What’s Next Lab at Next Theatre

Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes, Evanston


Chicago-based director Dexter Bullard started the Next Lab in 1990, as an experimental adjunct to Evanston’s Next Theatre. The shows he put on there, in a room that was later turned into an office, tended to be very ugly and very smart. They included Tracy Letts’s first play, Killer Joe, and Howard Korder’s Fun and Nobody, featuring a teenage Michael Shannon. The one I remember was Bullard’s own production of Bouncers, a Brit slice-of-lifer by John Godber, in which four large men performed an astounding hour-long social ballet. Next Lab died after just a few years, but Next Theatre’s new artistic director, Jennifer Avery, clearly hasn’t forgotten it. Her What’s Next Lab doesn’t exactly resurrect the old program, which was deeply marked by Bullard’s edgy, physical aesthetic. But it does offer strong young local playwrights a stage and support for their new work. —Tony Adler