- About the Play
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by Bruce Graham
MAY 3, 2013 - JUNE 9, 2013
WORLD PREMIERE! On a quiet night at Lou's bar, two kindred spirits seek solace as they navigate changing times and relationships past. From the author of The Outgoing Tide comes an intimate exploration of friendship, forgiveness, and the longing for companionship that grows with the passage of time.
Running Time: 85 minutes, no intermission
Opening Night of Stella & Lou
Visit our online photo gallery from the event.
Ed Flynn (Donnie) couldn't be happier to be standing on a stage back in Chicago. Notable credits include Troy in I Am Going To Change The World, Scott in Suicide, Incorporated and Mitch (as a performing understudy) in David Cromer's A Streetcar Named Desire. Ed is a member of the Gift Theatre Company, where he Co-Artistic Director of giftFILM and is a founding member of NATURAL GAS, the Gift's house improv team. Ed is a graduate of Steppenwolf, The Second City, iO and UCB. He is not a graduate of Ohio State. Ed currently lives in Los Angeles, and yet remains very pale.
Francis Guinan (Lou) returns to Northlight, where he was previously seen in Season's Greetings and Inherit the Wind. He has been a member of the Steppenwolf Theatre Ensemble since 1979. With Steppenwolf he has appeared in over 30 productions including The Birthday Party, Time Stands Still, The Book Thief, American Buffalo, August: Osage County, Balm in Gilead and Say Goodnight, Gracie. He has also appeared in productions at Victory Gardens (A Guide for the Perplexed), Goodman, (The Seagull) and American Blues (Rantoul and Die). Television appearances include Boss in the role of Gov. Cullen, filmed here in Chicago; Eerie, Indiana; ER; Frasier and several Star Trek franchise episodes. Film roles include appearances in The Last Airbender, Typing, Low Tide, and Constantine. For Kate, always.
Rhea Perlman (Stella) is a four-time Emmy winner for her role as Carla on the NBC TV show Cheers. Stage credits include Love, Loss and What I Wore, in which she appeared with her daughter Lucy DeVito on Broadway and at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles; the Broadway production of The Tale of the Allergist's Wife; the Off-Broadway play The Exonerated; the Los Angeles production of Last Night at Ballyhoo and the London West End revival of Boeing-Boeing. Film credits include The Sessions, Sunset Park, Canadian Bacon and Carpool. Perlman played Mrs. Wormwood to her husband, Danny DeVito's Mr. Wormwood in the film Matilda, which was directed by DeVito. The pair also worked together on the acclaimed TV series Taxi in which Perlman played Louie DePalma's love interest, Zena. Television credits include Hung, Law & Order: SVU, Kate Brasher, Hot in Cleveland, and Pearl, in which she both starred and served as executive producer, and television movies including The Christmas Choir, Houdini, Secret Cutting and How to Marry a Billionaire. This fall Perlman reunites with Kirstie Ally in TV Land's new comedy, Kirstie's New Show in which she plays Ally's assistant and best friend, Thelma. Perlman lives with her family in Los Angeles.
Bruce Graham (Playwright) Plays: The Outgoing Tide (2011 Jeff Award - Best New Play), Burkie, Early One Evening at the Rainbow Bar & Grille, Moon Over the Brewery, Belmont Avenue Social Club, Desperate Affection, Coyote on a Fence (Winner of The Rosenthal Prize, Two Drama Desk Nominations), According to Goldman, The Philly Fan, Mister Hart and Mister Brown. He has won consecutive Barrymore Awards for Best New Play for Something Intangible and Any Given Monday. Film: Dunston Checks In, Anastasia, Steal This Movie. TV: Roseanne, Ring of Endless Light (Humanitas Award Winner - Best Children's Screenplay), The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, Trading Christmas. Graham is a past winner of the Princess Grace Foundation Statuette. Along with Michele Volansky, he is the author of the book The Collaborative Playwright. Graham teaches film and theatre courses at Drexel University. He lives in South Philly with Stephanie and Truman, a beagle.
BJ Jones (Director) is in his 15th season as Artistic Director of Northlight, where he commissioned and directed the world premieres of Stella & Lou, The Outgoing Tide (Jeff Nomination - Best Director), Better Late, and Rounding Third. Notably he has directed productions of Grey Gardens, The Price (Jeff Nomination- Best Director), A Skull in Connemara, The Cripple of Inishmaan, and The Lieutenant of Inishmore. As a producer he has guided the world premieres of The Last Five Years, The Gamester, and Studs Terkel's ‘The Good War'. From Second City to Shakespeare, BJ has directed Pitmen Painters (Jeff Nomination - Best Director, TimeLine), A Number (Next), 100 Saints You Should Know (Steppenwolf), and The Dresser (Body Politic). Regional: Glengarry Glen Ross (Suzie Bass Nominee - Best Director, Atlanta's Alliance Theatre), Enchanted April (Asolo Theatre), and productions at Cherry Lane Theatre NY, Galway Arts Festival, Baltimore Center Stage, and Utah Shakespeare Festival. As a performer, Mr. Jones is a two-time Joseph Jefferson Award winner and has appeared at Northlight, Goodman, Steppenwolf, Court, and other theatres throughout Chicago. Film/TV credits include The Fugitive, Body Double, Law and Order: Criminal Intent, Early Edition, Cupid, and Turks, among others.
Brian Sidney Bembridge (Set Design) Chicago: Goodman, Steppenwolf, Chicago Shakespeare, Northlight, Second City, Lookingglass (production affiliate), Court, Ravinia, Drury Lane, Writers', Victory Gardens, TimeLine (artistic associ¬ate), Teatro Vista (artistic associate), among others. Off-Broadway: The Public Theater, Second Stage, Jean Cocteau Repertory, Kids with Guns and Theatre @ St. Clement's. International: Theatre Royal Stratford East in London, and CarriageWorks in Sydney Australia. Regional: Guthrie, Children's Theatre Company, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Alliance, Arden, California Shakespeare, Round House, Virginia Opera, Opera Omaha, Milwaukee Repertory, Madison Repertory and Circle X Theatre Co. (company member), among others. Production Design: Wallace Shawn's Marie and Bruce, Holding Out, Stray Dogs, and sets for Muppets from Space. Awards: five Jeff Awards, two Hewes Design Award nomina¬tions, two Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle awards, two Back Stage Garland awards, an Ovation Award, an L.A. Weekly Award, and was named one of the five most prolific theater artists of the decade by Time Out Chicago.
Rachel Laritz (Costume Design) is happy to be joining Northlight. Chicago design credits include various shows at Writers, Court, Remy Bumppo, and TimeLine. Regional credits include Utah Shakespeare Festival, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Milwaukee Rep, Kansas City Rep, Illinois Shakes, Next Act, Chamber, Renaissance Theaterworks, Skylight Music Theatre, Children's Theater Madison, and the University of Michigan. Off-Broadway credits include Pearl Theatre. Other professional credits: NBC's Law & Order, American Players Theatre, Chicago Opera Theater, Garsington Opera, and the Spoleto Festival USA. Rachel is a recipient of a 2011 Emerging Artist Alumni Award from the University of Michigan and a 2009 Joseph Jefferson Award for The Voysey Inheritance (Remy Bumppo).
JR Lederle (Lighting Design) Northlight credits include The Odd Couple, Ten Chimneys, Season's Greetings, A Life, Grey Gardens, The Retreat From Moscow, Lady, Stella & Lou, The Outgoing Tide, and Better Late (the last three also at the Galway Arts Festival, Ireland). Other work has been seen at Lookingglass, Victory Gardens, About Face, Remy Bumppo, Writers, Steppenwolf, and Walkabout. JR designed lighting for seven years of the Steppenwolf Traffic Series, and five Steppenwolf performances in Chicago's Millennium Park. He has served as head of the Lighting Department at Steppenwolf since 1995.
Andrew Hansen (Sound Design) returns to Northlight where he previously collaborated on The Outgoing Tide, She Stoops to Conquer, and Mauritius. Andy is an Associate Artist at TimeLine where he has been designing since 1999. Current productions include A Tale of Two Cities at Lifeline. Recent productions include The Normal Heart, 33 Variations, and Wasteland at TimeLine, The Liar and Port Authority at Writers, and A Christmas Carol at Goodman. Regionally he has composed for American Players, Indiana Rep, Summer Shakespeare at Notre Dame, and Montana Shakespeare in the Parks.
Rita Vreeland (Production Stage Manager) Most recent Northlight credit: Woody Sez. Recent credits elsewhere in the Chicagoland area include Little Shop of Horrors and many other productions at Theatre at the Center; the annual Christmas Schooner (Mercury); and the world premieres of A Twist of Water (Route 66), El Nogalar (Goodman), and We Are Proud to Present... (Victory Gardens). In addition to stage management, Rita was the set designer at Harold Washington College from 2001-2012, and is a member of the Route 66 Theatre Company in Chicago. She is the proud wife of actor Tom Hickey and mom to one-year-old Charlie
Peek inside Lou's bar with these photos by Michael Brosilow.
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Watch a scene from Northlight's Stella & Lou
Watch a scene from Northlight's Stella & Lou
Watch interviews with the cast, director, and playwright as they discuss the process of mounting a world premiere.
See a time-lapse video of the set deconstruction, as it gets taken apart to be shipped to the Galway Arts Festival.
Watch and listen to WGN interviews with Rhea Perlman here.
Watch the FOX interview with Rhea Perlman here.
Wisdom, beer flow freely in Northlight's 'Stella & Lou'
May 12, 2013
By CHRIS JONES
Being the kind of tavern where the sunlight generally is about as welcome as a penniless A.J. Pierzynski, Lou's bar in South Philadelphia is expected to light up when Rhea Perlman walks into the joint in a summer dress.
And, at the Northlight Theatre in Skokie on Friday night, light up it did.
There is something about Perlman - who is playing Stella opposite Francis Guinan's Lou in the new, single-set Bruce Graham play "Stella & Lou" - that perks up a place, be it a bar or theater. It's partly that she's so familiar from those 11 years playing Carla on "Cheers," of course, a resonance that's acute given the taproom setting of this play (although Graham is not so much evoking a place where everybody knows your name as a place where everybody will nod at you remotely as you drink yourself under the same table for 20 years). But it's mainly her signature mix of sass and sincerity, a very present cocktail of warmth, charm and just a hint of neediness. Perlman, one feels, has been through the odd wringer but remains ever-ready to give it a go in life, which is exactly the quality needed for a character who is doing precisely that. Stella has arrived at the point in life where, if one is gonna make a change, one had better start making it.
In "Stella & Lou," nurse Stella has decided that her twilight years will be dominated either by a state or the widower she thinks she just might just love: Florida, where they eat at 4:30 p.m., or Lou, who has yet to fully deal with the long-ago death of his beloved wife. And for about 85 minutes in the theater, the dominant question is whether Lou or 55-and-over condos will triumph - which is mostly a matter of whether Lou, who puts about 100 miles a year on his car, will emerge from the darkness and blink at the light, i.e. Perlman's Stella.
That should be enough to signal that "Stella & Lou" is not some font of formative dramatic experimentation. Everything about it has its formulaic aspects: the lonely hearts, the barroom setting, the symbols of daylight and darkness, the surrogate son. But then, our lives also have their formulaic aspects - don't they ever? - and all of this is done honestly. To some degree, "Stella and Lou" is a play about late-in-life loneliness (and depression), themes that are not often explored in the theater, for all of their ubiquity. And there is something refreshing about a commercial new play that would have no Broadway appeal whatsoever for some movie star with a big agent. This is a quiet piece. I found myself wishing it had more of the bleak tartness, say, of the movie "Amour," and a little less of the sitcom pat-ness, but, hey, not everyone wants to stare into the abyss. Especially not when Perlman is around to perk up your later years.
"Stella & Lou" is very much a senior-friendly play. Before anyone gets offended, let me clarify what I mean: This is a play that very much privileges the worldview of those with experience. The third character in these proceedings, Donnie (Ed Flynn, earnest but not perfectly cast), is there mostly to offer a youthful perspective on an impending marriage: his own, of which he is terrified. This allows Stella and Lou to tut-tut a little from the vantage points of having been there, done that (with varying results). Moreover, the piece is generally peppered with wry comments about the encroachments of new technology: Lou tut-tuts some more at the kids who come into his bar asking if he's wireless. And there is much ado about the pleasures of not changing things very much at all.
At times, it feels like Graham's play could use a few more gags. I found myself writing in my notes "is it funny enough?" before crossing that line out as the play went down one of its interesting roads, which is how we often live our lives, at the table next to people we really don't know at all. There also is some very wise stuff here on how resentments for parental inadequacies can eat away (at parent and child) all the way until death, and also, more unusually, how late-in-life romances often involve people who have known a former spouse, which complicates everything. A little later, however, I wrote the line again.
That need for some sharper comic business doesn't mean that B.J. Jones' warm-centered production, which does not yet range deeply enough, could not probe the darker reaches of lives lived in the shadow of loss. Guinan is thoroughly believable as Lou, a character this fine Chicago actor turns into such a likable, genial soul, you want to step up from your seat and down a domestic or two in Brian Sidney Bembridge's well-stocked on-stage tavern. As Lou reaches what might just be the point of no return, the moment when that summer dress might sink for good in a sea of popcorn and suds, you can see his hands shake and the blood rush to his face. It is the beginning of a potentially devastating moment, mostly because it feels so very familiar.
Rhea Perlman, Francis Guinan save tavern tale from its routine plot
May 12, 2013
By HEDY WEISS
It is a brief anecdote, related toward the end of Bruce Graham's play "Stella & Lou" - now in its world premiere at Northlight Theatre - that most succinctly sums up the abiding fear and anxiety of at least one of his sixtysomething title characters.
It is the more outgoing Stella (Rhea Perlman), a registered nurse, long-divorced mother of two grown children and relatively new grandmother, who tells the story. And she does so not only to explain herself, but to knock some sense into Lou, a long-married, childless man who has been widowed for two years and has rarely ventured much beyond the neighborhood tavern in Philadelphia he has run for decades.
The anecdote is heartbreaking: It tells of an elderly woman with no relations or close friends who worries she might die in her home and not be found for days. So she has told her neighbors that she will tie a ribbon around her front doorknob each night, and if it hasn't been removed by 8 a.m. the following morning someone should alert the authorities. Mortality is one thing; dying alone is quite another.
In a sense, "Stella & Lou" is something of a companion piece to Graham's 2011 play "The Outgoing Tide," which also debuted at Northlight under the direction of BJ Jones, and dealt with the fading faculties of an aging, fiercely independent man whose wife and son don't quite know how to handle things. But this newer play is a less subtle and sophisticated work. And were it not for the skill and relentless commitment of its principal actors - veteran "Cheers" star Rhea Perlman, with her perfect timing and easy warmth and vulnerability, as Stella, and Steppenwolf's ideally understated Francis Guinan as Lou - it would be a pretty routine if darker-than-average dramedy.
While Stella generally stops by the bar (a dingy, wood-paneled classic designed by Brian Sidney Bembridge) a few times a week, more for fellowship than to drink, on this particular night she comes with a plan. She has just won a prize - dinner and a show for two at an Atlantic City casino - and she hopes Lou might be her "date." She is in need of significant change in her life. And either she will try to forge a bond with a man she knows to be decent and kind (if as far from adventurous as imaginable, and scared of a second love), or she will relocate to Florida and devote herself to being a grandmother.
Throughout, little bursts of comic relief come by way of Donnie (Ed Flynn), Lou's young, bumbling bartender, who is in a state of panic as he faces his wedding, and as his fiance is racking up bills and trying to "improve" him.
Without giving away the ending, I will only say that I wish Graham had not opted for the feel-good outcome. But maybe F. Scott Fitzgerald was wrong when he said that "there are no second acts in American lives."
One final note for the celebrity-minded: Perlman's husband, Danny DeVito, proudly planted himself in Friday's opening night audience and, along with the couple's son, joined in cheering the actors as they took their bows.
Read the review on the Sun-Times online>
Theatre Review: Stella & Lou
WINDY CITY TIMES
May 22, 2013
By MARY SHEN BARNIDGE
Riley was dead, to begin with-our play is set on the evening following his funeral. A search of Riley's squalid living quarters revealed many never-sent letters to an estranged daughter, but the sole mourners at his burial were his fellow regulars at Lou's south Philly bar. His buddies might be unsure of their own destinies, but one thing they know is that they don't want to die alone like Riley.
Guys like Riley-old men (and sometimes women) who arrive early and don't leave until closing time-can be found in every bar in every city. In fact, two years-widowed Lou is, himself, a Riley in the making, his days divided between the business inherited from his father-in-law and the shrine to the late Mrs. Lou that his house has become. He doesn't know it-indeed, stubbornly resists the very suggestion-that his salvation lies in Stella, the nurse who comes in nightly after her shift for a chat and a beer, but tonight comes packing an agenda that will determine her future, and maybe his, too.
In this and his other plays, Bruce Graham demonstrates a rare talent for writing older than his own experience. Most playwrights not yet past the midpoint of their earthly existence cannot escape their own perspective-"this is me, looking at my father/mother"-but Graham refuses to traffic in gray-haired teenager stereotypes. If Lou accepts Stella's invitation to a dinner and show in Atlantic City, it will be in pursuit, not of a romantic fling, but the companionship that endures beyond marital imperative and proximal camaraderie. Bartender Donnie may claim ambivalence over his imminent wedding and the vulnerability inherent in that contract, but imagine taking a step in that direction with the full knowledge that whatever happiness it may bring will inevitably lead to further loss.
Rhea Perlman has made a career of playing capable caretakers-when Armageddon comes, this is whom you want supervising the clean-up-and Francis Guinan is likewise renowned for his portrayals of strong-and-silent family retainers. Their rapport glows with the comfortable candor that comes of having outgrown rash impetuosity, and if even at 90 minutes (what with Donnie's fretful interruptions), it takes them a little too long to hit all of Graham's arguments, we still hold out hope for these stalwart comrades to risk one last venture while opportunity still beckons.
Read the review on Windy City Times online>
Northlight's formulaic ‘Stella & Lou' benefits from fine cast
May 17, 2013
By BARBARA VITELLO
How good an actor is Francis Guinan? So good he commands attention even when he's silent. So good his role as a widowed bartender in Northlight Theatre's "Stella & Lou" seems tailored just for him. So good, his presence makes Bruce Graham's sentimental, pleasantly predictable dramedy a show worth seeing.
Not that the heavy lifting, which isn't all that strenuous, falls entirely to the Steppenwolf Theatre veteran. Co-star Rhea Perlman, the Emmy Award winner best known as Carla on TV's "Cheers," carries her share of the load. She plays Stella, a divorced nurse looking to change her life, to Guinan's Lou, a grieving husband who retreated from life after the death of his wife two years earlier.
Centered on a pair of aging Baby Boomers confronting loneliness and depression, Graham's paint-by-numbers one-act offers few surprises - although briefly, near the end, it feels as if it might. Instead Graham, whose Jeff Award-winning "The Outgoing Tide" premiered at Northlight in 2011, mines familiar territory with jokes about New Jersey, confounding cellphones and young adults' inability to communicate except via text. Then there's the challenge of pursuing romance late in life: surrendering the comfort that comes from routine and risking heartbreak at an age when the heart doesn't heal as easily as it once did.
Yet some real truths underscore the rather endearing quality of "Stella & Lou." And its world premiere benefits from Northlight artistic director BJ Jones' gentle direction and spot-on pacing as well as the considerable talent of his three-person cast.
The action unfolds in the faded Philadelphia bar Lou (Guinan) inherited from his father-in-law decades earlier. Designed by Brian Sidney Bembridge, it's a shot-and-a-beer neighborhood joint, with dim lighting, cheaply paneled walls and linoleum floors. Faded posters flank a single dart board, and a small mirrored disco ball hangs from the ceiling like an afterthought.
Lou and Donnie (a likably rumpled Ed Flynn) - a newly, engaged twenty-something regular - have just returned from the sparsely attended funeral of a longtime patron, a solitary sort that neither of them knew very well.
In walks Stella, a divorced mother of two grown children who stops by the bar several times a week after her nursing shift. She has just returned from visiting her daughter and granddaughter in Florida, refreshed and emboldened to tell the bartender she has long admired exactly how she feels.
Friendly banter accompanies Stella's subtle attempts to advance their relationship. She invites him to accompany her to Atlantic City for dinner and a show, an offer the still-grieving Lou politely declines. As for Donnie, increasing wedding expenses prompt him to begin to talk himself out of his engagement, much to Lou's dismay.
In a sense, Lou and Donnie parallel each other. Each is afraid to embark upon the next phase of life, the consequences of which are made painfully clear when they discover a box of unsent cards from Lou's late patron, a Hallmark metaphor for chances not taken, possibilities unfulfilled.
Effortlessly combining spunk and uncertainty, Perlman's compassionate Stella is a breath of spring in late autumn. Graham gives the character the funniest lines, which Perlman delivers expertly.
Then there's the ever-genuine Guinan. An actor incapable of playing a false note, his presence makes modest plays good and good plays great. Everything we need to know about Lou, every emotion he experiences, we read in Guinan's nuanced expressions and in the subtle shifts of his body.
How good an actor is Francis Guinan? So good he doesn't have to speak to make us feel.
Read the full article on Daily Herald online>
Authentic 'Stella & Lou' makes case for second chances
May 17, 2013
By PAM DEFIGLIO
Northlight's comedy-drama takes us on a masterfully acted, well written tale of two people who have experienced loss but are finding the courage to open their hearts again.
When life and love have punched you in the heart and left you sprawled on the sidewalk, is it really possible to pick yourself up and expose your tender feelings again to the possibility of new love?
Though it's cloaked in comedy, that's the central question in Northlight Theatre's Stella & Lou. This beautifully-constructed play, in which playwright Bruce Graham tempers his musings on loneliness and courage with quick-witted comedy based on human vanities, is a marvel in itself.
With Rhea Perlman, formerly of the TV show Cheers, bringing out Stella's warmth, wise-cracking and down-to-earth compassion, and Steppenwolf Theater Company veteran Francis Guinan exploring the nuances of Lou's reticence to leave the past behind, it's clear 10 minutes into the show that we're seeing extraordinary performances here.
The play stays emotionally true to the hesitancies these two middle-aged people experience as they gingerly reach out to each other. And the two actors stay achingly honest as they navigate around the rubble of their past relationships and entertain thoughts of making the most of the time they've got left.
Director BJ Jones has fine-tuned the cast, which also includes Ed Flynn in a transparent performance as the amiable bartender Donnie, into pacing that heightens at conflicts and takes all the time it needs in quiet moments--even unspoken moments. In fact, one of the most pivotal moments of the play has no dialogue at all, and Guinan uses only movement and gesture to gets across the anguish of Lou making one of the biggest decisions of his life.
If this all sounds pretty heavy, fear not. Perlman gets most of the comic lines in this script, and she handles them deftly. Sometimes, just being completely honest about things that usually get swept under the rug is refreshingly funny, and she's got that nailed.
The script establishes early on that Stella, a nurse who helped care for Lou's wife as she was dying two years earlier, has become good friends with Lou as she stops in after work three nights a week at his bar. They like and admire each other, and on this night, the play hints--through gestures as small as Stella applying lipstick before she walks into Lou's Bar--she's up to something more.
Graham uses foreshadowing poetically here. From Stella saying her little granddaughter is lonely because there are no kids near her age nearby, to Donnie's lover's spat with his fiancee, to Donnie's near-disgust that a longtime bar patron chose to disown his wife and daughter for the anonymity of alcoholism, the script gently but effectively illuminates the voids in the lives of both Stella and Lou.
This all spins out against the backdrop of Brian Sidney Bembridge's set and JR Lederle's lighting, which perfectly conjure a neighborhood bar that has seen spiffier days.
Graham's lovely play stands on its own strengths. But to have Perlman and Guinan plumb the possibilities of these characters, and Jones bring out the finishing touches-- all these things make for a wonderful night of theater. Stella and Lou, the characters, may have some mileage on them, but they're willing, in fits and starts, to continue on. I'm betting Stella & Lou, the play, will go the distance.
Read the full article on Glenview Patch online>
Review: Stella & Lou
May 17, 2013
By KEITH GRIFFITH
Rhea Perlman, best known for playing Carla Tortelli on Cheers, takes half the title role alongside local acting luminary Francis Guinan in Bruce Graham's droll black comedy, premiering under director BJ Jones for Northlight Theatre. Lou owns a South Philly dive bar, where the story's set, and remains grief-stricken years after his wife's death. His firecracker regular customer Stella wants more for him, though, and the duo's fitful relationship forms the core of the story. Graham's populist writing style includes plenty of broad hooks that seem calculated to make the work accessible, but a rich emotional depth suffuses the story nonetheless. As Stella, Perlman gets an unholy number of terrific one-liners, and lands every one like a pro.
Read the full article on Chicago Reader online>
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Everybody knows her name--Rhea Perlman bellies up to a new bar for 'Stella & Lou'
May 8, 2013
By HEDY WEISS
For the legions of fans of that longrunning sitcom "Cheers," the Brooklyn-bred, multiple Emmy Award-winning actress Rhea Perlman will forever be Carla Tortelli, the cynical, wise-cracking mother of eight who worked as a waitress in a Boston bar and appeared in every episode of the show from 1982 to 1993.
But these days, Perlman is hanging out in another bar - this one in Philadelphia - where she plays Stella, a long-divorced nursein search of some changes in her life. And it is there that she engages in rather serious conversation with Lou (played by Steppenwolf veteran Francis Guinan), the widower who owns the bar and has spent many years as a caretaker for his wife.
You will find this bar on stage at Northlight Theatre, where Bruce Graham's dramedy, "Stella & Lou," is receiving its world premiere under the direction of BJ Jones.
So what possessed Perlman, the real-life wife of Danny DeVito, and the mother of three grown kids (one an actress, another a visual artist and yoga teacher and a son who is starting to produce movies in New York) - to leave Los Angeles and head to Skokie for what turned out to be a very extended winter?
"Last summer, I went to see Danny in a London production of ‘The Sunshine Boys.' I took two friends with me, and we just randomly decided to take a side trip to Galway, on the west coast of Ireland. When we got there we realized a big arts festival was underway, and John Mahoney, who I know, was starring in a play by Bruce Graham called ‘The Outgoing Tide' [which debuted at Northlight in 2011]. So I slipped him a note, and we all saw the play - which I loved - and afterward I met Rondi Reed and BJ [Jones]. Then, in December, by way of George Wendt, I was asked if I wanted to read a new play by Bruce and I said ‘Sure.' I immediately understood the characters. So I came in to do a reading, and we found just the right dates so that I could get back in time to start work on ‘Kirstie's New Show," a new reality-comedy for TV Land, about a Broadway diva type. I play Ally's assistant and best friend, Thelma."
The lure of "Stella & Lou" is "how real it is," said Perlman.
"So many people I know, who have reached a certain age, sense there are still a lot of years remaining, and they ask the question: ‘Okay, what do I do with all the time left?"
While "Stella & Lou" marks Perlman's first appearance on a Chicago stage she is no stranger to the theater.
"That's how I started in the business, and for some reason I seem to get back to the stage about every six years," she said. "The last time was for [the farcical] ‘Boeing-Boeing' in London. And frankly, every time I return I say ‘never again' because it's too terrifying and unpredictable. But then I do it, and I'm happy and fine."
But Perlman, who said she is tremendously impressed with her co-stars - both Guinan and Ed Flynn, who plays Donny, a young customer at the bar - expects DeVito to be part of the opening night audience, and "of course that will make me more nervous."
Guinan, who was performing in the Steppenwolf production of Harold Pinter's "The Birthday Party" at the same time he began rehearsals for "Stella & Lou," finds Graham's play attractive for two reasons: "The language is very direct and simple. And it fits this character because Lou is a simple guy - a man who says exactly what he means and doesn't go in for wearing his heart on his sleeve. At base he also is a very stubborn man, and one who expects very little of life. And he has made his late wife into something of a saint - whether real or imagined."
Working with Rhea has been a great pleasure.
"She is a total professional," he said. "She came in fully memorized, which put me to shame, and has been emotionally open to everything going on onstage, and to me. She is very creative, very open to what we improvised, and didn't come in with any preconceived notions about the characters. And [Guinan chuckled here] all this was a reminder to me that there are people outside of Steppenwolf who also are working on all eight cylinders."
As for how Perlman manages to remain so "normal" after all these decades in high-profile show business, the actress laughs and says: "I've been lucky not to have to obsess about work. And I take breaks. I garden. And I'm very involved with the whole issue of foster care, and the need for kids just beyond the age of care to have some kind of safety net."
"About being well adjusted, well, do not believe what you see. The older I get the more I believe there is no such thing as that. It's just degrees of dysfunctionality."
Read the piece on the Sun-Times online>
Rhea Perlman on 'Cheers', old friends and 'Stella & Lou'
May 9, 2013
By DOUG GEORGE
Oh, it's just the way you'd want it to be. Rhea Perlman is playing Stella in the soon-to-open "Stella & Lou" at Northlight Theatre - you likely know Perlman as Carla from television's iconic "Cheers."
She got the theater gig after getting a call from her old friend George Wendt ("Norm!"), who told her about the Bruce Graham play upcoming at Northlight. Wendt had been in Skokie last fall for "The Odd Couple" (though he had to leave that Northlight show at the last minute for health reasons), and artistic director BJ Jones had said to him that Perlman would make a great Stella. Perlman happened to know Graham's work, she said, from having seen "The Outgoing Tide" at the Galway Arts Festival last summer - she had hit up her pal John Mahoney for tickets. That Graham play had debuted at Northlight in 2011 under Jones' direction - with Chicago actor Mahoney playing the aging patriarch at the show's center - and had transferred to Ireland and was selling out houses.
Mahoney, in turn, had been on "Cheers" as a piano-playing jingle writer, pre-"Frasier" days ("Frasier," of course, was a "Cheers" spinoff). The two went out for drinks with Jones after.
The old "Cheers" gang, still together!
For the record, Perlman says she doesn't mind if you know her mostly as Carla Tortelli. "I wouldn't change those days for the world," she said of "Cheers." During her 11 seasons on the NBC sitcom, she won four Emmys, more than any other cast member. "That was the best job I'll ever have. I mean, I had three children during that time, it was the center of my life."
Perlman spoke with the Tribune on the eve of the first preview performance of "Stella & Lou" - also having its world premiere at Northlight. The play is set almost entirely in a bar; Stella is a middle-aged nurse who confronts Lou (Francis Guinan) about their relationship. The two have been friends for two years and Stella wants them to be more. The following is an edited transcript.
Q: Do you think about those in the audience who can't help but see you as Carla?
I don't mind it, but it's not really something I can control. I'm just trying to be present in this character, and hopefully people pretty quickly will see me as her.
Q: What's Stella like?
She's the aggressive one. Well, she's the one that wants a relationship, and on this night she's trying to get Lou to make a change. ... These are two people of a certain age, with a lot of life experience. She'd like them to move on together. Stella's a nurse, she's been divorced a long time, and she just feels like she has a lot of life yet to live. She's not aggressive in Carla's sort of way, but she's outspoken. That is, she's been outspoken on other subjects, just not this one before.
Q: Do you feel like you've gotten a sense of Chicago theater working at Northlight?
Oh, I love it - every time I'm in New York it seems the shows I'm interested in have come from Chicago. I've been getting to know (Guinan and Jones), these guys work so much in theater, and are so comfortable and so natural onstage. It's been a learning experience for me, it really has. This has been the best rehearsal process I've ever been in.
Q: Would you work here again?
I would, although it takes a lot to be here. (She's been joined by her husband, Danny DeVito, and her family during the run.) My home is really in Los Angeles now.
Read the piece on the Tribune online>
Rhea Perlman Interviewed on WGN
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