Steppenwolf's 2011–2012 season: Norris, Letts, Galati, Margulies and Walsh on war and home

Steppenwolf Theatre Company's next season will include two new adaptations by ensemble members Frank Galati and Tracy Letts, the regional premiere of yet another of last year's Best Play Tony nominees and the Chicago debuts of the latest from Bruce Norris and Enda Walsh.

The theme of the season isn't as clearly identifiable as the current season's label of "The Public/Private Self," but it's a slate that speaks to the impact of war on our everyday lives, says Steppenwolf artistic director Martha Lavey. "We talked a lot about what our language for theme would be," she said in a phone conversation this morning. "To me the two presiding concepts—and it felt like they kept indicting each other—were war and home."

The season opens in September with Steppenwolf fave Norris's Clybourne Park, a hat-tip to Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun that depicts the changes in the neighborhood between 1958 and 2008. Despite being set in Chicago, Clybourne Park is the only one of Norris's last seven plays not to premiere at Steppenwolf—it debuted last year at New York's Playwrights Horizons and has since had hit productions in London, D.C. and elsewhere. Needless to say, I'm chomping at the bit to finally see it under Amy Morton's direction.

Morton's also set to direct the second production, Enda Walsh's Penelope. The latest from the Irish playwright and skillful semanticist (whose The New Electric Ballroom you can still catch through Sunday 6 at A Red Orchid) is a riff on the finale of Homer's Odyssey: Four men in Speedos (one of them to be played by John Mahoney) camp out in a drained swimming pool beneath Penelope's window, hoping to win her love before Ulysses comes home.

The first post-Broadway production of Time Stands Still will open in January in the Upstairs theater, under the direction of Austin Pendleton. Donald Margulies's play about the domestic entanglements of foreign war correspondents was enough of a hit in its Broadway run last season, in a Manhattan Theatre Club production that starred Laura Linney and Brian D'Arcy James, for its producers to take the rare step of calling a summer hiatus to allow the actors to fulfill other commitments and reopening in the fall. With this, the Goodman's Red and Victory Gardens's In the Next Room or the vibrator play, we just need another theater to announce a production of Next Fall to get a Yahtzee on the 2010 Tony nominees.

Galati is adapting and directing E.L. Doctorow's 2005 novel The March. Set in the Civil War era, the PEN/Faulkner Award winner follows General William Tecumsheh Sherman's scorched-earth campaign through Georgia. Galati's large-cast epic (Lavey indicated a recent workshop version of the script called for 27 actors) will be rife with Steppenwolf regulars—nine ensemble members are currently attached as cast members. Adding Machine and A Minister's Wife composer Josh Schmidt will contribute both original music and new arrangements of period music.

Letts, quite interestingly, is adapting Chekhov's Three Sisters, to be directed by Anna D. Shapiro; Lavey says it was "the first play that we knew we were going to do." Letts isn't changing the play's setting or period, she says, adding that "it feels both American and very speakable. But it’s not as though it employs some kind of contemporary vernacular or anything like that."

Complete dates and current casting information follow.

September 8 – November 6, 2011
Clybourne Park
By Bruce Norris
Directed by ensemble member Amy Morton
Featuring ensemble member James Vincent Meredith
In the Steppenwolf Downstairs Theatre

December 1, 2011 – February 5, 2012
By Enda Walsh
Directed by ensemble member Amy Morton
Featuring ensemble member John Mahoney
In the Steppenwolf Downstairs Theatre

January 19 – May 13, 2012
Time Stands Still
By Donald Margulies
Directed by ensemble member Austin Pendleton
Featuring ensemble members Francis Guinan and Sally Murphy
In the Steppenwolf Upstairs Theatre

April 5 – June 10, 2012
The March
Based on the novel by E. L. Doctorow
Adapted for the stage and directed by ensemble member Frank Galati
Featuring ensemble members Alana Arenas, Ian Barford, Tim Hopper, Martha Lavey, Mariann Mayberry, James Vincent Meredith, William Petersen, Yasen Peyankov and Alan Wilder with Will Allan, Patrick Clear, Stephen Louis Grush, Michael Mahler and Shannon Matesky
In the Steppenwolf Downstairs Theatre

June 28 – August 26, 2012
Three Sisters
By Anton Chekhov, adapted by ensemble member Tracy Letts
Directed by ensemble member Anna D. Shapiro
Featuring ensemble members Ian Barford, Ora Jones and Sally Murphy
In the Steppenwolf Downstairs Theatre

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)