Yesterday American Theater Company announced that it was shutting its doors after 33 years. Under the direction of late Artistic Director PJ Paparelli, American Theater Company made its name as one of the most groundbreaking and well-regard storefront theaters in Chicago. Among other productions, ATC staged the world premieres of Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize winner DISGRACED and Stephen Karam’s THE HUMANS.In ATC’s most recent era, Artistic Director Will Davis staged innovative pieces with a clear and unique vision.I have many fond memories of seeing productions at ATC, and below are some of my favorites. Farewell, American Theater Company. Chicago will miss you dearly.
- SPEECH AND DEBATE (2013)
In the summer of 2013, ATC remounted its production of Stephen Karam’s acclaimed SPEECH AND DEBATE under Paparelli’s direction. The production was honest, intimate, and superbly acted. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to see this remount and to witness Paparelli’s remarkable directing work.
- KILL FLOOR (2016)
As part of the legacy season honoring the life of P.J. Paparelli, ATC staged an emotionally charged and stunning production of Abe Koogler’s KILL FLOOR with direction from Jonathan Berry. For me, this play so much embodied the heart of the theater as it insightfully examined contemporary issues of humanity, race, and identity. It was also incredibly moving and superbly cast. After seeing this production, I truly fell in love with the work of Audrey Francis. I will never forget her performance in this as Andy, a mother recently released from prison who is struggling to navigate her relationship with her son and a new job on the kill floor of a slaughterhouse. This production was emotional, haunting, and intimate—it truly felt like a hallmark of ATC.
- THE BIG MEAL (2011)
This was the first production I ever saw at ATC, and I remember marveling at the profound intimacy of both Dan LeFranc’s script and ATC’s staging. This play allowed audiences to bear witness to several generations of a family coming together for family dinners and showcasing the passage of time through those shared meals. The sparse setting and deeply personal, realistic script seemed a natural fit for ATC.
- RENT (2012)
I always loved ATC’s musical productions, and I had the opportunity to see a few of them—including THE ORIGINAL GREASE and XANADU. But out of all of them, RENT might possibly have been one of my favorites. RENT has always held a special place in my musical loving heart, and it was magical to see a more down-to-earth, close-up production at ATC that contrasted with the larger, brighter touring productions I had seen previously. Director David Cromer’s stripped down, bare bones staging had audiences seated on either side of the stage, literally placing us in the action. It was such a wonderful way to experience Jonathan Larson’s beautiful score and poignant story about friends trying to find their way in New York City.