Olympia Dukakis reads for American Blues

By Leah A. Zeldes

Olympia-Dukakis Academy Award-winning actress Olympia Dukakis appears in Chicago Monday, Nov. 16, to read from an upcoming American Blues Theater production. The reading, a passage from ABT’s spring 2010 show, "RIPPED: The Living Newspaper Project" by Eduardo Machado and Rick Cleveland, takes place during a benefit for the newly-reconstituted troupe. Dennis Zacek, artistic director of Victory Gardens Theater, will also read.

Highlights of benefit, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Monday at the Bridgeview Bank, 4753 N. Broadway, also include live blues by Chicago band The Skirts, an auction of such items as local theater tickets and a walk-on Broadway role, food and drinks. Tickets are $75, $125 for VIP admission, which includes an earlier reception with Dukakis.

Dukakis, whose film credits include Steel Magnolias, Mr. Holland’s Opus and Moonstruck, for which she was named Best Supporting Actress, is a long-time friend of ABT ensemble member Carmen Roman. "I’ve watched this company continuously produce incredible, groundbreaking work," Dukakis said. "The 2009/10 season is no exception. I’m honored to be a part of their benefit celebration, and fully support this inspirational Chicago ensemble."

"Starting from scratch without staff and absolutely no money has certainly been a challenge," said ensemble member Gwendolyn Whiteside, part of the company’s executive/artistic/administrator triumvirate, along with Roman and Heather Meyers.

In March, 23 members of the ensemble left American Theater Company, leaving behind a $1 million annual budget and taking back the American Blues name under which that company formed in 1985. The group, which comprised most of ATC’s actors, departed over differences with its artistic director, P.J. Paparelli, who was hired two years ago from Perseverance Theatre in Alaska. Paparelli had reportedly expelled several members of the company and allowed members increasingly less influence on theatrical decision making.

American Blues Theater members include Cleveland, Dawn Bach, Ed Blatchford, Matthew Brumlow, Kate Buddeke, Casey Campbell, Dennis Cockrum, Lauri Dahl, Tom Geraty, Cheryl Graeff, Lindsay Jones, Kevin R. Kelly, Ed Kross, James Leaming, John Mohrlein, Jim Ortlieb, William Payne, Suzanne Petri, Tania Richard, Editha Rosario, John Sterchi and Stef Tovar.

"I believe the work of the ABT ensemble is vital and important to Chicago’s theater community and our city as a whole," Zacek said.

Olympia Dukakis to direct “Botanic Garden”

botanic-garden-dreamteam.jpg Botanic Garden poster

It looks like award-winning actress Olympia Dukakis (who has won an Oscar, Emmy and an Obie) will be trying her hand at directing here in Chicago.  The world premier of Dukakis-directed “Botanic Garden“, written by Chicago playwright Todd Logan, opens on February 8th, with previews beginning the week before) at Victory Gardens Greenhouse (map). The play is a humorous look at a recently widowed woman who is exploring the dating scene, all while haunted with memories of her deceased husband.  Doesn’t sound like the type of subject that lends itself to comedy, which, of course, could make it all the more funny.  We’ll soon see…. 

Check out more about the play, including the inside scoop on acquiring Dukakis as the director, at the playwright’s entertaining blog: Todd Logans Desk (pictures courtesy of Logan’s blog)

FYI: There will be a post-show discussion featuring Olympia Dukakis immediately following these performances: January 30 and February 3, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10.