Hollywood veteran Eric Roberts joins Kane Rep Theatre for virtual premiere of 'Security'
If you don't ask, you don't get.
Kane Repertory Theatre representatives took that maxim to heart when it came to casting the virtual premiere of "Security," and their efforts paid off in an unexpected way.
According to director Ansley Valentine, upon notifying agents about the audition for the Hammaad Chaudry two-hander, Kane Rep received a response from Academy Award nominee Eric Roberts' representatives expressing his interest in the play.
"I liked the material. I liked him (Valentine). I liked the idea," said Roberts, a constantly working actor whose credits include hundreds of TV, film and independent projects.
Roberts, who starred in "The Pope of Greenwich Village" and "Star 80" and received an Oscar nod for "Runaway Train," calls his participation with the St. Charles company a "labor of love."
"(Valentine) is a cool cat: sweet, humble and smart. It was a pleasure," he said.
"I like making what we refer to backstage as a left turn," Roberts said, explaining his decision. "I'm an old guy now and I make things for all kinds of different reasons."
Some projects he does for fun or for the "wow factor."
He agreed to co-star in "Security" with Chicago-area actor Harsh J. Gagoomal who plays Riaz, a British Muslim who at age 17 was interrogated by Homeland Security officer Brian (Roberts) upon his arrival in the U.S. Thirteen years later, Riaz returns to seek out Brian.
"He was lovely. So kind, so generous," said Valentine, who described Roberts as "a theater guy in his heart and soul" who supports independent projects. "He brought a balance of the film and theater world together, which is what we needed to make this leap."
Roberts and Gagoomal filmed scenes in their homes with high-definition cameras and large monitors, which allowed them to interact virtually in real time with input from Valentine.
Roberts describes the digital process as both efficient and convenient.
"I see this whole way of doing plays as the way of the future," he said.
"I foresee people coming up with lots of ways to use this (format). In some ways it democratizes theater. It brings us back to its Greek roots in that it should be accessible for everyone," he said. "If I can't get out or I can't afford a $100 ticket, I can still enjoy the work."
Valentine describes "Security" as a film-play hybrid with a message people need to hear.
"Hammaad's idea for the play spoke to me," he said. "We have so much conversation about immigration, about security, about what it means to be an American or what it means to be a patriot."
"Security" doesn't paint its characters as good or bad, he says: "They're complicated, like real people."
The play was developed through Kane Rep's Multiplatform Commission, established to explore how virtual theater can assist the transition of a new work to the stage. The idea is to create a digital production as a precursor to an in-person production when that becomes possible.
"Hopefully when the theater is able to reopen, we'll do a live production of the play," said Valentine, who acknowledges the stage version may not include Roberts.
"I might be able to get Harsh. I don't know if I can get Eric," he laughs. "But we'll have someone else from Chicago who's equally great and will bring a different perspective to the role."
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When: Streaming Saturday, April 10, through May
Where: Kane Repertory Theatre
Tickets: $5 students, $8 seniors, $10 adults, $25 per household. Tickets available at kanerepertorytheatre.com/box-office.