Body Politic’s Moment of Reckoning

With Albert Pertalion resigning as artistic director effective November 30, the moment of reckoning may have arrived for the 27-year-old Body Politic Theatre, one of the city’s oldest not-for-profit companies. Well-informed sources say the Body Politic’s future could involve a merger with Victory Gardens Theater, its downstairs neighbor for the past 12 years. Victory Gardens has been actively investigating at least one other possible merger option in recent months.

After more than three years at the company ‘s artistic helm, Pertalion says his decision to depart was prompted mostly by the need for a more stable financial situation; Body Politic hasn’t produced a show for a year, partly due to a lack of funding. Pertalion dismissed any suggestion that the company is in imminent danger of collapse; he said it’s still looking for a lead actor, preferably one with some star power, for the world premiere of End Game Kazotsky, about an aging Jewish actor who decides to give up his rent-controlled New York City apartment.

But Pertalion’s decision prompted the board of directors to meet last Tuesday to begin determining the company’s fate. Over the past several years Body Politic has experienced operating deficits, a declining audience, a poorly focused artistic product, and considerable administrative tumult. Notes Body Politic board president Gregg Rzepczynski: “I want to get a consensus of what the board believes is best right now.”

Rzepczynski says the board will consider three possible options: shut down the theater company, seek a new artistic director, or merge with another company. Though Rzepczynski would not discuss potential merger partners, sources close to developments say there have already been preliminary talks between Body Politic and Victory Gardens Theater. A merger with Victory Gardens would leave Body Politic with a better financial picture, a much larger subscription audience base, and a clearly defined artistic focus on new work. For the 19-year-old Victory Gardens, the merger would mean ready access to a third theater space at its present location, as well as additional office and storage space. Sources also say the Body Politic board–which has several long-standing, unusually committed members–would strengthen the Victory Gardens board. In recent weeks Victory Gardens had discussed a possible merger with the Organic Theater Company, but sources say those talks have not progressed far.

Chicago Magazine’s Top 50

Chicago magazine is preparing a feature list of the 50 most influential people in the local theater industry for its February 1994 issue. The story was the brainchild of occasional Chicago contributor Robert Sharoff, who, according to senior editor Chris Newman, compiled his own list of 50 names. and then began massaging it into shape with the aid of associate editor Jeanne Rattenbury and contributing theater writer Bob Daily.

When Sharoff started his research a couple of months ago, some staffers at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company wondered how he had managed to get such an assignment. Notes Steppenwolf managing director Stephen Eich, “I didn’t know who Sharoff was and I had never seen him at a Steppenwolf opening.” Sharoff reportedly raised eyebrows by drawing a blank at the mention of Bruce Sagan, the well-connected past president of Steppenwolf’s board of directors, who led the charge to build the new theater at 1650 N. Halsted. But others Sharoff interviewed didn’t seem to mind that he was an unfamiliar theater writer. Adds Bailiwick Repertory exective director David Zak, “Sharoff may not have been well-informed but he was willing to listen and research from an objective point of view that I found refreshing.”

The finished list will go beyond actors and directors to include agents, benefactors, and even technical types. Sharoff says only about 12 people in the industry were formally interviewed–including staffers at the Goodman and Steppenwolf, Zak at Bailiwick, actress Hollis Resnick, and director and Columbia College theater head Sheldon Patinkin–but he says there was a surprising consensus about who should appear on the list. Except when it came to actors: “Everybody had a different idea of who the influential actors are,” notes Sharoff.

A former theater critic for the defunct Suburban Sun-Times back in the 1970s, Sharoff maintains he has kept in touch with theater through the years, though the last article he remembers writing on the subject was in 1979 for the Reader. Sharoff, whose lover, Roger Debourg, is an actor, says the impetus for the project was his belief that many Chicagoans harbor misguided notions about the city’s current scene. “A lot of people still think Chicago theater is all about John Malkovich, but I wanted to look at who is actively doing theater here today.”

Is the Honeymoon Over?

Sparks are flying between Tony ‘n’ Tina’s Wedding producer Tony Tomaska and Andrew Alexander, Second City owner and executive producer. Alexander claims that loud noise from Tony ‘n’ Tina’s Wedding is bothering audiences at his Second City E.T.C. theater, situated directly below the Piper’s Alley theater where Tomaska dramatizes his Italian wedding reception seven times a week. Alexander is threatening legal action unless the noise is muffled by November 15. “I haven’t seen the show, I’ve just heard it,” he sniffs.

Suspecting Alexander was really upset because Tony ‘n’ Tina’s Wedding is pulling in such good crowds, Tomaska says, he dispatched spies to Second City E.T.C., who subsequently reported that they could not hear any bothersome noise from upstairs. Furthermore he isn’t happy about the way Alexander presented his complaint. “Instead of coming to me and telling me he has a problem, two months after my show opens I get papers from his attorney threatening a lawsuit if something isn’t done about the noise.” But in the spirit of being a good neighbor, Tomaska is making some adjustments: he has cut out some of the shouting matches that were being performed in public areas outside the wedding chapel and reception hall, and he’s ordered special padding to go under the dance floor. Will it be in place by November 15? “I didn’t agree to any date,” insists Tomaska.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Cynthia Howe.