Sending Up the Sheppenwolves

Mark Nutter explained the meaning of Friends of the Zoo: “It means absolutely nothing at all. No affiliation with any zoo.”

We were in the Victory Gardens Theater watching these masters of foolery rehearse their fifth production, Naked Zoo, which opens today in previews. It’s a parody on the works of hot, hot playwright Sam Shepard. “We’re five losers in a southwestern bar experiencing the deterioration of the American Dream,” said Nutter.

Karol Kent slipped into a fur jacket; she’s the Shepard floozy. “He was as big a knucklehead as anybody — Sam Shepard was Patti Smith’s roommate in New York City,” said Kent. “All of a sudden he hits middle age and people take his words holier than thou.”

“We’re going to do a Kabuki segment,” said Russ Flack.

Naked Zoo is also a play within a play. It’s being put on by that hot, hot Chicago theater group the Me First Ensemble. The characters are based on actors the Zoo has observed over the years. “You want us to name names?” said Nutter. “We don’t have a lawyer anymore,” said Flack. Director Steven Ivcich came forth. “Steppenwolf, Remains, and all the many spin-offs of Steppenwolf and Remains,” he said.

“The big thing in Chicago acting for the men is physical,” said Peter Burns. “All the men get to fight and sweat and everything. They get to swear. Yes, it includes head banging.”

“Typified by that bold, raw style of Chicago acting. That’s what the critics say,” said Jeannette Schwaba.

“Semimythic characters walking through sparse language. Monologues. Lots of monologues,” said Nutter. “Lots of characters standing in pools of lights sharing their psychological truths and dark secrets.” In the second act, Burns’s character starts looking at his watch once he’s said all his lines. “He’s the most Me First of them all,” said Burns.

Before Naked Zoo gets under way, the audience is obliged to sit through a familiar plea for funds. “For $100, you could become an acquaintance of the Me First Ensemble. For $2,500, you could be on a first-name basis with members of the ensemble.”

And “for $10,000 . . .”

The Many Moods of Eddie V.

How can Eddie Vrdolyak decently sue the Sun-Times and Steve Neal for libel when the newspaper and its political editor gave him his greatest role?

Vrdolyak is completely alive only when he’s larger than life. He’s the guy who once said, “I should have been a movie star.” The Sun-Times handed him one of history’s greatest death scenes.

In his last gasps of existence, Vrdolyak ran the gamut of emotions. Had the Democratic party boss met secretly with a mobster? He was Righteous Eddie: “That’s insane. . . . This is trash. . . . This isn’t right. . . . This is crazy. . . . This is character assassination . . .” He was Gracious Eddie: “You come forward with credible proof that I met, I will resign this race . . .”

He was Poor Eddie. The Tribune noted his eyes “brimming with tears.” We were touched.

The first Sun-Times story ran March 23. In it Tom Hynes said he had “heard” Vrdolyak met with mob chief Joe Ferriola and he “believed” it happened. Vrdolyak sued the next day, charging the Sun-Times with one count defamation, one count invasion of privacy, and one count intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Two days went by and Vrdolyak was back on the front page of the Sun-Times, this time placed at two covert morning meeting’s with Ferriola. This story had the makings of a foreign film without subtitles. There was a black Mercedes, a fancy hotel, Vrdolyak’s alleged references to Ferriola as “the Guy,” and unnamed sources.

Vrdolyak told the Tribune he didn’t even have anybody in his organization who owned a Mercedes. Later he said his buddy Irwin Jann owns a black Mercedes but they didn’t ride around in it until afternoon.

Vrdolyak’s death scene went on for several days. Until Tom Hynes died. Vrdolyak emerged from his ordeal healthier than ever.

When Hynes dropped out, a Channel Seven reporter noticed a tear in Vrdolyak’s eye.

On WBBM radio Monday night, he was Ambassador Eddie, hailing Hynes and his supporters and reflecting on the Sun-Times stories. He said, “They all worked out very well for me, I think.”

We can’t wait for part two of this saga, when Vrdolyak, struggling to compose himself on the witness stand, stars in his own libel trial.

The Sun-Times will be defended by the firm of Sidley & Austin. Sidley & Austin is not inexperienced in libel matters. Recently, they defended Walter Jacobson against the tobacco firm of Brown & Williamson.

Page Back to Boston?

Here’s what we heard: Sun-Times owner Robert Page is pulling up stakes and moving back to Boston. He’s going to buy the Boston Herald from Rupert Murdoch — he used to publish it for Murdoch — and install a new publisher at the Sun-Times.

Here’s what we found out: Page’s swank apartment, which commands a fantastic view of the lake, is for sale. And his wife, Nancy Merrill, who’d been doing a weekly talk show on Boston television, debuts April 22 as a daily chatter hostess there.

Here’s what else sources told us: Page is moving into a smaller Chicago apartment. He’ll commute to Boston weekends. He’s sworn up and down several times he’s not buying the Herald, even though the story has been buzzing around that paper for months.

As for us, we believe, you know, what’s believable. And when it’s not, we don’t.

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