A big day for Chicago theater: Lookingglass wins a Tony
by Chris Jones
In a single day, Lookingglass Theatre Company wins 2011 Regional Theatre Tony Award and Victory Gardens Theatre Company hires Chay Yew as its artistic director A big day for Chicago theater.
Within minutes on the morning of May 3, Chicago learned that the Lookingglass Theatre Company had won the 2011 Regional Theatre Tony Award and that Victory Gardens Theater Company had hired Chay Yew (left) as its artistic director. One piece of news celebrated a remarkable, 23-year achievement. The other looks very much to the future.
Lookingglass is the fifth Chicago company to win the regional Tony (an award with which, in full disclosure, I have long had an administrative involvement). I suspect it will be the last Chicago company to be so honored for a long while. But Lookingglass is a crucial player in the recent history of the Chicago theater.
I've long thought that three institutions had an outsize aesthetic influence on Chicago theater in the second half of the 20th century. (For more discussion, a conference titled â€śSustaining Chicago Theater: Past, Present, and Futureâ€ť will be held May 18-22 at Columbia College Chicago; www.colum.edu/theatresymposium.)
One was Second City and its sketch comedy ethos. Another was Steppenwolf Theatre Company, a company that defined the Chicago actor in the mind of the world. And the third? Lookingglass, which filled in one missing piece from the Chicago theater aesthetic: visual richness.
It's certainly true that Lookingglass, founded by Northwestern University graduates, was expanding on the crucial work done in Evanston by the late Robert S. Breen and Frank Galati on the adaptation of nondramatic sources (or, to put it less pretentiously, turning novels, poems and stories into plays). That work had already shown up at the Goodman and Steppenwolf theaters, even before the Lookingglass kids had graduated.
But once they hit the world at large, the likes of Mary Zimmerman, Phillip R. Smith, David Schwimmer, Andy White and Laura Eason (to name just five of many) helped coalesce that kind of theater into an institution.
Lookingglass and Zimmerman created two of the greatest shows I've ever seen. One was â€śThe Arabian Nights,â€ť a piece that knocked the wind out of me when I first saw it nearly 20 years ago. The other was â€śMetamorphoses,â€ť a deeply moving piece that moved to New York's Second Stage right after the atrocities of Sept. 11, 2001. For many New Yorkers, this story of loss and recovery provided great balm at that terrible time. That alone was worthy of a Tony Award.