Evil and the Artist

A critical component to any expression of true Art, is in speaking to something pure and universal to the human experience, and through that expression find a greater definition of community. The Artist is not simply a craftsperson, but also a philosopher, a historian, a teacher and an oracle. While one person may find the painting of a sunset calming, another may find trepidation for the day to come.

Perhaps no other subject has enlivened more artistic and philosophical expression than the concept of evil. This was a tragic month for the nation. In Chicago, the death of Police commander Paul Bauer shocked the city. The nation was stunned and left wanting for answers after yet another terrible school shooting, as Ohio grieved for two fallen law enforcement officers. Internationally, war and strife still ravages Syria, Iraq and Yemen. There is genocide in Myanmar, violence remains a specter in Ukraine and we are told of slave auctions in Libya. Guns and crime claim too many on the streets of the nation, an epidemic fueled by greed, hopelessness and disenfranchisement. the word mental illness is abused in the media, as if any of us are immune, whether through depression and grief at the loss of a loved one, or levels of sociopathy that inform indifference to others whether due to race, economic status, religion or simply distance and unfamiliarity.

As artists, it is our duty to acknowledge the pain as well as the catalyst of the pain. Michangelo and da Vinci, all of the masters and greatest thinkers of the Reformation, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment grappled with concepts of evil, while science, reason and our own inexhaustible humanity continually pressed back the definitions of evil. Earthquakes, before the discovery of plate tectonics, were once considered evil. Schizophrenics, children with Down’s syndrome and epileptics were once considered to be possessed by evil. We have besieged from every side through reason and understanding definitions of evil leaving but an ever narrowing island.

Last week propagandist and broadcaster Dan Proft in a throwback to our most primitive selves offered after the Florida shooting that we perhaps should spend less energy on the concept of mental illness and understand that real evil exists in the world. It is a monumentally ignorant thing to say, unless agenda and manipulation is the endgame. But if in the course of a few thousand years we can so completely erode the idea that evil is some ethereal presence rather than our complex struggle with greed and ignorance, sometimes tragically, even criminally fueled by mental illness then evil instead becomes an ever eroding definition of our collective ignorance, and therein lies hope for resolutions, however distant they may be. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Yugoslav writer Mesha Selimovich doesn’t simply describe love and hate, he delves beneath the skin, sleuthing the mitochondrial DNA, the primordial stew from whence they arose; The deepest uncharted corners of our humanity. That is the domain in which the Artists must exist, shining an existential light upon that ignorance…


Simon Stephens’ Birdland at Steep Theatre April 5 – May 12, 2018

Simon StephensBirdland explores a life lived without boundaries

By Simon Stephens
Directed by Jonathan Berry
April 5 – May 12, 2018

When you can have whatever you want, whenever you want it, what do you ask for next? When you’ve pushed every boundary until there’s nothing left to hold you in, how do you find your way back home? Birdland is a sexy, searing exploration of empathy and the impact of unchecked privilege by Olivier and Tony Award winner Simon Stephens.

Jonathan Berry returns this spring to Steep to direct the U.S. premiere of Simon Stephens’ Birdland. Stephens, who won the Tony and Olivier Awards for his The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, is Steep’s Associate Playwright, and Birdland will be the fifth of his plays to be produced by the Edgewater ensemble. Steep Ensemble Member and Jeff Award-winning director Jonathan Berry recently directed Steppenwolf Theatre’s You Got Older and The Crucible. Over the years, he has consistently produced some of Steep’s most notable shows, including last year’s sweeping epic Earthquakes in London and Laura Wade’s Posh, which won the Non-Equity Jeff Award for Best Ensemble, and was nominated for Best Director and Best Production.

Birdland will feature Dushane Casteallo, Aila Peck, Amber Sallis, and Steep Company Members Lucy Carapetyan, Cindy Marker, Peter Moore, Jim Poole, and Joel Reitsma. Amber Sallis is an understudy on Hinter and was last seen on Steep’s stage in Earthquakes in London. Birdland will mark the Steep Theatre debuts for Dushane Casteallo and Aila Peck.

About the Playwright
Simon Stephens is an English playwright whose plays have been widely produced in the UK, Europe, Australia, and the US. Stephens is an Artistic Associate at the Lyric Hammersmith and has been an Associate Playwright of Steep Theatre since 2013. In addition to his Olivier and Tony Award for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Stephens has received the 2001 Pearson Award for Best Play for Port; the 2005 Olivier Award for Best New Play for On the Shore of the Wide World;  Theater Heute’s Award for Motortown in 2007, Pornography in 2008 and Wastwater in 2011; and the 2009 Manchester Evening News Award for Best Production for Punk Rock. His play Heisenberg premiered in New York in 2015, opened on Broadway in 2016, and is currently enjoying productions all over the globe. Stephens visited Steep in 2012 and 2016, during which he performed public readings of his works Sea Wall and Song from Faraway, and Steep presented the first ever public reading of his play Blindsided, a new work commissioned by the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, England.

Stephens’ other works include Bluebird, Herons, One Minute, Country Music, Harper Regan, I am the Wind, Three Kingdoms, Morning, a new version of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, Carmen Disruption, The Funfair, a new version of Ödön von Horváth’s Kasimir and Karoline, his version of Brecht and Weill’s The Threepenny Opera, Nuclear War, Fatherland, his English language version of Obsession, and his new adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull.

About the Director
Steep Ensemble Member Jonathan Berry is a director and teacher in Chicago and is an Artistic Producer at Steppenwolf Theatre. His Steep productions include Mike Bartlett’s Earthquakes in London, Laura Wade’s Posh, Ross Dungan’s The Life and Sort of Death of Eric Argyle, Nick Payne’s If There Is I Haven’t Found it Yet, John Donnelly’s The Knowledge, David Eldridge’s Festen, Deirdre Kinahan’s Moment, Howard Korder’s The Hollow Lands and Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui. For Steppenwolf, he directed Clare Barron’s You Got Older, Nick Payne’s Constellations, the SYA productions of The Crucible and A Separate Peace, the world premiere of Melinda Lopez’s Gary, and the staged reading of Suicide, Incorporated, which he later directed at The Gift Theatre. He was also the Assistant Director for Anna D Shapiro’s Broadway productions of Of Mice and Men and This is Our Youth. Jonathan is also an Artistic Associate with Griffin Theatre, where his productions include Samuel D. Hunter’s Pocatello, Odets’ Golden Boy, Miller/Tysen’s The Burnt Part Boys, Sheik/Sater’s Spring Awakening, the North American premieres of Simon Stephens’ Punk Rock (Jeff Award Director, Lead Actor, and Ensemble) Port, and On the Shore of the Wide World, Stephen Sondheim’s Company, William Inge’s Picnic, JB Priestely’s Time and the Conways, Sidney Kingsley’s Dead End, Brendan Behan’s The Hostage and R.C. Sheriff’s Journey’s End. At the Gift Theatre, he has directed the world premieres of both Dirty and Suicide, Incorporated by Andrew Hinderaker, as well as Will Nedved’s 6. His Goodman Theatre productions include The Solid Sand Below and The World of Extreme Happiness for their New Stages Festival. His other work includes Redtwist’s Look Back in Anger and Reverb; Chicago Dramatists’ I am Going to Change the World; Jackalope Theatre’s The Casuals; Strawdog’s Conversations on a Homecoming, Remy Bumppo’s The Marriage of Figaro; Theatre Mir’s Bond’s The Sea and Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle, and Lifeline Theater’s The Piano Tuner (Afterdark award – Best Production).

About Steep Theatre
Housed in what was once a small grocery store steps from the Berwyn Red Line stop, and lead by an ensemble of 34 actors, directors, designers, writers, and other theatre artists, Steep is the quintessential storefront theatre. Described by Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune as “a storefront theater known for the power of its acting,” Steep creates powerful productions of plays by today’s most exciting writers and features the work of Chicago’s hottest theatre artists in an intimate, accessible space. Currently in its 17th season, Steep is known as a home for hard-hitting, finely tuned ensemble work. With each production, the company has shepherded a growing community of audiences and artists into bold new territories of story and performance.

Steep Theatre is conveniently located by the Berwyn Red Line stop and is within blocks of the #92, #36, #146, #147, and #151 buses.

Steep Theatre
1115 West Berwyn Ave., Chicago, IL 60640

April 5 – May 12, 2018
Press Opening: Thursday, April 5 at 8:00pm
Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 8pm
Sunday matinees at 3pm on April 15, 22, and 29, and May 6
Accessible Performances:
-Audio Description: Saturday, April 21 at 8:00pm
-Open Captioning: Sunday, May 6 at 3:00pm

General Admission Tickets: $27
Reserved Seat Tickets: $38
Access Tickets: $10 (Steep’s universal discount for students, artists, whomever)
(773) 649-3186

Twitter: @SteepTheatre
Facebook: SteepTheatre

Kate Piatt-Eckert
Cast photos and bios are available at steeptheatre.com/birdland.

Lucy Carapetyan*
Dushane Casteallo
Cindy Marker*
Peter Moore*
Aila Peck
Jim Poole*
Joel Reitsma*
Amber Sallis

Director – Jonathan Berry*
Stage Manager – Jon Ravenscroft
Set Designer – Joe Schermoly
Lighting Designer – Brandon Wardell**
Sound Designer & Composer – Thomas Dixon**
Costume Designer – Emily McConnell**
Dialect Coach – Kathy Logelin
Production Manager – Catherine Allen
Assistant Director – Leah Raidt

*Denotes Steep Company Member
**Denotes Steep Artistic Associate

A beautiful comment.

On the radio program Kerri, Sid and I work very hard for every guest to leave feeling uplifted and empowered. On of those guests, Randy Richardson, President of the Chicago Writer’s Association-chicagowrites.org, left us a particularly nice note:

On Sunday afternoon, I made my second appearance on Playtime with Sid and Bill featuring Kerri Kendall, a weekly 2-hour radio show on WCGO 1590-AM. What I love about the program is that it has the feel of being on a carnival midway. There’s a nostalgic vibe that hits you the moment you walk into the studio and see the vintage console radio under the bright colors of the “1590 WCGO is Chicago”logo that adorns the wall. The host of the program, William C. Turck sets the tone, passing out juice boxes and tossing aside pages of his script as soon as he’s done with them. Meanwhile, his sidekick Kerri ChakraZulu snaps selfies with guests without ever missing a beat. Across from me is the second hour’s guest, Charles D. Moisant, a comics artist, who, because he doesn’t have a mic, talks with handwritten note cards. Adding to the carnival-like vibe, Charles passes out beef jerky and draws caricatures of the guests. And, yes, the drawing that accompanies this post is the caricature he drew of me in just a matter of minutes while we were live on the air.

When the guest that I had invited to join me on the program, author Nadine Kenney Johnstone, and I exited the studio an hour later, we both had big smiles on our faces. It was that feeling you have when you unbuckle after riding a roller-coaster. That’s a pretty special feeling that they’re creating on
Playtime with Sid and Bill featuring Kerri Kendall. They broadcast every Sunday from 1 to 3 pm. I highly recommend that you jump on and tune in before the line gets too long.


A Lovely Garden: A Poem.


Young boys turn to young girls

To whittle away the time.

Young men turn towards war.

Comes a day when but a few young men remain.


In the bars and parks they congregate,

And polish their pain to badges of honor

With stories so bold.

Comes a time when the stories all sound the same.


And then as old men,

Dog-eared stories put away,

They turn to God

And perhaps a very lovely garden


The Prince of the Foster Ave Bridge…

Ana and I began distributing something to the homeless today because of the coming cold. Under the Foster Avenue Bridge I met Senad. His thin brown hair was He was sitting just inside a small donated tent. he hasn’t slept much lately. Someone is asleep beside him, hidden but for tennis shoes beneath layer old blankets and coats. It was rush hour. Traffic was backing up, and so was the exhaust. Senad’s health isn’t good. He’s lost many of his teeth, but when I said I knew Sarajevo like the back of my hand tears came to his eyes.
Senad said that he was once married and had a business. After his business collapsed his wife left him. Depressed, he started drinking. In the blink of an eye, it seemed, he was on the street.
“You know Sarajevo?” he asked, buoyed and uplifted.
“Like the back of my hand.”
“Burek,” he said, referring to a local meat pastry. “I miss burek.”
Senad tells me he fought during the war with a Bosnian special forces unit in Dobrinja 4, referring to a frontline apartment block that saw terrible fighting. He never thought about the war after getting sponsored to come here. Now, sitting in that tent under Foster Ave, he is haunted by terrible memories.
I tell him I was in Dobrinja during the war. I know how terrible it was there. he assures me that he will get back on his feet, and when he does he will take me to Bosnia as his guest and that I will want for nothing. His gaze at that moment is distsant. From this vantage point, at this moment, it is an impossible distance. Some part of him knows that.
i wish I could find him a way home. He says he has no one here. everyone he loves is in Bosnia. A bag of food and some clothes feels like such a paltry gesture. It feels like a drop in the ocean. I hand him a card. he speaks abstractly about a possible home assignment. I give him my card and tell him that when he gets a place I will help him with clothing, and do what I can to find him a job.
As I return to the car, I know full well there is a very good chance I will never see Senad again. The city swallows people up. The city has little mercy for its homeless. The city, and it’s princes, like Alderman Cappleman have used city resources to sweep people like Senad from the streets so as not to upset the new white wealth gentrifying the lakefront.
As I write this I am enjoying a meal of rice and chicken and salad. Senad may be lucky for a fruit cup…

Playtime with Sid and Bill, Featuring Kerri Kendall

For those who read or have read WC Turck’s Helter Skelter, you can also tune in live every Sunday from 1-3pm at 1590WCGO on Facebook for the Facebook Live Feed, at http://www.1590WCGO.com or on your radio dial anywhere within 90 miles of Chicago, including Rockford, Lake Geneva, Milwaukee, Joliet and Gary, Indiana.

The core mission of Playtime is to help make the case for stronger Arts funding and education in Illinois and the nation by demonstrating and highlighting the unique and profound effects it has on developing brains, which translates to every other aspect of learning and in engaging the world. We feel the best way to do this is to highlight the positive and profound effects the brain has on the developmentally challenged. On today’s program we continue that case in a discussion with EDGE of Orion Theater‘s Orion Couling and a brilliant new play, Steampunk Christmas Carol.

Hope to see you there!


Louis C.K. A Touching Tail

There was a time that I virtually worshipped comedian Louis C.K. Caustic and acerbic as he could be, he seemed to cut straight to the heart of things, deconstructing and finding humor in ways only comics can do. I should also mention here that I have a number of friends who are stand up comics, and I think it bears mentioning that for many comics the stage is a means of therapy.  There is truth that in pain comes creativity and Art, and stand up comedy very definitely is an art form.

On my MP3 player I have a stand up comedy file with better than a dozen different comics and  an untold number of short comedy spots. But Louis C.K. held a special place. He seemed to speak from the middle aged white man’s point of view, speaking on rape, homophobia, sex and marriage, marriage, Cinnabon, airports, getting older and more. Louis C.K. had his own separate file. Then…well, I neither can or will listen to another Louis C.K.  stand up ever again.

Jon Stewart knew, and said nothing. He’s done in my view, as well. People knew that Louis C.K. would act like some sort of animal predator, inviting female comics to his room only to begin masturbating in front of them. Who does that? Well, according to my wife and female friends, far more men than polite society wants to admit. Here is a guy who could and did have everything; money, notoriety, financial security, family, films, access, and who certainly would not have had any trouble meeting women, provided he wasn’t an absolute freak.

I found out about it last week when the news broke widely, though, as I said, apparently lot’s of people knew this was happening. Everyone around Harvey Weinstein knew about his perversion and even violence only to keep quiet as long as they got paid. And all of this moral outrage by an industry that facilitated Weinstein, Spacy, Louis C.K. and others like them is reprehensible in it’s own right. Roy Moore, a prosecutor, was trolling a high school in his 30s, and was banned from a mall for predatory behavior against under age girls! Now that the once mighty Rhino has been stumbled, finally all those long intimidated by his judicial power and bullying behavior has stepped forward. I risked my home and job speaking out against an egregious injustice committed by an airline CEO after September 11, 2001. Stand up, men, or you are just weak!

And please, Louis C.K.,  don’t attempt to explain this away as some sort of sickness. You failed to control yourself when you knew better. The quickness of your public apology confirms that. There is no apology Louis C.K. could offer. Forever what ever he does will be tainted by the specter of what he did to those young and only too trusting women.. How could you, Louis C.K. ? How could you do that to those women, first of all, and how did you ever think that fans would ever get past that in a million years. I’m not sure I would even want to buy a cup of coffee from you.

Angry? Yes, but more heart broken and disappointed more. You had bits that were more than stand up, but were brilliant transcendent observations of the human condition. What you did destroyed all that. It made that brilliance instead plastic and false, and there simply is no redemption except to take your millions and start from this moment striving to redeem yourself, quietly and anonymously, and where no one ever has to be reminded what they believed you were and what you actually turned out to be.

A touching tail? Sure, but not the one I ever wanted to tell.