Gift Theatre's production of Kentucky Credit: Claire Demos
Credit: Tracy J. Lee

On its website, Jefferson Park’s tiny the Gift Theatre states as one of its founding beliefs that “a play never closes until everyone who saw it stops thinking about it.” Which means maybe I should let the ensemble know that, thanks to me, their powerhouse 2018 production of Hamlet—directed by Monty Cole, with Daniel Kyri heading a mostly Black cast—is still running. How much do I owe them? Oh, that’s right—in their view, art is a sacred gift, from actor to audience. But the theater’s name resonates in more ways than that. Cofounders Michael Patrick Thornton and William Nedved wanted to build a company in an artistically underserved community, which turned out to be the far northwestern corner of the city where Thornton, son and grandson of Chicago cops, grew up—a gift to the neighborhood that raised him. And though the two strokes that left Thornton paralyzed at age 24 can’t by any means be called a gift, he acknowledges they showed him that life is one: “I feel very lucky to be able to act now, to have this theater, that people are coming to live theater in Jefferson Park,” he told the Reader‘s Deanna Isaacs back in 2006. So it’s the Gift that keeps giving—and it promises to continue to. Leah Nanako Winkler’s Kentucky runs through November 17 at Theater Wit; the 2020 season opens with Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman.