Steppenwolf Debuts Work by Miranda, Norris in ’16-’17 Season

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Steppenwolf Batman
Steppenwolf begins a season-long conversation on a classic American hero.

Steppenwolf has unveiled its full line-up for the 2016-2017 season. Following a surprising year-long theme of “Vengeance in the Night,” all of the theater’s plays will come from the world of—you guessed it—Batman. “I’ve always found Batman to be a compelling dramatic figure,” says Artistic Director Anna D. Shapiro. “Is he a good man driven to confront the evil at the heart of his city, or is he really a bad man, forcing himself into a life of heroism to quell his inner rage at the loss of his parents? I’d been asking Martha Lavey to bring Batman to our stages for years, so I’m glad I finally have a chance to make that a reality.”

Managing Director David Schmitz agrees. “One of the most common notes we get on audience surveys is simply, ‘When is Batman coming to Steppenwolf?’ They love our commitment to powerful storytelling and world-class productions, but they want to know why we’ve never had a play about him. And honestly, I was beginning to ask myself that same question. After 42 years, I really think it’s about time Batman showed up.”

The new season demonstrates Steppenwolf's commitment to new work. And Batman.
The new season demonstrates the theater’s commitment to new work. (via Steppenwolf)

Now embracing the caped crusader all year long, the season will include seven world premieres featuring both members of Steppenwolf’s ensemble and several new faces. Kicking off the season in the Downstairs Theatre will be Frank Galati’s adaptation of Alan Moore’s graphic novel “The Killing Joke,” detailing the Joker’s origin story and Batman’s initial encounter with the classic foe. Galati said he found the project a refreshing departure from past work. “Honestly,“ he says, “after ‘East of Eden,’ it was a relief just having to adapt a 64 page graphic novel. I hammered this one out in about two weeks.” Shapiro directs, with Tracy Letts starring as the Joker.

Opening next is Amy Herzog’s “Catwoman” in the Upstairs Theatre, with Kate Arrington in the title role and Anne Kauffman directing. “Catwoman” explores the life of cat burglar Selina Kyle and the ethical dilemmas she faces in the gray areas between a life of heroism and a life of crime. Following that, in the Downstairs Theatre, is Charise Castro Smith’s “Bruce/Clark,” a campy look at superhero fan fiction that embroils Batman in a tempestuous romantic affair with fellow crime fighter Superman.

Next, in the Downstairs Theatre, Bruce Norris takes his usual acerbic approach to social issues with his black comedy “Wayne Manners,” in which an offhand sexist comment by Bruce Wayne causes a dinner party to unravel in heated conflict. “I really don’t get this whole Batman thing,” Norris admits. “I actually prefer Iron Man myself. I kept asking Anna, ‘Can’t I just write about Iron Man?’ But she was like, ‘No, we’re doing Batman this year.’” Norris directs, and the production also features Ensemble Members Alana Arenas, Laurie Metcalf, and Tim Hopper, as Iron Man.

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Concluding the mainstage season in the Downstairs Theatre is the world premiere of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s new musical “Dent,” which follows the political rise of Harvey Dent as he runs for District Attorney of Gotham and eventually turns to crime as the villain Two-Face. Following in the footsteps of his Broadway smash hit “Hamilton,” the prolific composer promises another heroic underdog story, “except Hamilton didn’t get half his face disfigured by acid and start murdering people,” Miranda admits. Miranda stars as Dent, and also composed the show’s hip hop score.

Rounding out the rest of the season, Steppenwolf for Young Adults presents “Santa Prisca,” by José Rivera, a whimsical magical realist reimagining of villain Bane’s coming of age in the fictional Caribbean prison Peña Duro. Hallie Gordon directs. And following this, two-hander “Gotham and Chicago” by Lydia Diamond and directed by Ron OJ Parson depicts an encounter between Batman and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, as they meet to discuss the city’s problems with racialized police violence.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]A perfect fit for Steppenwolf.[/pullquote]

“I hope we can convey to audiences a new depth and range to the Batman story they’ve never considered before,” explains Shapiro. “The Dark Knight is a perfect fit for Steppenwolf’s stages, and we look forward to a year-long conversation on this true American icon.”

Not everyone shares Shapiro’s enthusiasm. “Honestly, it does seem to be a bit much,” admits Letts, whose new play “Mary Page Marlowe,” directed by Shapiro, is currently running at the theater in previews. “People already get so many superheroes in movies and television, do we have to do it here, too? I really think people are going to be pretty sick of Batman once this whole thing is said and done.”

Tickets for “The Killing Joke” go on sale this summer. Steppenwolf is located at 1650 N Halsted St Chicago, IL 60614.

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Sean Douglass
Sean Douglass is the Managing Editor of The Clyde Fitch Report, as well as an author, playwright and dramaturg. He is the Company Dramaturg for Something Marvelous, Chicago's annual magical realism festival, and has previously worked at Northlight Theatre and Chicago Dramatists. His plays have been produced or developed at UW-Madison, The Vermont College of Fine Arts, The Chicago Fringe Festival, Luminous Theatre of Milwaukee, Something Marvelous, Chicago Dramatists and Stagecloud. He also hosts the CFR's podcast The Scene.