Goodman Loses the Edge

The Goodman Theatre cleared about $35,000 on its March 3 “Cutting Edge Chicago” benefit, while the performers who participated got a lot less than they expected. Sponsored by the Goodman’s Discovery Board, a group of young professionals and civic leaders who raise money for projects such as script workshops and commissions, the benefit showcased performers who generally appear on off-Loop stages before audiences quite different from the mostly well-heeled crowd Goodman attracts. They included Lynn Book and Tatsu Aoki, the Funky Wordsmyths, Edward Thomas-Herrera, the Neo-Futurists, Betty’s Mouth, and Four on the Floor. Though they weren’t being paid, several of the artists said they agreed to perform because they were promised that the show would air on WBEZ’s Wild Room and that they would be included in the dinner that was part of the event. Says Neo-Futurist Greg Allen: “For most starving artists, a good meal is payment enough.”

But as it turned out, none of the artists got to sit down and eat with the attendees who paid $125 for dinner and the show. Instead the performers had hors d’oeuvres and cocktails in a separate room with a small number of guests who had purchased $75 tickets. “We had enough to eat, but it wasn’t exactly what we were expecting,” Allen adds. Several of the artists were further disappointed when they learned the event would not be aired on WBEZ. Spoken-word artist Lynn Book says, “Part of the selling point for me was that the event would be broadcast on WBEZ, but we were told that fell through because of directorial changes at the radio station.” According to event cochair Shannon Kinsella, the Discovery Board didn’t know until the last minute that ‘BEZ had decided against airing the show. “We didn’t intend to convey the impression that anyone was being taken advantage of,” she says.

Meanwhile several of the artists were also discouraged by the reception they received from the evening’s crowd of approximately 400. “They were very quiet and reserved, and I don’t think they knew what to make of us,” observes Thomas-Herrera, a solo performance poet, who performed a five-minute piece, “La Dolce Big Apple,” about an upscale New York cocktail party filled with pretentious guests. Thomas-Herrera says he was greeted with hysterical laughter when he performed the piece at the Pansy Kings’ Cotillion last fall at the Neo-Futurarium. “I think it was an audience that might have been better entertained if the material was lighter and less complex,” says Neo-Futurist Ayun Halliday, adding that she probably wouldn’t agree to perform at another “Cutting Edge Chicago.” Book, who describes the atmosphere at the affair as “formal” and “austere,” admits even a token honorarium for her appearance would have been appreciated: “I feel that being valued in a monetary way for my work is an important thing.” Kinsella says that she’ll explore that possibility for next year’s show.

Maggio: “Bye Bye Love”

A dark cloud formed over My Thing of Love, one of this season’s most promising Broadway offerings, with the departure of Michael Maggio. The Chicago-based director says he decided to leave the production April 20, the day before previews were to begin, after a brief meeting with producers Barry and Fran Weissler. The show is still scheduled to open at the Martin Beck Theatre May 3, the last day it could qualify for this season’s Tony Awards, which will be given out on June 4.

After it premiered at the Steppenwolf Theatre in 1992, My Thing of Love was quickly picked up by the Weisslers for a potential Broadway production. But the show’s New York premiere was repeatedly delayed while the producers and Maggio, their chosen director for the New York mounting, searched for an actress for the role Steppenwolf ensemble member Laurie Metcalf originated. When Metcalf finally signed on to do the New York production, the producers were ready to move forward quickly.

Though he says the decision was his, Maggio seemed reluctant to pinpoint exactly what prompted him to walk away from the production, which would have marked his Broadway debut. Tension may have been building between him and two other key figures: Metcalf and playwright Alexandra Gersten. “It was not a joyful environment,” Maggio says of the rehearsals.

Already acknowledged as one of Chicago’s most gifted directors, Maggio clearly hoped to put his own mark on the Broadway version of My Thing of Love. With the exception of Metcalf, he had completely recast the show, and he was also using a different design team. But as the production proceeded through rehearsals, it apparently became more and more like the Steppenwolf incarnation, directed by Terry Kinney. In fact just prior to Maggio’s departure the male lead was replaced by Tom Irwin, who played the role in the Steppenwolf production. Maggio, who agreed the dismissed actor was having trouble with some of the role’s nuances, said he had no problem with Irwin’s coming on board.

In retrospect Maggio says he should have thought twice about directing a play that already had been mounted somewhere else. Late last week a spokesperson for the Broadway production of My Thing of Love said that no director had been named to replace Maggio, whose name would remain–for now–in the program. This setback is Maggio’s second disappointing New York theater experience. His production of the musical Wings, widely hailed in Chicago, failed to garner as much praise from New York critics and closed after a short run at the New York Shakespeare Festival.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photos/Ito, Charles Eshelman, Jason Pettus, Jim Alexander Newberry.