A thrilling year starts

Today — with the first preview of A Walk in the Woods at 8 pm — we welcome you to TimeLine’s 15th season, with an expanded schedule featuring more than 100 additional performances than last season and a venture outside of our home, going from Wellington Avenue to Theater Wit on Belmont for the first play of the season.

Thank you for helping to make the last couple years such an exciting period of growth for TimeLine. We’ve nearly doubled our subscriber base and grown the organization in smart ways that have kept us artistically ambitious while also furthering our streak of operating in the black year after year. We are incredibly proud to have been recognized by Chicago magazine as its “Best Theater” in 2011 and by The Wall Street Journal as the nation’s theater “Company of the Year” for 2010, and we’re focused on continually making TimeLine a stronger organization and a more exciting place for you to experience world-class art.

We are incredibly proud to have been recognized by Chicago magazine as its “Best Theater” in 2011 and by The Wall Street Journal as the nation’s theater “Company of the Year” for 2010.

Producing A Walk in the Woods at Theater Wit allows us to do just that, running that show in conjunction with Lee Hall’s hilarious and stirring play The Pitmen Painters at our home base at 615 W. Wellington Ave. Producing in two venues enables us to share our mission with more people, igniting dialogue among a broader audience about how history resonates with social and political issues of today.

To launch this season’s dialogue, TimeLine’s Company Members chose Lee Blessing’s 1986 Pulitzer-Prize finalist A Walk in the Woods, a poignant, funny and provocative debate about the art of negotiation. Written and first presented in the Reagan/Gorbachev era, this was a play “of the moment” when it premiered, transforming front-page headlines of arms negotiations between the U.S. and Soviet Union into riveting theater.

Company Members Janet Ulrich Brooks and David Parkes as superpower arms negotiators Anya Botvinnik and John Honeyman.

Revisiting it 25 years later, the international landscape has surely changed, yet the importance of talking with our enemies is as relevant as ever. In late July, the news was dominated by coverage of the debt-ceiling stalemate in Washington, D.C. We were inundated by up-to-the-minute reports on closed-door meetings, well-orchestrated political theater and precious little willingness to negotiate. It was a tiring exercise that easily prompts cynicism about the futility of negotiation.Yet, at the first rehearsal for A Walk in the Woods during that time, my cynicism was stripped, and hope was miraculously (if only temporarily) restored about the possibilities — and critical need — for finding compromise with our adversaries.

Lee Blessing’s play presents U.S. negotiator John Honeyman and Soviet negotiator Andrey Botvinnik –  the unlikeliest of allies – debating and cajoling over the course of a year, striving for even scraps of common ground in arms negotiations. These two noble and determined civil servants have committed their careers to working abroad and doing right for their countries and the world, while also trying to leverage their power back home amid a tide of politics and gamesmanship. They discover their daunting task can’t be achieved at the formal negotiating table, under the scrutiny of the media. Rather, they seek out the tranquility of the woods outside Geneva, alone, away from the spotlight. Two rivals finally able to talk uncensored, not about what divides them, but about what they have in common.

Two rivals finally able to talk uncensored, not about what divides them, but about what they have in common.

With the gracious approval of Lee Blessing, TimeLine has added a little twist to the proceedings, casting the role of Botvinnik as a woman named Anya instead of the initial name of Andrey. This contemporary twist was implemented not only as a nod to a long overdue need for equality in positions of political power, but also as an intriguing layer of gender politics in an already complex tangle of negotiating techniques.  We are proud to feature two of TimeLine’s finest artists, Company Members David Parkes as Honeyman and Janet Ulrich Brooks as Botvinnik. Under the direction of Associate Artistic Director Nick Bowling, they bring Blessing’s masterful script to life.

From Left: cast members of the upcoming production of “The Pitmen Painters,” Jordan Brown, Steven Pringle, Dan Waller, James Houton and William Dick.

It’s exciting to kickoff of our 15th year, and I hope you’ll join us at Theater Wit and then at Wellington Avenue for the other shows that round out the season. BJ Jones, Northlight Theatre‘s artistic director, makes his TimeLine directorial debut with The Pitmen Painters, a deeply moving story of a group of miners in north England who became improbable art-world sensations. Acclaimed director Rachel Rockwell makes her TimeLine debut with Enron, a raucous theatrical ride taking you inside the backrooms of the now-legendary fallen company. And heralded local journalist John Conroy makes his playwriting debut with the world premiere of My Kind Of Town, a thoughtful and passionate examination of the Chicago police-torture scandal he has reported on for more than 20 years, probing the heart of corruption, responsibility and the culture of law and order.

It’s a thrilling line-up of plays, and we can’t wait to talk about them with you.

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