Article from Pioneer Press newspapers
June 2, 2005
Marks the Spot for Challenging Drama
Why Vex? The short answer, according to Cathleen Ann, one in a trio of founders for newly incorporated the Palatine-based Vex Theatre Company: "We just took 'violence' and 'sex' and put them together."
The longer answer: "We want to do shows that are challenging and puzzling -- things that agitate people, or vex them. But in a good way," Ann said.
Vex launches the first play in its first season Saturday when Palatine's Ann, Michael Rios and Des Plaines' Daniel J. Dudych will stage Wallace Shawn's "The Designated Mourner" at Naperville's Crossroads Theatre.
The drama, set in an oppressive, unnamed country, is a series of interlocking monologues among Howard, a poet and political dissident (Harold LeBoyer), his daughter Judy (Ann) and her husband Jack (Dudych). Shawn's provocative, sometimes cerebral text asks weighty questions about the meaning of art and the ethics of compromise as the family tries to survive a vicious government crackdown.
"The Odd Couple" it ain't.
It's not that the Vex co-founders are a bunch of high falutin' cultural snobs, insists "Mourner" director Richard Geiger of Palatine. It's more that they wanted to offer something other than the standard suburban fare of warm and fuzzy family comedies and musicals.
"We're admitting to ourselves that we're never going to get big crowds, but we know we're going to get a fan base. There's a demand for the kind of work we're going to do," Geiger said.
"The Designated Mourner" seemed like a natural for the sort of dramatic, confrontational work Geiger, Ann and Rios wanted to define the Vex aesthetic.
"I saw the play about a dozen years ago at the Steppenwolf," Geiger said of the company that launched Gary Sinise and John Malkovich to fame. "I had an immediate, strong reaction to it. It was beautifully written, very personal and very strong. We thought it was an excellent piece to stake our claim with," he said.
Cast member Dudych came to Vex after years of playing "the best friend/comedic sidekick" in productions throughout the suburbs, he said. While he longed to do something meatier, he found that until Vex, the opportunities were slim.
The challenges Vex faces in pulling in an audience are somewhat similar to some of the issues raised in "The Designated Mourner," Dudych said. "The play kind of says that people are more interested in watching television now than going to see a play or doing something more active with their minds. I hear that a lot from people -- why should we go see a play when we can watch the movie on video?" Dudych said.
Because, Ann said, there is a singular power and an intensity to live drama, especially drama in which the stage action has parallels to the real world.
"Shawn writes theater of recognition. There is bound to be some truth in his work that people perceive about their own feelings. In 'Designated Mourner,' there are a lot of parallels with situations in the world today. This is a drama that addresses what can happen in any sort of country where there is any kind of censorship and/or uncertain political landscape," she said.
'The Designated Mourner'
8 p.m. Saturday, Sunday, June 10, 11
Vex Theater Company at the Crossroads Theater, 22 E. Chicago, Naperville