Almost every theater lover knows the names Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, “the royal couple of the theater”, who loved the theater more than they loved each other. While they graced American stages for decades, many were unaware that between plays, and often for preparing for the next one, they were very near to Chicago in a retreat known as Ten Chimneys, not far from Milwaukee, which is now a museum, where lectures by major performers take place each year. The Lunts were true “Theater people” who paid attention to every detail and worked and re-worked every scene. In the way that they built a play, so did they build their retreat, adding on from time to time so they could enjoy their friends on this estate in Genesee Depot, Wisconsin.
Now, Northlight Theatre in Skokie, is presenting Jeffrey Hatcher’s story about the backstage lives of these two legends. Celebrities such as Noel Coward and Sydney Greenstreet were among the visitors at this legendary retreat and in Hatcher’s story, “Ten Chimneys” directed to perfection by BJ Jones, we get a glimpse into what may or may not have taken places on these grounds. Hatcher, upon visiting ths landmark imagined what may have transpired on these premises- the secrets, the roamnces and the stories that would be told if only walls could speak! In this play, we get to witness some of what may have taken place when a young Uta Hagen arrives to start a production of Chekhov’s “The Sea Gull”, and finds herself attracted to Lunt in a way that she has never experienced before.
This production , on an amazing set by Tom Burch and fantastic lighting by JR Lederle, with sound design by Joe Cirqua ( who also did the original music)and costumes by Rachel Laritz is one of great intimacy and feeling with a cast that was made to take on the roles, making each one appear to be real. Playing the Lunts, V.Craig Heidenrreich and Lia D. Mortensen as if this was their own existence, are beautiful performers. In the role of Uta Hagen, is the adorable Sara J. Griffin and as sister Louise, Janet Ulrich Brooks truly shines. Sydney Greenstreet is deftly handled by Steve Pringle and Carl, Alfred’s brother-in-law, is played to perfection by lance Baker,who can make a smaller ole appear of greater importance. Mother Hattie is handled by Linda Kimbrough with perfect comic timing, making this cast something very special.
It has to be difficult to portray legends and tell what might be their story, but this cast does it. Most younger theater-goers, may not know much about who all these people are and what they meant to the theater during that time, but with “google” they can find out easily, so they might want to see this production for the historical value, but for my part, just watching these actors move us through this revealing look at some historical figures makes this a worthwhile experience.
“Ten Chimneys” will continue at The Northlight Theatre located at 9501 N. Skokie Blvd ( just south of Golf Rd) in Skokie through April 15th with performances as follows:
Tuesdays 1 p.m. April 3rd only/and 7:30 p.m.
Wednesdays 1 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. ( except for 4/11),Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.,Fridays 8 p.m.,Saturdays at 2:30 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. ( no show on Easter Sunday )
Tickets range from $25-$60 ( under 25 $10) and can be purchased at the box office, by phone at 847-673-6300 or online at www.northlight.org
plenty of free parking and some quality restaurants in the area.
To learn more about the Ten Chimneys tours ( May 26th -November 10th, visit www.tenchimneys.org I know I am going to!