Native Chicago playwright Alan Gross teams up with director Steven Robman to bring his newest work, High Holidays, to Goodman Theatre. At the center of this four-character drama-inspired by Gross' own life and family experience-is young Billy Roman (Max Zuppa) and the anxiety-riddled preparations for his Bar Mitzvah in 1963 north suburban Chicago. When Billy's older brother Rob (Ian Paul Custer) returns from college for the High Holidays, he further elevates household tensions by bringing along his own ideas about his future-and the boys' parents Essie (Rengin Altay) and Nate (Keith Kupferer) must face some difficult truths about coming-of-age in America. Set Designer Kevin Depinet (last season's The Crowd You're In With) returns to the Goodman with another hometown-influenced realistic backdrop for the action. High Holidays runs through November 29, 2009 in the Goodman's Owen Theatre.
Tickets ($10 - $40) are now on sale 312.443.3800 or GoodmanTheatre.org. Production Sponsors for High Holidays include the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust and the Goodman World Premiere Season Sponsors M. Ann O'Brien and Randy and Lisa White, and New Works Season Sponsors: Julie and Roger Baskes; Joan and Robert Clifford; Patricia Cox; Eva and Michael Losacco; Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Foundation; Karen and Richard Pigott; Alice Rapoport and Michael Sachs, Sg2; Shaw Family Supporting Organization; and Orli and Bill Staley.
"I'm delighted to host Alan Gross, Steven Robman and their wonderful cast at the Goodman with this incisive, wryly funny new play," said Artistic Director Robert Falls, who first met Robman at Wisdom Bridge Theatre when he directed the 1985 production of Rat in the Skull, starring Brian Dennehy. "Alan's signature wit and wisdom is at full tilt in this universally-relatable world premiere-at once gracious, sympathetic and unapologetically honest."
Alan Gross is a native of Evanston. After studying journalism at the University of Missouri, he worked in improvisational theater with Byrne Piven, Del Close and Paul Sills. In an attempt to merge those improvisational techniques with the structure of the "well-made play," he wrote his first play, Lunching, in 1977. Subsequent plays included The Phone Room, La Brea Tarpits, The Man in 605, The Houseguest, Morning Call and The Secret Life of American Poets. After a stint in Hollywood in the 1980s, Gross worked on several novels, then returned to playwriting with High Holidays, on which he began work in 2005. His play Push Comes to Shove will be seen in a staged reading at Indiana University this winter, and he has begun work on his latest play, A Little Madness in the Spring. A published poet, Gross was awarded the Robert Frost Festival Poetry Award in 2008; his work is included in the current edition of Modern Haiku.
"I am all four of the characters in High Holidays," said Gross, who used his own experience growing up in north suburban Skokie, IL, as inspiration. "When my mother died, we had the shards of our family given to us: her collections, our photographs, our books of vacations, as well as my Bar Mitzvah book. I put all of these things together and what emerged was a story about growing up-all of its joys, challenges and disappointments-and ultimately, what it takes to become a man."
From civil rights upheaval to political cataclysm, 1963 was a pivotal year in American cultural and political history. The changes that are roiling the Roman family in High Holidays are more personal and mundane, but no less earth-shattering for those involved. Billy is terrified by the prospect of reciting from the Torah at his upcoming Bar Mitzvah and desperate to find a way out of it. Rob is equally desperate to find an escape from a different sort of ritual-higher education-and embraces the growing counterculture that would come to define the 1960s. Parents Essie and Nate feel they have sacrificed everything to provide a decent life for their children, but are now trapped between the expectations of their own immigrant parents and their children's disdain for the family's suburban lifestyle.
Director Steven Robman returns to the Goodman where he directed the premiere of Ron Hutchinson's Moonlight and Magnolias in 2004. Other work in Chicago includes Hutchinson's Rat in the Skull at Wisdom Bridge Theatre and the revival of Alan Gross' Lunching for the Apollo Group. He has staged plays at other theaters around the United States (Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Arena Stage in Washington, Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Actors Theatre of Louisville and Yale Repertory Theatre) and in New York (Manhattan Theatre Club, Playwrights Horizons, Chelsea Theater Center and The Phoenix Theater, where he served as Artistic Director from 1980 to 1982). Robman has also directed premieres of plays by Wendy Wasserstein, D.L. Coburn, Fay Weldon, Adrian Mitchell and Alan Knee. He served as a staff director at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center's National Playwrights Conference for five summers. A graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and the Yale School of Drama, Robman has taught acting and directing at Yale University, Circle in the Square Theatre School in New York, UCLA Extension and the American Film Institute. For television Robman has directed numerous episodes of dramatic and comedy series, movies-of-the-week and the ABC miniseries The Audrey Hepburn Story.
About the Cast
Rengin Altay's (Essie) Goodman credits include Jolly in Jolly, Petra in A Little Night Music, Pearl in The Iceman Cometh, ensemble in 'Tis Pity She's a Whore and two seasons of A Christmas Carol as Fred's wife and Belle. Other Chicago credits include The Merchant of Venice and Macbeth at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Cat Feet at Northlight Theatre, the Chicago premiere of Prelude to a Kiss at Wellington Theater, Necessary Targets and Zorba at Apple Tree Theatre, Long Day's Journey Into Night at The Irish Repertory Theatre, The Vagina Monologues at Apollo Theater, Mom's the Word at Royal George Theatre, as well as appearances with Wisdom Bridge, The Organic Theater Company, Court Theatre and Victory Gardens Theater. Regional credits include Northeast Local at Trinity Repertory Company; As You Like It at Huntington Theatre Company and Pittsburgh Public Theater; All My Sons and You Can't Take It With You at Peninsula Players; and Arms and the Man at Madison Repertory Theatre. Film credits include Stranger Than Fiction with Will Ferrell, Light It Up, Crush and A Piece of Eden. Television and voice-over credits include: E.R., Early Edition, Cupid, The Human Factor and the voice of Yeesha in the MYST computer-game series.
Ian Paul Custer (Rob) makes his Goodman debut. Custer's recent Chicago theater credits include High Fidelity: The Musical with Route 66 Theatre Company, Weekend with TimeLine Theatre Company, Hedda Gabler with Raven Theatre Company and The Changeling with Caffeine Theatre. Other credits include Alceste in The Misanthrope, Nasty/Interesting Man in Eurydice and Sigismund in Life's a Dream. He received his BFA from The Theatre School at DePaul University.
Keith Kupferer (Nate) returns to the Goodman, where his credits include Passion Play: a cycle in three parts and The Old Neighborhood. Other Chicago credits include Of Mice and Men, Carter's Way, Men of Tortuga, Things Being What They Are, Jesus Hopped The 'A' Train and Tavern Story at Steppenwolf Theatre Company; Execution of Justice at About Face Theatre; Cat Feet and The Old Neighborhood at Northlight Theatre; Desire Under The Elms, a co-production between Court Theatre and Philadelphia's Freedom Theatre; and the long-running hit Shear Madness. Kupferer is a founding member of Rivendell Theatre Ensemble where he appeared in Expecting Isabel, Indulgences in the Louisville Harem, Be Aggressive, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾, Mamapalooza!, My Simple City, Hamlet and Twenty-Seven Wagons Full of Cotton. Other Chicago credits include The Unseen, The Meek, Canus Lunis Balloonis (nominated for a 1998 Jeff Award for Best Ensemble) and The Physicists for A Red Orchid Theatre and Hillbilly Antigone at Lookingglass Theatre Company. Kupferer's film credits include Dark Knight, The Express, Meet the Browns, Stranger Than Fiction and Road to Perdition directed by Sam Mendes and Bad City, Fred Klaus and The Merry Gentleman directed by Michael Keaton. His television credits include The Beast on A&E, Prison Break on Fox, The Jamie Kennedy Experiment on WB and Early Edition on CBS.
Max Zuppa (Billy) makes his Goodman debut. Other theater credits include Seussical: The Musical at Theatre of Western Springs and several local productions including playing Bert in All My Sons and Grandpa Joe in Willy Wonka, Jr. Film credits include Fred Claus and Eden Court. He recently completed his third session with The Second City Youth Ensemble performing both sketch comedy and improvisation. Zuppa is an accomplished musician and songwriter. He is in eighth grade and will be turning thirteen during this production.