Headshot of Inda Craig-Galván, a Black woman with short hair, wearing brown-rimmed glasses and a light blue scarf
Inda Craig-Galván Credit: Julián Juaquín

Writer, performer, and Second City vet Inda Craig-Galván has been away from Chicago for a dozen years. But she’s having a homecoming celebration of sorts with two shows—both set in the Chicago area—opening on local stages. 

This week, Artemisia Theatre opens Craig-Galván’s A Hit Dog Will Holler at the Den Theatre. Next week, Congo Square Theatre follows with the rolling world premiere through the National New Play Network (of which Congo Square is a member) of Craig-Galván’s WELCOME TO MATTESON! (The rolling world premiere program allows more than one NNPN member theater to premiere a play “over an 18-month period allowing the playwright to collaborate and make adjustments while working with unique perspectives from each company.” WELCOME TO MATTESON! opens in late September at New Jersey Repertory Company.) Congo Square is producing this show at Northwestern’s downtown Abbott Hall.

A Hit Dog Will Holler
Through 9/17: Thu-Sat 8 PM, Sun 3 PM; also Wed 8/30 8 PM; Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee, artemisiatheatre.org, $26 ($16 students; pay what you can previews Wed-Thu 8/30-8/31)
9/6-10/1: Thu-Sat 7 PM, Sun 2 PM; also Wed 9/6 7 PM; Wirtz Theatre in Abbott Hall, 710 N. DuSable Lake Shore (entrance on Superior), congosquaretheatre.org, $45 ($75 radical generosity tickets cover one admission plus an additional sponsored admission for a community member; contact communitypartner@congosquaretheatre.org for information on donated tickets.)

Both shows reflect conflicts between Black people on social and racial justice issues and how to address them. In Hit Dog (which got its world premiere in 2021 at LA’s Skylight Theatre), an agoraphobic Black woman in Hyde Park known for her online political and social commentary is confronted by another Black woman who is a “boots-on-the-ground” organizer. In WELCOME TO MATTESON!, a dinner party between two Black couples dives into uncomfortable issues of housing justice; one couple has lived for years in the eponymous south suburb, while the other has just moved there after being forced out of Cabrini-Green. As the dinner unfolds in real time, buried issues of class prejudice as well as the legacy of racist housing policies get pulled to the surface.

For Craig-Galván, having both these plays back in her hometown means a lot. And while her career in Hollywood has included writing for the television shows Will Trent, How to Get Away With Murder, and The Rookie (she earned an MFA in dramatic writing from University of Southern California after moving west), she notes that almost all the plays she’s written are set in Chicago. “I still consider Chicago home, and there’s so many stories and real-life events, things inspired by my childhood, my teenage years, my college years that stick with me and I always want to honor those things,” she says.

For Hit Dog (directed for Artemisia by Myesha-Tiara, founder and artistic director of Perceptions Theatre), Craig-Galván says the inspiration came from poetry. “I actually started the play right after I got out of grad school. I had a class that was focused on adapting from poetry. And I read this poem by Etheridge Knight about a person who was incarcerated and writing a lot of things. And this hip, young activist comes and visits and says, ‘Hey, all these words you’re writing mean nothing if you’re not actually doing something.’ And I thought, ‘That is something to keep in my back pocket. There’s a play in that.'”

Though she didn’t plan for it to be a pandemic play, Craig-Galván notes that the arrival of COVID-19 meant that she could revisit the character of Gina, the social media influencer and commenter. 

“There was a production lined up in Los Angeles,” says Craig-Galván. “Pandemic came, and that production got delayed. And then I ended up writing that pandemic into the play when it actually did get produced. So that’s part of, or we think that’s part of, the reason she doesn’t wanna go out. But we learn later that it’s much deeper, and sadder, and scarier than that. I really wanted to talk about how we—as Black people, as women, as Black women—perform our politics.”

Artemisia founder and executive artistic director Julie Proudfoot first became aware of Craig-Galván as a playwright when she submitted her play Black Super Hero Magic Mama for Artemisia’s 2016 annual fall festival of new works by women. Both the small cast size of Hit Dog and its focus on contemporary debates about the nature and purposes of direct action in the wake of the George Floyd protests dovetailed with Artemisia’s practical needs and their mission (which focuses on “plays that empower women, creating career-altering opportunities for female identifying theatre artists of all racial and ethnic backgrounds; sexual orientations and identities; economic status; ages and disabilities”). 

Proudfoot read Hit Dog in 2020 and says, “I was really digging for strong feminist plays that were smaller [cast sizes] because of COVID, obviously. I felt like when we went back out into live theater, which I knew we were going to do at some point, we wanted to keep the cast small, but we wanted to be extremely vigilant about our mission, almost even more so because of the world we’re living in right now.”

In addition to the compact production size and the local and topical appeal of the story, Proudfoot mentions that being able to get the local premiere was advantageous to Artemisia for grants; the company secured their first National Endowment for the Arts grant in connection with this show. 

Ericka Ratcliff, artistic director for Congo Square Theatre (dedicated to “producing transformative work rooted in the African Diaspora”) and director of WELCOME TO MATTESON!, has been following Craig-Galván for many years, back when the actor was a regular improv and sketch performer onstage at Second City, and also performed as half of the comedy duo KevINda with Kevin Douglas (now an ensemble member with Lookingglass Theatre), at MPAACT and other venues around town.

Ratcliff says, “Inda had sent me [WELCOME TO MATTESON!] and A Hit Dog Will Holler. She had sent it to me privately as just like, ‘Hey friend, here’s some pieces I’ve been working on. Would you pass these along to Congo Square?’ This was when I was just an ensemble member only. And as artistic director, I was like, ‘I need to revisit these plays and see if there’s a way that we can produce her work, because she’s Chicago-bred. And so her stories really speak to Chicago.'”

Ratcliff adds, “I think that it’s really helpful that Inda is naming the suburbs, right? She is bringing them into the conversation. The folks that were displaced from Cabrini-Green were moved from the housing projects all around the city, and were moved to lots of surrounding suburbs. So I’m a big fan of when a story is super specific and how that can be more universal.

“I’m not originally from Chicago, but I remember when they closed Cabrini-Green. I was a teaching artist at the Dearborn Homes off of Halsted. And when they closed those project homes, it was like ‘Where did those kids go?’ They were there summer after summer, and suddenly they weren’t there anymore.”

WELCOME TO MATTESON! is a play that literally hits close to home for Craig-Galván, too, who grew up in Chicago but ended up in the south suburbs. “This story is about sort of a reverse gentrification or forced relocation,” she notes. 

Both plays also in some way touch on the idea of community and what we owe each other if we are truly in community with each other. To that end, both Artemisia and Congo Square are building in special performances. 

Artemisia is hosting a “Black Out Night” on September 9. Drawing on a program first inaugurated during the Broadway run of Jeremy O. Harris’s Slave Play, this performance is purposefully designed to fill the house mostly with Black audience members. As noted on the Artemisia tickets site, “We are not preventing or precluding anyone from attending, but hope that non-Black audience members will choose to experience the play at another performance.” They are also offering a special Women’s Night on September 16.

Congo Square is offering parallel “Celebration of Healing” events with WELCOME TO MATTESON! There are two discussions (or “Talk Forwards,” as opposed to “talkbacks,” as the company characterizes them). The cast and Ratcliff will be talking about the show’s development on September 17, and housing activists and organizers will be on hand September 24. Additionally, there will be three pre-performance community cookouts on September 14, 21, and 28. Says Ratcliff, “We wanna invite everyone who wants to be a part of the conversation to the barbecue, to fellowship with each other. Because class, race—all of that stuff shouldn’t matter when we share the same ideals. And everybody loves food.”

Jimmy Noriega takes over at Columbia College Chicago

Last week, Columbia College announced that Dr. Jimmy Noriega had been named as the new permanent chair of the South Loop institution’s theater department. Noriega comes to Chicago from College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio, where he’s been chair of the theater and dance department since 2017. Noriega brings a strong focus in DEI and Latinx theater to his new job. In addition to his academic background (including an MA and PhD from Cornell University), he’s also a theatermaker with over 50 English and Spanish language productions to his credit. In 2022, his company Teatro Travieso toured his play CAGED, about the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” border policy, to a festival in Belgium—one of many international festivals where Noriega’s work has been produced.

Noriega takes over from interim chair Susan Padveen, who has held the position since the departure of Carin Silkaitis in 2021.