In a surprising twist for their 2017-2018 season, Chicago’s Goodman Theatre has announced an entire year of programming devoted not to plays but to movies. Gone are the hallmarks of what audiences have come to expect from the Tony Award-winning regional theater, like edgy interpretations of American classics or exciting new work from their artistic collective, and in their place will be a series of films handpicked by Artistic Director Robert Falls. “This isn’t a permanent change or anything,” Falls is quick to clarify, “but we saw this as wonderful opportunity to experiment with the core Goodman identity. What makes audiences excited? What inspires conversation? We know only a fraction of people are regular theatergoers. But you know what people do like? Movies.”
The season begins in the Albert Theater with a screening of Inception, the 2010 science fiction thriller directed by Christopher Nolan about a team of thieves who steal information by infiltrating peoples’ dreams. “I really admire this film’s ability to blend the classic heist genre with thoughtful ruminations on the subconscious and the architecture of the mind,” explains Falls, “although I never quite understood why these characters’ dreams so closely resemble the real world. My dreams never look like city streets or fortresses in the snow. Just yesterday I had a dream that I was in a lighthouse overlooking the ocean, which was also supposedly my backyard, except I don’t live on the ocean, and with me in the lighthouse was a panda that belonged to Rebecca Gilman? And I was supposed to, like, babysit it or something? I kept thinking I had to get back to the theater to direct a play, but I didn’t want to leave this panda alone. And instead of a light in the lighthouse there was a big glowing skull? I don’t know, Leonardo DiCaprio never had to deal with things like that. But maybe on a second viewing I’ll understand why.”
Following Inception the Goodman will screen Casablanca, the 1942 romantic drama by Michael Curtis often considered one of the greatest movies ever made. “Like a play by Williams or O’Neill, Casablanca is simply one of the classics, and I wanted to be sure to include it in our season,” says Falls. “Many of our subscribers probably remember seeing this film when it was first in theaters, so I’m sure they’ll be glad to see it again.”
Next in the Albert comes Howard Deutch’s 1988 comedy The Great Outdoors starring John Candy and Dan Aykroyd, about a Chicago businessman who unexpectedly has to share his summer cabin with his brother-in-law’s family. “I don’t really get this one,” admits Director of New Play Development Tanya Palmer. “We did a survey with everyone on our mailing list, and this was the most requested film people wanted to see at the Goodman. By a sizable margin. I mean, if you want a John Candy movie, wouldn’t you go with something like Cool Runnings or Planes, Trains, and Automobiles? Why this?” Nevertheless, the Goodman plans to embrace this apparent fan-favorite with full holiday merchandising and programming, including John Candy books, nutcrackers, wine glasses and seminars featuring prominent John Candy scholars from around the country.
Fourth comes 2002’s Hulk, the bold superhero drama by Ang Lee. “I’m really drawn to epic, four-hour works like The Iceman Cometh or 2666,” explains Falls. “In retrospect, Hulk was only two hours and 18 minutes, but it felt like four hours, so it counts.” And finishing the lineup in the Albert will be Roman Polanski’s 1968 classic horror film Rosemary’s Baby. “Honestly, I’ve never seen Rosemary’s Baby,” admits Falls. “I was like, this is a pretty famous movie. I really should’ve seen it by now. I was asking around the office, and it turned out a lot of other people hadn’t seen it either, so I guess we’ll all be surprised. Either way, it should be a memorable way to close the season. Or maybe not. We don’t know yet.”
Meanwhile, on the more intimate Owen stage, three other films will be screened throughout the year. Beginning this October, the Goodman will present Air Bud, Charles Martin Smith’s 1997 family comedy about a dog that plays basketball. “Did you know the Air Bud franchise currently includes as many films as the Marvel Cinematic Universe? It’s true,” Falls explains. “First you’ve got your Air Bud, then your Air Bud 2: Golden Receiver, then Air Bud 3: World Pup, Air Bud 4: Seventh Inning Fetch and Air Bud Spikes Back. Plus you’ve got his pups the Air Buddies in Air Buddies, Snow Buddies, Space Buddies, Santa Buddies, Spooky Buddies, Treasure Buddies and Super Buddies, with the two holiday spin-offs The Search for Santa Paws and Santa Paws 2: The Santa Pups. You really can’t go wrong with any of them, but for a proper entry into the Air Bud-verse you need to start where it all began.”
Following Air Bud will be a special series the Goodman is calling “YouTube Classics,” in which members of the Goodman staff share their favorite classic YouTube videos. “We wanted to take a Toneelgroep Amsterdam or Wooster Group-style approach and really deconstruct the idea of what viewing a film is like in the 21st century,” says Falls. Viewers can expect big screen versions of mid-2000’s viral hits, like Keyboard Cat, The Grape Lady, Chocolate Rain and HD redubbed versions of G.I. Joe PSAs.
Finally, the third film in the Owen, coming summer 2018, is a unique event called “Netflix: Audience Choice.” “For this screening, we’re once again turning our programming over to the audience,” says Palmer. “Each night the audience will have two hours to watch whatever they want on Executive Director Roche Schulfer’s Netflix account. As usually happens in these situations, we expect them to spend the first 45 minutes or so scrolling through their options and debating what to watch, before the majority eventually overrules any fringe choices and settles on something safe and realistic for the time remaining.” The event is scheduled to run through the end of July 2018 or until Schulfer begins to notice unusual activity on his account.
While a clear departure from their usual work, this new season, which the theater has named “The Power of Film,” offers a daring commitment to an art form not previously seen in Goodman programming, and initial response suggests the theater community is eager to embrace this expanded artistic vision. “With The Power of Film, the Goodman has once again proven why they are at the forefront of America’s regional theater,” praised Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune. “I’m particularly pleased with the results of the survey for the Albert. But they should be careful the night I come to Netflix: Audience Choice. If I can’t persuade 400 strangers that Charlie St. Cloud is worth their time, don’t expect a positive review in the morning.”
With a season of so many unexpected decisions, might there be any other surprises awaiting Goodman audiences in the months to come? Rumors have been said to be circulating of a possible guerrilla marketing campaign in store for the spring. “I don’t want to give any announcements away too soon,” says Falls coyly, “but let’s just say there’s always room for mid-season additions, and Francis Guinan is getting fitted for his Totoro costume as we speak.”
You can visit www.goodmantheatre.org for full information on the 2017-18 season. Inception premieres September 8, 2017. Tickets start at $48.