Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Personal Crossroads

Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Personal Crossroads

Article excerpt

Actors and ghosts surround the audience in Griffin's Follies in Chicago

Gary Griffin, the Chicago-based associate artistic director of Chicago Shakespeare Theater, has enjoyed considerable success outside his hometown, most notably on Broadway as director of The Color Purple and at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival with West Side Story and Camelot. His Follies (Oct. 12-Nov. 13, 2011) at Chicago Shakespeare became the must-see event of the Windy City's fall season. I caught him on the phone between rehearsals and reminded him of our TSR interview in 1999, when he told me how he had passed on an opportunity to direct Potties at the Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre. I asked him if there was anything besides the obvious addition of 13 years of living that made him willing to direct Follies now.

Griffin: That's the biggest part of it. In my late 30s, I don't think I totally appreciated a lot of the personal crossroads the Follies characters are confronting. I hadn't really confronted "middle age" in my life at that point. Now the show has become a much more personal experience for me. In 1999, I was feeling much more in the world of Company. I think you could probably do Follies at any age, but it's probably the most potent around your middle age because it's so clearly about "Is there an Act II?" As I moved into that age group, there were a number of Chicago's great musical theatre ladies moving into that age group as well, and it was fun to think, "Hey we have to rethink some of ourselves." Literally, people were saying, "Oh my God, I'm old enough to be in Follies." It was one of the other really great reasons to do the show.

The Sondheim Review. The elegant Courtyard Theater at Chicago Shakespeare isn't the first venue one might picture for Follies, set in the decaying, about-to-be-demolished Weismann Theater.

Griffin: I like to create things for this space, given that it's a thrust. The aspect of Follies that has always intrigued me is that it is a reunion party and how to make that experience as present as possible in the space. Maybe we could use the space to the advantage where we could feel the characters living inside the theatre space - and the ghosts as well - in a surround way. The party's as present as possible. The actors and ghosts use the aisles to surround the audience. It's an up-close-and-personal Follies. The musicians are part of the world as well. They're visible onstage. I think it's kind of an interesting tension between this warm, jewel of a space and this harsher, decaying environment, visible through a false proscenium arch behind the Courtyard's thrust stage. …

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