Conley
Sound Design: Tamara Roberts
Props: Galen Pejeau
Stage Manage: Ana Espinosa
Dialect Coach: Eva Breneman
Featuring: Cliff Chamberlain (Alec)
Aaron Golden (Jamie)
Sara Hoyer (Anna)
Danica Ivancevic (Esther)
Kat McDonnell (Dolly)
Niall McGinty (Justin)
Mark Richard (Ned)
Joshua Rollins (Marco)
Kathleen Ruhl (Rima)
Location: TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington (map)
Dates: Through March 22, 2008
Show Times: Wednesday-Thursday 7:30pm, Friday 8pm, Saturday 4 and 8pm, Sunday 2pm.