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posted: 8/10/2012 5:00 AM

Metropolis brings city drama to the suburbs

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  • 16th Street Theater's "Enfrascada" is the second local play to be remounted as part of the Best of Chicago series at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights.

      16th Street Theater's "Enfrascada" is the second local play to be remounted as part of the Best of Chicago series at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights.

  • Mary-Arrchie Theatre's production of "Superior Donuts," starring Richard Cotovsky and Franco Wicks, kicked off Metropolis Performing Arts Centre's Best of Chicago series in July.

      Mary-Arrchie Theatre's production of "Superior Donuts," starring Richard Cotovsky and Franco Wicks, kicked off Metropolis Performing Arts Centre's Best of Chicago series in July.

 
 

When executive director Charlie Beck took the helm of the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in November, he and artistic director Robin Hughes knew they had to meet the challenge of tough times.

As Beck told the Daily Herald last January, attendance had "softened" and charitable donations were not meeting expectations. So the team at Metropolis had to make the Arlington Heights theater's wide array of offerings even wider, to pull in a larger swath of their potential audience.

They knew they had an audience for lighter fare -- musicals and comedies.

"But we also knew there were people who wanted cutting-edge works, who wanted drama," Hughes says. "We have had a history of presenting a serious drama every couple of years, shows like 'The Boys Next Door' and 'A Streetcar Named Desire,' but we just haven't built an audience yet for that kind of show."

Beck hopes that changes with the new Best of Chicago Series, dedicated to bringing hit shows from the city out to Arlington Heights immediately -- or shortly after -- the original run ends. The second in the series opens Monday.

"There is such great theater going on in Chicago," Hughes explains. "And we have great relationships with the Chicago theaters we bring out to the Metropolis, theaters like Second City, The Griffin Theater and Chicago Kids Company. Wouldn't it be great to bring out other shows from Chicago theaters? That way people could see great Chicago theater without having to drive downtown, or struggle with parking."

The first show they brought in was a remount of "Superior Donuts," by Pulitzer Prize-winning Chicago playwright Tracy Letts. The play was produced by the Mary-Arrchie Theatre, a stalwart of Chicago's off-Loop theater scene.

"We brought in their whole team, their whole set, we gave them time to do tech rehearsals," Hughes says.

"Superior Donuts" ran two weeks in July, but Hughes was pleased with how it did at the box office.

"Early on, sales were slow," she says, "But we found that the audience size increased each night."

The second show in the series is another work a Chicago playwright receiving national attention, Tanya Saracho's "Enfrascada (A Hoodoo Comedy of Jarring Proportions)." "Enfrascada" had an extended run at the Berwyn-based 16th Street Theater.

"Robin Hughes contacted me the night before closing," recalls Ann Filmer, founder and artistic director of 16th Street. "She said, 'Before you strike your set, would you consider moving this show to Arlington Heights?'"

Hughes was interested in the show for a number of reasons. She hopes the play, about a Latina who uses folk magic to cope with a painful breakup, will attract a new audience to the Metropolis.

"We have a huge Latino community around us, and we are not serving that community right now," Hughes.

It is also much easier -- and cheaper -- to bring a finished show to a new space, than to create a new show from scratch.

The version of "Enfrascada" playing at Metropolis will be exactly the same one that ran at 16th Street. In fact, one of the actors in the show, Yunuen Pardo, is actually interrupting an extended summer vacation in Mexico to fly back to Chicago to appear at Metropolis.

"I get to see a lot of great theater in Chicago," Hughes explains. "With the Best of Chicago Series if I see something that is emerging in Chicago, something that is great, I can bring it to the Metropolis."

Everybody wins.

"16th Street Theater's 'Enfrascada' played to rave reviews downtown, well not downtown, because we are in Berwyn, but close to downtown," Filmer said. "So now we're bringing it to the suburbs for an encore!"

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