Janus Theatre production pays tribute to women in theater

Janus Theatre performance pays tribute to female pioneer

 
By Jamie Greco
Daily Herald correspondent
Updated 10/11/2018 4:39 PM
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  • Janus Theatre Company's "Underplayed: The Margo Jones Theater Project" pays tribute to Margo Jones, an American stage director/producer best known for launching the American regional theater movement in Dallas, Texas, in 1947.

    Janus Theatre Company's "Underplayed: The Margo Jones Theater Project" pays tribute to Margo Jones, an American stage director/producer best known for launching the American regional theater movement in Dallas, Texas, in 1947. Courtesy of Janus Theatre Company

  • From left, Tiffany Jasinski and Heidi Swarthout rehearse a scene from "Sunday on the Rocks," one of the plays to be performed in rotating repertory in Janus Theatre Company's "Underplayed: The Margo Jones Theater Project."

    From left, Tiffany Jasinski and Heidi Swarthout rehearse a scene from "Sunday on the Rocks," one of the plays to be performed in rotating repertory in Janus Theatre Company's "Underplayed: The Margo Jones Theater Project." Courtesy of Janus Theatre Company

  • Jennifer Reeves-Wilson, Tiffany Jasinski and Heidi Swarthout practice a meditation during rehearsal for "Sunday on the Rocks," one of the plays to be performed in rotating repertory in Janus Theatre Company's "Underplayed: The Margo Jones Theater Project."

    Jennifer Reeves-Wilson, Tiffany Jasinski and Heidi Swarthout practice a meditation during rehearsal for "Sunday on the Rocks," one of the plays to be performed in rotating repertory in Janus Theatre Company's "Underplayed: The Margo Jones Theater Project." Courtesy of Janus Theatre Company

This story was updated to reflect the correct closing date; correct spelling of Theresa Rebeck; and of 'Night Mother.

Everyone that turns up to see a play in rotation at the Janus Theatre's production of "Underplayed: The Margo Jones Theater Project" owes a debt to the namesake, according to Sean Hargadon, creative director of Janus Theatre.

"Margo Jones created the first modern, professional regional theater in Dallas in 1947," he said. "Her belief was any town who had a population of 100,000 or more should have a regional theater."

In honor of Margo Jones, Janus Theatre will present three plays, written by women and acted by women -- mostly -- and directed by women, in rotation from Oct. 12-Nov. 4.

The plays are "'Night, Mother,'" which won the Pulitzer Drama Prize in 1983 and was written by Marsha Norman, to be directed by Lori Holm of Batavia; "Circle Mirror Transformation," written by Annie Baker and directed by Marge Uhlarik-Boller of Elgin; and "Sunday on the Rocks" by Teresa Rebeck and directed by Tara Morrison.

All performances will be at the Elgin Art Showcase, 164 Division St., Elgin, and tickets are $18 for individual shows and $35 for a three-play pass.

Aside from conceptualizing regional theater, Margo Jones was also a director, both of which were unusual in her time, according to Hargadon.

"She did a mix of classics and new work, and she championed new playwrights and mixed them with Molière and Shakespeare," Hargadon said.

Hargadon wanted to highlight Jones, not only because of her achievements, but because of the lack of star power that should be associated with her. There are few who recognize Jones' name, not even among seasoned theater professionals.

"I was not aware of her," said Uhlarik-Boller. "I had always thought that Tyrone Guthrie was the one who founded regional theater in this country. It's not true at all. He was always credited. There's a huge complex named after him in Minneapolis."

"The woman is virtually unknown," Holm added. "I had not known about her very much at all until Sean was speaking to me about her importance in developing regional theater and working in the round, which is what we will be doing in all three plays."

Even Hargadon was unaware of Jones until, 12 years ago, he received "the best Christmas gift ever," he said. That book was "Theater in The Round" by Margo Jones. Even though "in the round" staging has been utilized since theater began, it wasn't employed in the way that Jones described, according to Hargadon.

"It was a way to produce a variety of work and minimize and manage the expense," Hargadon said.

"She didn't have to build walls, and it was a dynamic way of staging. It allowed her to put on a full season. Thereafter, a lot of directors started doing it that way. If you're a small company and you're trying to get work up, it's a great way to do it because it puts the audience on top of the action."

As Hargadon studied Jones he had a thought: "Wouldn't it be exciting to have regional theater developed by a woman and then have women directors, starring mostly women?"

"Out of all the regional theater done around today, the majority is not done by women. Maybe 25 percent, and when you consider who goes to theater and supports theater, it's not in balance, it's not in tune," Hargadon said.

The company agreed on three plays and contacted local women directors. Holm signed on to direct "'Night, Mother."

"It's a heavy hitter, a hard hitter. It's a two-person play with a mother and daughter who live together in an out of the way rural home," Holm said. "In the first five minutes of the show, the daughter tells the mother she's going to kill herself."

Uhlarik-Boller will direct "Circle Mirror Transformation."

"It takes place in a small community center in Vermont and it's a drama class for adults," she said. "'Circle Mirror Transformation' is actually a title of an improvisational game so, as an actor, you know the title. It's a warm-up game to get things going."

The third play, "Sunday on the Rocks," will be directed by Tara Morrison of Elgin. The play concerns a group of women, fueled with scotch, who get together and compare their past hopes with their current lives.

Jones faced discrimination in her time, but some progress has been made in the theater; to what degree seems to depend on perception and location. Uhlarik-Boller and Holm have experienced entirely different scenarios.

"In this area, I feel like I've had opportunities and I'm grateful for them here in the Western suburbs, and I haven't worked in Chicago," Holm said. "I feel like the level of competition is probably different in the larger cities."

Uhlarik-Boller confirmed that notion. When asked if she's faced discrimination as a woman director, she laughed.

"Yes, of course," she said. "Things are changing, of course. When I first started up in my late twenties, trying to get a male to listen to you was really hard. And trying to get tech people to listen to you and understand your vision and get that you're not just a silly girl."

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