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by Jeffrey Hatcher
MARCH 9, 2012 - APRIL 15, 2012
The backstage story of Broadway legends Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne!
For decades, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne entertained the most influential artists of their time - from Noel Coward to Sydney Greenstreet - at Ten Chimneys, their legendary retreat. When a young Uta Hagen arrives to rehearse the Lunts' latest production, she sparks an offstage romantic triangle that rivals any onstage drama. Life imitates art in this comically revealing take on the private lives of these very public figures.
Running time approx. 2hrs 10min
View the Ten Chimneys program online.
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On June 23, 2008, I took playwright Jeffrey Hatcher and David Ira Goldstein, Artistic Director of the Arizona Theatre Company, to Ten Chimneys in Genesee Depot, Wisconsin. David maintains that I suggested Jeffrey write a play about Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne and their summers in Wisconsin. I will gladly take the credit for its inspiration, though I don't really recall that I did, but I am quite sure I drove to Ten Chimneys and that the visit and the subsequent workshop we did in our Interplay reading series here at Northlight, were my suggestion. (I also suggested we stop at Culvers for a custard concrete on the way back, but I digress.)
I am so proud of the new work we have introduced to the world. Developing Ten Chimneys, Outgoing Tide, and Jon Jory's Sense & Sensibility are just a few of the exciting new plays we have created for you and with you here at Northlight. It is a privilege to do this work and a thrill to see it come to fruition with our production of Ten Chimneys.
--BJ Jones, Director of Northlight's Ten Chimneys
According to Alfred and Lynn, their first meeting occurred in the late spring of 1919 in the New Amsterdam Theatre in New York. They were playing opposite each other in a production called Made of Money. Both actors had seen the other perform on the New York circuit and respected each other's talents. Alfred was instantly taken in by his leading lady and Lynn was immediately impressed by Alfred's voice and manner. Their feelings for each other were a poorly-kept secret; they often disappeared together on long hansom cab rides in order to learn their lines. Immediately after Made of Money, they were cast opposite each other again in A Young Man's Fancy, which opened in Washington to rhapsodic public and critical responses.
While the pair parted ways for a time after this - Lynn to tour and Alfred to rehearse for the role of Clarence - it was undeniable that a sparkling new stage partnership had been born. They had many friends in common, including Lynn's young compatriot, Noel Coward. On May 26th 1922, they decided to get married on a whim, consulting no one and dragging two strangers off the street outside City Hall to be their witnesses. The story goes that neither of them had money for the fee, and Alfred had to borrow the necessary amount from one of the witnesses. That evening, they were back in their respective theatres, but from then on they would be a private and professional partnership undivided. Read More >
Photo by Warren O'Brien from the O'Brien Family Collection at WHS ©Ten Chimneys Foundation
In 1914, Alfred Lunt came into inheritance from his father and purchased a plot of undeveloped land in Genesee Depot, Wisconsin. He personally designed the first portion of the main house at Ten Chimneys, as a permanent home for his mother and his sisters. Over the years, Alfred continued to purchase surrounding plots, until the estate consisted of over one hundred acres of wooded land. By 1943, the Main House had six chimneys, the Cottage two, the Studio one and the Greenhouse one, totalling ten chimneys in all and cementing an official name for the estate. Ten Chimneys was a working farm, featuring abundant vegetable and fruit gardens. It was also home to livestock, including a herd of Jersey cows whose milk was used to make butter and cottage cheese on the premises.
The pool at Ten Chimneys nestles between the main house, the Studio and the Cottage (which was first home to Lynn and Alfred, and later the residence of his mother and sister), acting as a hub for socialising and relaxing in the summer months. Although the grounds are extensive, the main buildings and the out-building at Ten Chimneys are all within easy sight of each other, creating the impression of a miniature village. The Lunts continued to use Ten Chimneys for artistic retreats throughout their lives until they both retired there in the 1970s. Read More >
The Main House photo by K. Weir-Martell, Ten Chimneys Staff ©Ten Chimneys Foundation
See the place that inspired it all: Buy-One-Get-One-Free Tours for Northlight Audience MembersGet one FREE Full Estate Tour for every Full Estate Tour purchased at the regular price, May 29 - November 10, 2012. PHONE RESERVATIONS ARE REQUIRED and include scheduling your specific tour date and time and processing credit card payment. Maximum reservation is 10 (5 free) tours. We regret that we cannot extend this discount to our no-reservation, walk-in guests. This offer cannot be applied to an existing reservation. To reserve your tour, call (262) 968-4110 and mention code: Northlight-BOGO-12. For more information about touring Ten Chimneys, visit tenchimneys.org.
Interior of the Studio photo by Amanda E. Shilling ©Ten Chimneys Foundation
The following is an excerpt of an interview conducted by Arizona Theatre Company Literary Manager Jenny Bazzell with Jeffrey Hatcher and the director of the Arizona production David Ira Goldstein for the World Premiere of the play in January 2011. For the full interview, visit the Arizona Theatre Company online.
David Ira Goldstein: The thing that is so striking about Ten Chimneys as a place is that, as Americans, we don't have many theatrical landmarks. Europeans do: for instance Shakespeare's birthplace and the Comedie Francaise in Paris. Ten Chimneys as a national historic landmark is really one of the true really American places to celebrate the art of the theatre. And it's extraordinary in that it went from Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt passing away, to being purchased lock, stock and barrel and preserved as a landmark. So that when you go there, there's almost the sense that they're still living there. Everything is as it was back then. There are still clothes and towels in the closets, pots and pans in the kitchen and sweaters in the bedrooms. You can look at their library and see all the different types of books they were reading (which ranged from the trashy to the sublime). So you feel the living presence of these extraordinary performers who, in the 1920s and 1930s, were considered the great American actors of their time in the same way that we consider Streep, Pacino or DeNiro today. But since the Lunts didn't do film you almost have to go to Ten Chimneys to get a feel of their presence.
Jenny Bazzell: When you were writing and assigning dialogue to these characters who are real people, do you feel a sense of obligation to get them right?
Jeffrey Hatcher: Well, you have some obligation of course. You don't want to make them say something that would be inconceivable unless you're doing some crazy cartoon comedy. But there's a lot of things that people keep private, so you can have them say things even though there's nothing on the record that would certify that they ever said it. You want to get speech patterns right, you want to get assumed behavior right. Having said that, naturally I fictionalized a great deal. You can't make up all the dialogue from the things you think they've said. The best you can do is to get the flavor of their particular time and their particular character. I suppose it's the same thing you would ask an actor. No actor would want to try to impersonate the Lunts. [Laughing] Although, it's true that today while we're doing the play neither of them have acted in front of an audience for fifty years. But an actor who simply does an impersonation ends up promptly amplifying certain aspects and straight-jacketing himself into others. So you want to give a taste of flavor, but you don't want to be slavishly devoted to the documentary.
DG: The character in the play with whom our audience will probably have the most familiarity with what they were like as an actor would be Sydney Greenstreet, because we do still have a very vivid memory of him from The Maltese Falcon and other movies. But actually, Sydney Greenstreet was a member of the Lunts' company for years and it wasn't until later that he really became famous in the movies.
JB: How does the location of the play influence the events and characters?
DG: Two of the great themes of the play are making a family and making a home. Jeffrey has chosen to title the play Ten Chimneys not Alfred and Lynn or The Lunts. One of the real motors of the play is the question, what does it mean to have a home? Where do you make your home, particularly if you're an itinerant person? ...When you talk about the theatre and making plays, often you're talking about making a family, at least temporarily. We bring all these disparate people together for ten or twelve weeks and we're living and breathing with each other [for that time]. It's kind of interesting - we didn't set out this way, but there are seven actors in the play and they are from seven different cities. So, perhaps just this journey of putting the play together will echo that sort of search for family [that's in the play].
JH: One thing about the setting informing the play: lots of theatre people had big houses and big estates...but they were all within the sphere of the theatrical capitals, New York or London. But the Lunts went back to Wisconsin every summer as opposed to someplace closer to 42nd Street. That tells you something. The fact that Genesee Depot is a small town and, in those days it was in the middle of nowhere, that gives a certain flavor too. It's a more rustic, rural environment. Ten Chimneys is actually made up of many different buildings: the main house, the cottage, the studio. And a couple of these buildings are inhabited by, among others, Alfred's mother. It tells you that there is both a hothouse closeness to the relationships when they're there, but that they're also separate - they have their own rooms. I've gone there twice now and one of the things that always strikes me is how all the rooms function like stage sets. They almost beg to have one of the walls come down so you could view them like a diorama. Some things are so fake. And the Lunts reveled in the fact that they were fake. They make almost a fetish of it. It shows you how much they had imported this perception of false beauty, which is beautiful in its own right, onto this very bucolic and rustic setting. I don't know if all of this ends up in the play, but these things certainly sparked the play.
Read the entire interview here.
|Lance Baker (Carl) last appeared at Northlight in Mauritius. Chicago credits include: Lady (Northlight); Amadeus (Chicago Shakespeare); A Steady Rain (Chicago Dramatists); A Park in Our House, I Sailed with Magellan, and Young Lady from Rwanda (Victory Gardens); Thom Pain (based on nothing) (Jeff Award - Solo Performance) and Santaland Diaries (Theater Wit); Hunger and Thirst and The Grey Zone (A Red Orchid); Dollhouse and Lobby Hero (Goodman, both Jeff nominated); Thyestes, Travesties (Jeff nomination), The Importance of Being Earnest, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (Court); No Place like Home (Steppenwolf); Nocturne (Naked Eye); This Is Our Youth (After Dark Award), Dealer's Choice (Jeff nomination), and Ecstasy (Roadworks). Directing credits: The Earl and A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant (A Red Orchid).
Janet Ulrich Brooks (Louise) is a member of TimeLine, where she has appeared in A Walk in the Woods, All My Sons, When She Danced, Not Enough Air, Weekend, Tesla's Letters, Paradise Lost, Lillian and A Man For All Seasons. Chicago credits include: The Seagull and A True History of the Johnstown Flood (Goodman), The Original Grease (American Theatre Company), Pony (About Face), Jacob & Jack (Victory Gardens), Golda's Balcony (Pegasus Players, Jeff Award Non-Equity wing - Outstanding Solo Performance), and work with Strawdog Theatre Company, Steppenwolf for Young Adults, Writers', Collaboraction, and others. Film and TV: Conviction, Polish Bar, I Heart Shakey, One Small Hitch and Chicago Code. Janet received the first Ed See Outstanding Theatre Alumnus Award from the University of Central Missouri, and earned her MFA in acting from Western Illinois University.
|Sara J. Griffin (Uta Hagen) is a recent MFA graduate of the Professional Theatre Training Program of the University of Delaware. Regional credits include Laura Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie, Lady Anne in Richard III, Hero in Much Ado About Nothing, and Lydia Bennett in Pride and Prejudice with the Utah Shakespeare Festival, Alice Fletcher in the World Premiere of Teresa Rebeck's O Beautiful, Emily Webb in Our Town, Hermia in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Chris in Dancing at Lughnasa with the Resident Ensemble Players. Other credits include Imogen in Cymbeline, Speed in Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Elma in Bus Stop. Sara is thrilled to be a part of Ten Chimneys, her first Northlight production.
V Craig Heidenreich (Alfred Lunt), originally from Woodstock, IL, was last at the Northlight as Sir John Middleton in Sense & Sensibility. V has directed or appeared throughout the country in more than 160 professional productions including 14 seasons with Actors' Theatre of Louisville, three seasons with the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, three with Shakespeare Santa Cruz and three years as artistic director of the Complete Theatre Alliance and Infinite Space. Representative roles include Macbeth, Hamlet, Richard III, Henry IV, Iago, Jacques, Petruchio, Edgar, Bottom, Malvolio, Caliban... Most recently, V directed and/or performed in productions of Betrayal, Don Juan in Hell, Lion in Winter, Sea Marks, Hedda Gabler, Rough Crossing and Jon Jory's adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.
Linda Kimbrough (Hattie) has appeared at Northlight in A Life, Better Late (both opposite John Mahoney), She Stoops to Conquer, Red Herring, Gamester, Hearts and The Old Neighborhood. Most recently, she played Marie in The Gospel According to James at Victory Gardens and Indiana Repertory. Other recent roles: Mrs. Lintott in The History Boys (Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre) and Dotty in Noises Off (Cleveland Play House). She has originated roles in four of David Mamet's plays: Edmond, Reunion, The Water Engine, Squirrels, and his adaptation of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard. Movies include Spartan, State & Main, Red Belt, Homicide, and the upcoming Phil Specter Story (starring Al Pacino) for HBO.
Lia D. Mortensen (Lynn Fontanne) last appeared at Northlight in Lady Windermere's Fan. Chicago credits include: Sky Girls, Talley's Folly (Northlight); Big Meal (American Theatre Company, Jeff Award); The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, Hiding Place (Provision); Rabbit Hole (Goodman, Pulitzer Prize); Fighting Words (Rivendell); All's Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure (Chicago Shakespeare); Closer, Faith Healer (Steppenwolf); Night and Day (Remy Bumppo); Aristocrats (Organic); Voice of the Turtle, Glass Menagerie with Celeste Holm (Classical American Theatre); Well, A Doll's House, Macbeth, The Illusion (Next); and several productions at Court. Lia co-directed Bus Stop (with Ryan Martin, The Den Theater). Film: Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) and Blink. Television: The Chicago Code, Family Practice, Early Edition and Missing Persons. Lia is an ensemble member of Provision Theater and The Den Theater.
Steve Pringle (Sydney Greenstreet) is making his debut with Northlight. Chicago theater credits: The Pitmen Painters (Timeline), Faith Healer (Buffalo Theater Ensemble), Madness of King George, Taming of the Shrew, Richard III (Chicago Shakespeare), Without a Parachute (Pasta Fazool Players); The Passion of Dracula (First Folio). Regional theater: The Rainmaker (Guthrie Theater); Arms and the Man, Custer, The Farm (Actors Theater of St. Paul, founding member); Mousetrap, Pajama Tops (Old Log Theater); Guys and Dolls, Robber Bridegroom, On Golden Pond (Chanhassen Dinner Theater). Film credits: That Was Then, This Is Now. Television credits: Quincy (CBS); The Police (PBS). Recipient of the Edwin Booth Award from the American College Theater Festival, by The Players' Club of New York, 1970.
BJ Jones (Director) is in his 14th season as Artistic Director of Northlight, where he commissioned and directed the world premieres of 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
Tom D. Burch (Set Design) returns to Northlight following Sense & Sensibility, A Civil War Christmas, Souvenir, The Lady with All the Answers and Studs Terkel's "The Good War". Off-Broadway: Mistakes Were Made (Barrow Street). Chicago credits: The Comedy of Errors and Spunk (Court); Scorched and Yellow Face (Silk Road); No Exit, Frankenstein, Sophocles: Seven Sicknesses (Hypocrites); The Overwhelming and Return to Haifa (Next); A Steady Rain (Chicago Dramatists and Royal George); and shows for Goodman, Chicago Shakespeare, A Red Orchid, About Face, ATC, House, and others. Regional work includes: Milwaukee Rep, Arizona Theatre Co., Peninsula Players, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Williamstown Theatre Festival, Cleveland Playhouse. Awards: three After Dark Awards (including one for Northlight's Red Herring) and one Jeff (and four nominations). He teaches at University of Chicago. www.tomburch.com.
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.
JR Lederle (Lighting Design) Northlight credits include Season's Greetings, A Life, Grey Gardens, The Retreat From Moscow, Lady, 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.
Joe Cerqua (Original Composition/Sound Design) is a freelance composer, sound designer, vocalist, and producer. Northlight Credits: Sense & Sensibiolity, The Cripple of Inishmaan, Visiting Mr. Green, The Old Neighborhood, Master Class, and God's Man in Texas, among others. Recent credits include: Pinocchio (Deaf West in LA), The Circle (American Players Theatre), In the Next Room (Forward Theatre), Emma (Cleveland Playhouse), Bus Stop (Kansas City Rep), and compositions and performances with Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre of which he is the Producing Director/Composer in Residence. Joe has composed and designed sound for over 200 productions around the nation, including at Steppenwolf, Goodman, Court, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, The Mark Taper Forum, The Alliance, BAM, and National Jewish Theatre. His scores and sound designs for Homebody/Kabul, SideMan, Broken Glass, How I Learned to Drive, and Master Class have all enjoyed national tours. Joe is the Supervising Producer for the Music Department at Columbia College Chicago.
Laura D. Glenn (Production Stage Manager) Over the past ten years with Northlight, production stage management credits include Sense & Sensibility, A Life, Souvenir, Better Late (also at the Galway Arts Festival), Retreat from Moscow, Permanent Collection, Cat Feet, Blue/Orange, Tuesdays with Morrie, Sky Girls, Rounding Third, and A Skull in Connemara. Other credits include stage management for Lord of the Flies, Slowgirl, Head of Passes, Three Sisters, Middletown, To Kill a Mockingbird, a parallelogram, Superior Donuts, Betrayal, Love Song, I Never Sang for my Father, The Violet Hour, Purple Heart, The Drawer Boy, Picasso at the Lapin Agile, and many others at Steppenwolf over the past twenty-four years. International credits include Orange Flower Water and Purple Heart (Steppenwolf) at the Galway Arts Festival in Galway, Ireland; The Man Who Came to Dinner - BITE festival at the Barbican Center in London; and the regional and Broadway productions of Buried Child. Laura has been a proud member of Actors Equity Association for twenty-four years.
Photos by Michael Brosilow
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Alfred and Lynn
TEN CHIMNEYS Review
MAKE IT BETTER
By KERRY REID
The Genesee Depot home bursts with mementos of their long dual careers, when they starred in the then-scandalous "Design for Living" - Noel Coward's ménage a trois comedy rumored to be based on the real state of affairs among the trio. (Lunt and Fontanne did only one film together - Lynn explained their reluctance to "go Hollywood" with "We can be bought, but we can't be bored.")
This golden age of American theater comes to (mostly) sparkling life in Jeffrey Hatcher's comedy, receiving its local premiere at Northlight under BJ Jones' thoughtful direction. And though not everything in the script adds up, it's still a loving portrait of a couple who changed the rules and raised the stakes for stagecraft. (In one cunning interlude, we get a demonstration of how Lunt and Fontanne perfected their trademark naturalistic overlapping dialogue which still allowed every word of the script to be heard.)
Read the entire review on makeitbetter.com
Northlight's "Ten Chimneys" pays homage to Broadway royalty
March 22, 2012
By BARBARA VIELLO
Hatcher's fictionalized account of these exacting craftsmen - known for popularizing a more realistic style of acting - is more than a backstage glimpse into the private lives of a couple who counted Noël Coward, Helen Hayes and Laurence Olivier among their chums. It's a valentine to theater. More specifically, it's a valentine to the art of acting.
You can't help but appreciate all that goes into good acting as you watch Fontanne tutor a young Uta Hagen (a nicely self-assured Sara Griffin) in the use of makeup to reflect a character's evolution and then observe that same actress probe her character to uncover seemingly minor details that make a performance credible. Moreover, witnessing the painstaking attention to detail Lunt and Fontanne bring to the most casual rehearsal offers insight into a profession far more demanding than it appears.
Add Hatcher's sharp-edged, sweetly stinging, Noel Cowardesque dialogue to these eloquent, endlessly theatrical characters and you have the ingredients for an amusing backstage comedy. For the most part, "Ten Chimneys" delivers. In fact, it avoids the pitfalls that accompany larger-than-life characters like Fontanne and Lunt (played by V. Craig Heidenreich with graceful masculinity and fierce loyalty), who have a tendency to suck all the air out of the room.
That can be off-putting. So can the casual indifference the couple has cultivated as a result of their fame and privilege.
But it's their obvious expression of love - deftly communicated by Mortensen and Heidenreich under Jones' deliberate, perceptive direction - that make them so endearing and make this production worth seeing.
Read the entire review on DailyHerald.com
An illuminating look at theater royalty
March 21, 2012
By CATEY SULLIVAN
Whether this smart, well- acted, and quite funny piece will appeal to non-theater geeks who aren't enthralled by the prospect of a dishy backstage look structured around Chekhov's tragic comedy is debatable. What's not in question is the sparkling wit instilled in Hatcher's piece, or the archly marvelous work of the fine ensemble directed by B. J. Jones.
Jones elicits wonderful performances from his principals, with V Craig Heidenreich's Lunt and Lia D. Mortensen's arch, sophisticated Fontanne grounding the ensemble. Mortensen, in particular, is marvelous, carrying herself with the cool confidence of a smart woman who knows she's at the top of her game and the undercurrent of neediness that's so often present in performers.
Read the entire review on SunTimes.com
Theater Review: Ten Chimneys
TIME OUT CHICAGO
March 20, 2012
by Oliver Sava
While teaching a young Uta Hagen (Sara Griffin) how to map a character's journey in makeup, Lynn Fontanne (Lia Mortensen) tells her, "Whenever we are talking about the theater, we are talking about love." Jeffrey Hatcher's 2011 historical dramedy captures its characters' adoration for the theater, but their relationships with each other need more definition.
Set on the Wisconsin estate of Alfred Lunt (V Craig Heidenreich) and Lynn Fontanne in the years before and after World War II, Ten Chimneys delves into the personal drama of the Broadway power couple. A tepid love triangle develops among Alfred, Lynn and Uta while rehearsing Chekhov's The Seagull, but there's little physical chemistry between Griffin and the paternal Heidenreich. Rather, Alfred's affections are focused on an old college roommate who's back in town yet never appears; Hatcher rushes through this subplot, with most of the action inexplicably occurring offstage.
BJ Jones's direction emphasizes the grand personalities of the Broadway legends. The passion of Alfred and Lynn's marriage exists in performance, and Heidenreich and Mortensen blossom when playing with the duo's signature comic repartee. It's easy to see how diva Lynn would be threatened by Griffin's quietly confident Uta, yet the strongest moments between the women are devoid of malice. As Alfred's half-siblings, Janet Ulrich Brooks and Lance Baker fulfill the servant roles on the Chekhovian estate, providing a down-to-earth perspective on the celebrity drama.
Read the review on TimeOut.com
Chicago Theater Review: TEN CHIMNEYS (Northlight Theatre in Skokie)
STAGE AND CINEMA
March 20, 2012
By Dan Zeff
The performances at the Northlight are as scintillating as the dialogue. V Craig Heidenreich is memorable as Alfred, his acting enhanced by his strong resemblance to the real Lunt. Lia Mortensen, English accent deftly in place, is splendid as Lynn Fontanne, a woman who can take no prisoners in a domestic or theatrical battle, but a woman with a bottomless love for the theater and for her husband. Fontanne was once asked if she had ever contemplated divorcing Lunt. She answered, "Murder, yes. Divorce, never." ...BJ Jones does a marvelous job of directing the play in its many moods, including the rehearsal scenes of The Seagull, a master class in dramatic interpretation.
Read the complete review on stageandcinema.com
'Ten Chimneys' Recommended
CHICAGO THEATER BEAT
by Lawrence Bommer
March 18, 2012
Life and art, as well as love and work, were utterly indistinguishable for performing partners Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. These Broadway legends were the toast of Gotham, knew the high life of the Great White Way, and hob-nobbed with nabobs and notables at the top of the social pyramid. But for three months each year they left Glitter Gulch and retreated to the accurately named "Ten Chimneys," Alfred's 160-acre country estate in the wilds of Wisconsin, half way between Milwaukee and Madison. (It's now become a major tourist attraction for southern Wisconsin, along with Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin.)
In this rural enclave the dramatic duo would still receive visits for long weekends from the likes of professional pals Katharine Hepburn, Noel Coward, Laurence Olivier, and Helen Hayes. But it's also where they brought a perfectionist discipline and painstaking precision to the plays they'd rehearse for the next touring season.
That's the special slice of love and life that Jeffrey Hatcher affectionately depicts in a tribute as fulsome as any rave reviews that "the Lunts" ever received. Less a finished plot than a set of dramatized calling cards, Ten Chimneys delivers an intimate inside look at the private lives of America's First Couple of the theater. BJ Jones' sensitive staging at Northlight Theatre justifies the eavesdropping and becomes itself a salute to all the artful lies-personal, literary and communal-that actors spin into drama.
Hatcher presents Alfred and Lynne in 1938, 15 years into a marriage that will end when Alfred dies in 1977 and Lynn in 1983 at the age of 86. But now they're at the height of their powers as they rehearse Chekhov's The Seagull, starring the 19-year-old Uta Hagen as the doomed young actress Nina. Representing the summer entourage are Alfred's gambling half-brother/chauffeur Carl and his housekeeper and half-sister Louise, as well as his magisterial mother Hattie (who as a proverbial "third wheel" is bored the rest of the year and makes up for it by controlling the summer). Representing the glamorous thespian world is redoubtable Sydney Greenstreet, here to play Counselor Sorin (and also to visit his ailing wife in a nursing home in Oconomowoc).
As the older Lunt amorously portrays the famous writer Trigorin who will destroy Nina's happiness, it seems as if life imitates art. But Hatcher refuses to indulge in lazy parallels (and in fact Alfred has a very different lover staying in a hotel in Genesee Depot). Though his interest in the teenage Hagen is purely professional, that won't stop Lynn from indulging in some operatic jealousy.
But it's a summer storm that quickly blows over. Indeed, no personal crises are allowed to last long or take root in Ten Chimneys: They exist only as grist for the mill of theater. Here rehearsals can last twelve hours. Lateness, illness and hanky panky are forbidden. As Alfred says, "We need no drama in our house." Work is love.
Indeed, like Chekhov, nothing much happens. Revelations come in quiet moments, perhaps the best preparation for performing The Seagull possible. We see Lynn offer Uta the perfect makeup and lipstick for Nina's changing conditions in the Chekhov play. We learn how the Lunts managed to create overlapping dialogue without depriving the audience of necessary exposition. We hear how Lynn fell in love with Alfred's reverse side as she first saw that he could act even with his back to the audience.
Only in a somewhat clumsy epilogue set after the war do we find out why Hagen had a very short run as Nina. With the fighting over, the Lunts can reopen Ten Chimneys and return to the business of theater. (Always performing together, their last show was The Visit in 1958 at the newly dedicated Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on Broadway.)
Suitably enough, Northlight's offering exists for its acting, at once the most obvious and the most subtle homage that seven actors can offer their predecessors. (Making it real, however, is Tom Burch's rustic set, whose turntable effortlessly takes us in and moves us out.) Lia Mortensen's quicksilver Lynn is every inch acting royalty, always on stage and attuned to everything around her. V. Craig Heidenreich's mannered Alfred adores his famous wife enough to curb his ego to her desires. His credo fits everything we see: Theater exists to depict "life as it is lived."
Lance Baker brings irascible humor to the put-upon Carl, Janet Ulrich Brooks layers a thinly concealed frustration of Louise as a frustrated actress, and Linda Kimbrough is glacially passive-aggressive as an acerbic stage mother the exact opposite of Mama Rose (except for the inevitable predatory protectiveness). Steve Pringle brings a remarkable resemblance to the face, voice and form of roly-poly Greenstreet, an agreeable and self-effacing supporting actor in his pre-"Maltese Falcon" days. Finally, though perhaps a bit older than the role, Sara Griffin combines Uta and Nina in a dozen delicious ways.
We shall never more see the likes of the Lunts. But Ten Chimneys is happily haunted and well worth a pilgrimage by every theater lover and artist in Chicago.
Read the review on ChicagoTheaterBeat.com
Ten Chimneys a slice of Broadway in WisconsinCHICAGO TRIBUNE
March 15, 2012
By Kerry Reid
One of the greatest treasure troves of American theatrical history lies nestled 900 miles from Broadway in Genesee Depot, Wis. At Ten Chimneys, the summer home of theatrical legends Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, nearly every stick of furniture and cunning accessory (including a rare set of Shakespeare miniatures given to Fontanne by British Shakespearean doyenne Ellen Terry) belonged to the couple, who entertained fellow luminaries such as Carol Channing, Katharine Hepburn, and their longtime collaborator Noel Coward (who was reportedly locked into the log cabin "studio" on the estate in order to force him to finish writing his latest scripts).
The estate was saved from destruction by the late Joseph W. Garton, a Milwaukee restaurateur and theater historian who formed a foundation to restore the buildings - including interior murals originally painted by noted theatrical designer Claggett Wilson that reflect Lunt's Scandinavian heritage. It has been open for public tours every summer since 2003 and also serves as a retreat and training center for top regional actors.
Northlight Theatre artistic director BJ Jones took playwright Jeffrey Hatcher to Ten Chimneys in 2009. The result is "Ten Chimneys," Hatcher's play that is now in its local premiere at Northlight under Jones' direction. The fanciful plot involves a young Uta Hagen (who became an acclaimed teacher as well as actor) becoming entangled in an offstage romantic triangle.
But the estate itself, which includes bedrooms named for Laurence Olivier and Helen Hayes, along with the suggestive "Flirtation Room," is tailor-made for Hatcher's blend of intrigue and comedy. Ten Chimneys might have been a "retreat," but as Jones notes, Fontanne and Lunt were always "on," and their home reflects that. "Some of it makes you guffaw," he says. "It's so gloriously outlandish and mismatched. It was made and built with a theatrical sensibility, so you've got tasteful and garish side by side."
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