KURT JOHNS' PROJECTS

pen logo

Directed by Kurt Johns
Julia Zayas-Melendez, AEA Stage Manager
Dave Ferguson, Lighting Designer
Tim Morrison, USA Set Designer
Daniel Pellant, Prop Designer
Steve Ptacek, Sound Designer
Elizabeth Wislar, Costume Designer

Apple Tree logo


September 24-October 19, 2008

Written by Tony Award nominee and Drama Desk Award recipient David Marshall Grant, Pen was heralded as “earnest” and “eloquent” by the New York Times . Starring eight-time Joseph Jefferson Award winner Hollis Resnik and directed by Kurt Johns, Pen follows a Long Island family at a pivotal moment in their lives. Confined to a wheelchair, Helen and her son, Matt, are locked in a relationship where love, guilt, recriminations and the ever-present desire to make things right all share center stage. When it's time to apply to college, Helen tries to hold tightly to her son by influencing his enrollment in a nearby college, while her ex-husband Jerry tries to get the boy into USC, thinking that Matt needs to get some distance from his mother. The relationship between mother and son takes a mysterious turn, allowing the three of them to consider options that were up to now impossible. Pen is a sly, perceptive play about the deep bonds that hold a family together and the harsh truths that tear them apart.


The Cast
austin pic

Austin Campion (Matt Bayer) came to Chicago but one year ago after graduating from Brown University with a degree in Theatre Arts. Since then he has occupied himself with the forming of improv groups, the manipulation of puppets, and the entertaining of children at Navy Pier, along with the occasional actual play.  This latter category includes performing Jim in The Glass Menagerie at Oak Park Village Players and Red Angel in Durango with the Silk Road Theatre Project. He is glad to make his Apple Tree debut and very grateful to his parents, his lady, and the caprices of fate.


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Hollis Resnik (Helen Bayer) is pleased to return to Apple Tree having appeared in Tale of the Allergists Wife (Jeff nomination), Songs for a New World (Jeff award), And The World Goes ‘Round (Jeff award), and The Baker's Wife. She appeared most recently at Northwestern in Dangerous Beauty and at Court Theatre and Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven in Carousel. Other credits include the national tours of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Throughly Modern Millie and Les Miz. In Chicago she has been seen at Court Theatre in Man of La Mancha, The Little Foxes, An Ideal Husband, The Chairs, The Dead, The Cherry Orchard, Travesties, and The Learned Ladies; at Marriott in Honk, Mame, and Into the Woods; at the Goodman in A Little Night Music, Wings, The Beard of Avon, and The House of Martin Guerre; at Northlight in Enter The Guardsman and The Immigrant; for Cleveland Playhouse as Blanche in Streetcar Named Desire; at the Apollo in Always, Patsy Cline; and many productions at the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse. Other credits include productions at Sante Fe Stages, Indiana Rep, The Alliance in Atlanta, Milwaukee Rep and most recently as Lane in The Clean House for Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis. She has appeared at Ravinia many times most notably as the beggar woman in Sweeney Todd. She has also sung at the Lyric Opera and for the CSO. She is the recipient of 9 Jeff awards and the Sarah Siddons Leading Lady award for Piaf . She has a CD entitled “Make Someone happy.” She appeared in the films Backdraft and Little Big Top and on TV in Crime Story, Angel Street and Cupid. Visit her at hollisresnik.com.


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Robert Allan Smith (Jerry Bayer) is most thrilled to be a part of this exciting production of Pen with Apple Tree. He has worked with Apple Tree in the past through their TYA Educational Outreach Program. Robert is happy to be back in the Windy City, having spent his summer in Door County, WI playing Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream and LeBret in Cyrano de Bergerac for Door Shakespeare. Fans of the Bard may look for him as Brabantio in Milwaukee Shakespeare's upcoming production of Othello next Spring. Other roles include Antonio in Twelfth Night (Noble Fool), Lucius in Titus Andronicus (Shakespeare's Motley Crew), and nine productions with First Folio Theatre including Trinculo in The Tempest, Tybalt in Romeo & Juliet, two productions of Midsummer , and his personal favorite as The Madman in “The Tell-Tale Heart” for their Jeff-nominated production of The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe. Other favorites are Guantanamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom (TimeLine), Inventing Van Gogh (Bailiwick), Guilty Conscience (Illinois Theater Center) and as Eddie McCuen in The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 (Orchard). Regionally, he has toured in Hamlet, King Lear, and as Malvolio in Twelfth Night with the Iowa Shakespeare Project. Recent big screen projects include “The Lake House”, “The Breakup” and the independent short “The Art of Stalking” which won Best Short Film at the Boston Film Festival.


 

cast | press | photos | director's notes| tickets

 


REVIEWS FOR PEN

APPLE TREE'S PEN IS MIGHTY THANKS TO STORY NUANCES, STRONG ACTING.
Each of the three characters in "Pen," which has been sensitively directed by Kurt Johns, is at a tipping point of need, want and conflictedness. All this might sound like a soap opera, but thanks to a couple of startling role reversals, and to fiercely honest, vulnerable performances by Resnik and relative newcomer Campion, it is compelling...more
RECOMMENDED
Hedy Weiss - Chicago Sun-Times

Set in the days before New Year's Eve, 1969, David Marshall Grant's quiet, heartfelt, finely written, 2006 play catches its three characters in the midst of small but shattering changes, as the caretaker son contemplates going off to college just when his mother realizes that her marriage is irrevocably broken. It's a measure of Kurt Johns's ability as a director, and of his excellent ensemble, that this production plumbs the emotional depths of the script without getting mawkish or melodramatic. Hollis Resnik, in particular, plays the quieter tones of her wounded character like a virtuoso.
CRITIC'S SHORT LIST
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Jack Helbig - Chicago Reader

The 2006 off Broadway play by David Marshall Grant provides the usual abundance of bickering, backbiting, and around nastiness that sustains this kind of play, but the author adds a fantasy element in the second act that offers some relief from the relentless kvetching of the first act. The performances under Kurt Johns’s directing all serve the play well enough. “PEN” has its moments of intensity and its moments of humor...
3 STARS

Dan Zeff - Copley News Service

Director Kurt Johns has assembled a strong cast that includes the awesome actress Hollis Resnik in the role of Helen Bayer.  Ms. Resnik commands the stage with her strong performance. Pen" is a serious play that deals with harsh reality and tears, yet it offers plenty of humor. It is an interesting production that is well directed by Mr. Johns.
Richard Eisenhart
SteadStyleChicago.com
3 STARS

Despite this potentially grim subject matter, there's a good amount of natural humor in the lively sparring between Helen and her son. Directed by Kurt Johns, "Pen" plays out well in its first act. The first act climaxes with a riveting, emotionally painful scene.
Robert Loerzel - Pioneer PRess

"PEN" TESTS THE TIES THAT BIND
In its mix of acerbic one-liners and earnest exposure of the fault lines in family relationships, "Pen," now at Apple Tree, reminds one of Grant's work on the ABC drama "Brothers and Sisters,".....the dynamic between Resnik's fearsome yet vulnerable matriarch and Campion's confused and resentful Matt makes for some wonderfully absorbing moments—the latter, new to Chicago, is a name to look out for.
Kerry Reid - Chicago Tribune

cast | press | photos | director's notes| tickets



Photos
Helen Matt
Dutiful son Matt massages his mother Helen's legs.
helen matt 5
Mother and son watch TV together.
Jerry Matt
Father Jerry and son Matt meet for dinner at restaurant.
Helen
Helen accuses Matt of
stealing her pen.
Matt Helen
Helen and Matt argue over the pen.
Jerry Helen
Jerry and Helen have unexpected meeting at the place where they first met.
helen Jerry
Jerry and Helen at the Blue Canary
helen matt 8
Helen remembers her night
at the Blue Canary.
helen matt 2
Helen and Matt discuss life over oreos.
Hellen Matt 3
Helen has just received some disturbing news.
end
The final Pen exchange.

cast | press | photos | director's notes | tickets


Director's Note

One could easily say that PEN is about a writing instrument and mother-son co-dependency. While this is true in a sense, I hearken back to the author, David Marshall Grant who quoted Karl Marx in the play’s forward. “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.” Grant, now a writer for ABC’s “Brothers and Sisters”, has said that the play deals with “the struggle between what we need and what we owe to others.” PEN asks the hardest of questions about the nature of family, what it is to be human and what it is to be an adult.

Grant has also said that one of his inspirations for writing PEN is how families deal with disabilities, having experienced this in his own family. Many years ago one of my best friends lost an entire leg to cancer. She is sometimes referred to as “disabled.” She wears no prosthesis and she gets around with what we “old schoolers” call “polio crutches”. She parents, partners, acts, teaches, directs, writes, performs and navigates Manhattan faster than a speeding bullet. She is one of the most able people I know. I admire her and her family greatly. I think that there are all kinds of disabilities. Some are real and some are not. Some are apparent and some are not. This play is not just about the obvious disability.

So what about the pen? A pen is indeed a writing instrument but by definition it is also a place of confinement. Here, I think the word pen is symbolic of both the confinement of one’s disability and the key to escape it. I thank the Apple Tree for putting it and me in this season. I hope you find PEN thought provoking and enjoyable.

KURT JOHNS, Director