The Silver Project: 25 Years of American Playwrights

By Victoria Wiedel | Friday, February 12, 2010

What does it mean to be an American?

That?s the question American Theatre Company asked over 30 nationally-known playwrights. Their answers are being compiled into The Silver Project, ATC?s ambitious attempt to celebrate their 25th anniversary. Each playwright chose a year and submitted a short play. Frustration, betrayal, rebellion and resilience were some of the themes woven through the first five world premieres on February 8.

American Theater Co. is celebrating 25 years with a series of short plays.

American Theater Co. is celebrating 25 years with a series of short plays called the Silver Project. Credit: Rachel Reader

Over the years, the theatre company has grown and launched the careers of several well-respected writers, directors and actors. But PJ Paparelli, ATC?s third Artistic Director, was surprised that so many playwrights enthusiastically answered his call last year for short plays marking one year from the past quarter century. Since more than 25 writers wanted to submit their work, some years are duplicated over the production schedule.

The Silver Project plays will continue over four more nights this spring into summer, and then ATC will present the complete cycle June 16-20. The first installment on Monday night included:

  • Quality of Life (2000): written by Steven Belber and directed by Jason W. Gerace
  • There Was So Much We Were Going To Do (2001): written by Itamar Moses and directed by Jeremy Wechsler
  • So Unlike Me (2003): written by Yussef El Guindi and directed by Eric Ziegenhagen
  • Pee in the School (2004): by Stephen Karam and directed by Jesse Young
  • Famous Blue Raincoat (2005): written by Brian Tucker and directed by Derrick Sanders

Each of the ~20-minute plays was introduced by a brief video montage of news headlines and popular culture references which helped set the stage (no pun intended) and remind us how many times Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France. It was almost overwhelming to relive the worst man-made and natural disasters during the first five years of this century, but the playwrights were subtle rather than heavy handed when commenting on these milestones.

The production quality had a ?work-in-progress? look and feel, with scripts visible on stage (even when they were cleverly disguised with clip boards and mobile devices). But the actors were completely committed to the work. Specifically, Amy Carle kept the audience captivated during her soliloquy on non-violence for ?So Unlike Me? and the ensemble in ?Quality of Life? provided much welcomed comic relief. Greg Mills and Dina Facklis made the absurdism of Karam?s high school metaphor for George W. Bush?s presidency comprehensible, funny and disturbing.

Judging from the audience reaction, the kickoff event confirmed Paparelli?s belief that ?the last thing the theatre should be is predictable, formulaic, or just plain boring.? Unfortunately the playwrights weren?t there to hear the laughter, gasps and applause. Hopefully the writers of the future festival plays can live up to the standard set on opening night.

The next performance of the Silver Project will take place on Monday, March 1 at 7:30 PM. Admission will be free, but reservations are required. You can call 773-409-4125 to reserve your spot, or visit http://www.atcweb.org/newplays/silver.html for more information.

About American Theatre Company

ATC was founded in 1985 by a group of artists that wanted to address issues that affect the working-class in Chicago. In 1993 ATC moved into its current location in North Center (1909 W. Byron) and transformed a leased warehouse into a 130-seat theater that also held community events.

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