Ernestine Ashworth spends her 17th birthday agonizing over her insignificance in the universe. Soon enough, it’s her 18th birthday. Even sooner, her 41st. Her 70th. Her 101st. Five generations, an infinity of dreams, and one cake baked over a century.


Run time: Approximately 90 minutes

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at Northlight Theatre
9501 Skokie Boulevard, Skokie, IL 60077

Chicago Tribune

by Chris Jones

“Birthday Candles” is precisely why people go to the theater

“Birthday Candles” is about mental health, mortality and survival, about risking your heart (it reminds me of “Once”), and finding your place — a lifelong struggle, experience teaches us. It’s a personal piece but you’d swear it was about you.

Read the full review.


Chicago Sun-Times

by Catey Sullivan

Kate Fry, playing the heroine of the Northlight Theatre play from youth to centenarian, makes each step truthful.

In roughly 100 tear-jerking minutes, Noah Haidle’s “Birthday Candles” manages to capture one of the defining dichotomies of human existence. Our lives are utterly unique, yet they are also — save a very few — equally unremarkable as we cycle from childhood to adulthood to dotage.

Read the full review.



by Hedy Weiss

Noah Haidle’s ‘Birthday Candles’ Is a Beauty of a Play at Northlight Theatre

Fry’s impeccable performance is wonderfully real, but there is just enough of a hint in her character’s yearning to leave something unsettled, and it subtly emerges throughout each stage of her rather unexceptional life. And that pervasive yearning is to not only live each moment but to perhaps leave a mark. And that is at the very core of Haidle’s play.

Read the full review.



Chicago Culture Authority

by Frank Sennett

Birthday Candles is the sleeper must-see show of the season. Do yourself a favor and go. But remember to bring tissues, and maybe someone you love.

Whatever point on their life journeys audience members are passing through when they see Birthday Candles, they will find something, probably many things, in Haidle’s work that strums a deep emotional chord and shakes them out of their day-to-day routine. In many cases, this will lead to cathartic tears and perhaps an attempt to slow their perceptions of fast-paced real life long enough to savor the fleeting time with the people closest to them. And this, it seems, is a central role of theater.

Read the full review.


Splash Magazine

by Mira Temkin

Count on “Birthday Candles” for a Sweet, Yet Somber Slice of Life

Make no mistake, this is an ambitious play to stage, as it has no intermission, only darkness and the chiming of the clock to indicate that time has moved on. Multiple award-winning actress Kate Fry plays Ernestine and she is remarkable, conveying a range of emotions as she grows older right before our very eyes. From a young girl on the cusp of adulthood to an older, yet wiser woman, Fry captures the essence of a woman who has survived life’s trials and tribulations.

Read the full review.


Chicago Onstage

by Karen Topham

Recommend that you hurry out to Skokie to see the magic for yourself, to see what theatre can be and what it was meant to be.

Haidle and Thebus make the universal extremely personal here, and there is no way to explain that except to tell you to come to experience the most perfect trip on life’s roller coaster that the theatre can take you on. You will not regret it.

Read the full review.


Kate Fry

Ernestine Ashworth

Kate Fry returns to Northlight, where she performed in The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Outside Mullingar, and The Miser.  Other Chicago credits include The Winter’s Tale, Ah, Wilderness! (Goodman); The Belle of Amherst, Electra, The Hard Problem and others (Court); Marjorie Prime, Hedda Gabler, The Letters, A Minister’s Wife, Oh Coward! (Writers) as well as productions with Victory Gardens, Chicago Shakespeare, Apple Tree Theatre, and Marriott Theatre. She has also worked with Center Theatre Group in LA, McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, and Lincoln Center. TV credits include episodes on Empire (Fox), Boss (Starz), Chicago PD (NBC), and Proven Innocent (Fox). She is the recipient of four Joseph Jefferson awards, the local Sarah Siddons award, the After Dark award, and Chicago Magazine’s actress of the year.  Kate is married to actor/teacher Timothy Edward Kane; they have two sons.

Cyd Blakewell


Cyd Blakewell is thrilled to make her Northlight debut with such an incredible play, fantastic director, and wonderful cast and crew. Cyd is an ensemble member of The Gift Theatre. Gift Credits: The Locusts, Pillowman,  Doubt, A Life Extra Ordinary, Good For OCo, Body + Blood, Broadsword, Mine and  TEN. Other Chicago credits: The Snare (Jackalope); Balm In Gilead and Port  (Griffin); Buddy Cop 2, breaks & bikes and Milk Milk Lemonade (Pavement Group);  Sweet Confinement and Ivanov (SiNNERMAN Ensemble); Orange Flower Water  (Interrobang); Lies & Liars and Mimesophobia (Theatre Seven); Rewind (The Side  Project). She just wrapped on a short film called Fairground and can also be seen in Jeri’s Grille. Cyd got her BFA from Southwestern University in Georgetown, TX, and is a graduate of the School at Steppenwolf. She is represented by Promote Talent Agency. “All my love to my family – both blood and chosen. Thank you for  coming back to live theatre.”

Chiké Johnson


Chiké Johnson most recently appeared in Remy Bumppo’s world premiere production of Galileo’s Daughter. Chike is also a company member of Remy Bumppo Theatre. Some of Chike’s Chicago credits: The world premiere of When Harry Met Rebhab (Greenhouse Theater Center); Toni Stone, Meet Vera Stark (The Goodman Theater); Sizwe Banzi is Dead (Court Theatr; The Crucible, The Unmentionables, and Huck Finn (Steppenwolf Theatre Company). He also appeared on stages around the country including Spring Green, Hamlet, A Raisin In the Sun, Improbable Fiction (American Players Theatre); Amen Corner (Shakespeare Theatre Company). His New York Credits include Broadway productions: A Time To Kill and Manhattan Theatre Club’s Wit. Off-Broadway productions include: Runboyrun, Lost In The Stars in New York City Center’s Encores! And Ruined, a co-production by the Manhattan Theatre Club and The Goodman Theatre. Other regional credits include A Raisin in the Sun at Milwaukee Rep Theater, a revival of The Unmentionables at Yale Repertory Theatre; Lincoln in Topdog/Underdog at Renaissance Theaterworks; Duke of Cornwall in King Lear at Milwaukee Repertory Theater; Cephus Miles in Home at In Tandem Theatre; Willie in Master Harold and the boys at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre; and Martin Luther King, Jr. in Smoldering Fires at First Stage Children’s Theater. Some of Mr. Johnson’s film credits include Friends with Benefits, Sleepwalk with Me, The Machinist and his television credits include Law & Order, Girls, Veep and Prison Break and much more.

Samuel B. Jackson


Samuel B Jackson is excited to be making his Northlight debut! He sends all his love to the magnificent creative team and amazing cast. Credits: Choir Boy (Jeff Award—Best Ensemble), Chlorine Sky (Steppenwolf Theatre); Reasons: A Tribute to Earth, Wind, and Fire (Black Ensemble Theatre). Education: BA, University of Notre Dame; The School at Steppenwolf. “For Mom and Tom” @samuelbjackson.

Timothy Edward Kane


Timothy Edward Kane is pleased to return to Northlight, having previously appeared in Faceless, Lost in Yonkers, The Miser and She Stoops to Conquer. Other Chicago credits include work with Court Theatre, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Writers Theatre, Rivendell, TimeLine, Goodman, Steppenwolf. Regional credits: The Mark Taper Forum, Notre Dame Shakespeare, Peninsula Players, and the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. TV: Chicago P.D. (NBC), Chicago Fire (NBC), and Empire (FOX). Awards: Jeff Award, AfterDark, Chicago Magazine. Mr. Kane is married to actress Kate Fry with whom he has two sons; he is an Assistant Professor of Theatre at Loyola University Chicago.

Corrbette Pasko


Production Team

Sotirios Livaditis

Set Design

Rachel Anne Healy

Costume Design

Rachel returns to Northlight with Tom Jones.  Previous Northlight credits include: The Lieutenant of Inishmore, Lady Windermere’s Fan, She Stoops to Conquer, The Chalk Garden, The Miser, Rounding Third, Tuesdays with Morrie, A Skull in Conemarra, and The Gamester.   Additional Chicago credits include: Goodman, Steppenwolf, Chicago Shakespeare, Writers, Chicago Children’s Theatre, Court, Drury Lane, TimeLine, Next, and Remy Bumppo. Regionally, she has designed with Alliance, Milwaukee Rep, First Stage Childrens’ Theatre of Milwaukee, Indiana Repertory, Arizona Theatre Co., American Players, and Long Wharf. Recent productions including Ms. Healy’s designs are Steppenwolf’s Tribes and Indiana Repertory’s Who Am I This Time? Ms. Healy is a Professor of Design at Loyola University.

JR Lederle

Light Design

Northlight credits include The Beauty Queen of Leenane, The Legend of Georgia McBride, Relativity, By the WaterCharmShining LivesOutside MullingarWhite Guy on the Bus,  Detroit ’67The Odd CoupleTen ChimneysSeason’s GreetingsA LifeGrey GardensThe Retreat From MoscowLadyStella & Lou, The Outgoing TideBetter Late and Chapatti (the last four also at the Galway International Arts Festival, Ireland). Other work has been seen at Lookingglass, Victory Gardens, About Face, Remy Bumppo, Writers, Steppenwolf and Walkabout. JR designed lighting for seven years of the Steppenwolf TRAFFIC Series, and five Steppenwolf performances in Chicago’s Millennium Park. He has served as head of the Lighting Department at Steppenwolf since 1995.

Andre Pluess

Sound Design

Andre has designed the Broadway productions of Metamorphoses, I Am My Own Wife and 33 Variations (Drama Desk Award nomination) as well as the world premiere of The Clean House at Yale Repertory and Lincoln Center. Based in Chicago, his work has appeared on most of the city’s stages including Northlight (Shining Lives with Amanda Dehnert), Goodman, Steppenwolf, Court, and Lookingglass where he is an associate artist. He has composed music and designed sound for theaters around the U.S., most frequently at the Oregon and California Shakespeare Festivals, Berkeley Repertory, Arena Stage, American Conservatory Theater, Seattle Repertory, La Jolla Playhouse and Center Theater Group. Choral works include: Winesburg, Ohio,Eastland, Whitman, Undone (with Ben Sussman), and Paris By Night (with Amy Warren).

Bren Coombs

Props Design

Rita Vreeland

Stage Manager

Rita Vreeland has been a frequent stage manager at Northlight since 2007, with Birthday Candles marking her 42nd production here. Other favorite recent projects include Ernest Shackleton Loves Me at Porchlight Music Theatre, A Christmas Carol at Drury Lane, The Luckiest at Raven Theatre, three years of The Polar Express Train Ride, and productions at Mercury Theatre, Victory Gardens, Route 66 Theatre Company, Theatre at the Center, and The Galway International Arts Festival in Galway, Ireland. She is the proud wife of actor Tom Hickey and mom to ten-year-old Charlie, and this year she celebrated her 22nd anniversary as a member of Actors’ Equity Association. Thank you for supporting live theatre!


Molly Bunder


Molly Bunder (she/her) makes her first Northlight appearance. Chicago credits include Goodman Theatre, Dana H., A Christmas Carol; and work with Filament Theatre, Strawdog Theatre Company, TUTA Theatre Chicago, Stone Soup Shakespeare, Three Crows Theatre and Northbrook Theatre. UK credits include work at The Arches Theatre, Tron Theatre, The Byre Theatre and Hampstead Theatre-London. Bunder received a BA from Randolph-Macon Woman’s College and an MFA from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Represented by Lily’s Talent.

Kate Compton


Kate Compton (Ernestine) is a recent graduate of the MFA Acting Program at Northwestern University. Recent credits include: Northwestern productions of Exit Strategy, Sweat, Dance Nation, Marisol, and Peerless. She is also an improviser who has studied with The Second City and The Groundlings. She is a founding member of the creative collective, Tuesday Night Films, and currently serves as a writer, producer, and actor. “While we have the gift of life, it seems to me the only tragedy is to allow part of us to die—whether it is our spirit, our creativity, or our glorious uniqueness.” -Gilda Radner

Joshua L. Green


Joshua L. Green (Matt/William u/s) is a Chicago-based stage/TV actor and is excited to be part of his first production at Northlight Theatre. Recent credits: Dreamgirls (Paramount); Sweat (Copley); Blues for an Alabama Sky (Lorraine Hansberry Theatre); TV: Paper Girls (Amazon), Chicago Fire (NBC), and Empire (Fox).  Training: University of California-Los Angeles (MFA), British Academy of Dramatic Arts (Oxford). Represented by Big Mouth Talent. SAG-AFTRA.

Kelsey McGrath


Scott Sawa


Scott Sawa (Kenneth) is so excited to work at Northlight!  Fave roles include: Henry in Here Lies Henry (Interrobang) (Non-Eq Jeff Nomination – Solo Performance), Cliff Bradshaw in Cabaret (Cowardly Scarecrow), and Bob Neal in Ten Dollar House (Pride Films & Plays).  TV/Web: Chicago Fire, RedLine to Howard, that Casino commercial.  Scott produces a podcast, “You’re On In Five! The Art of Understudying”, featuring conversations with working actors about their experiences and technique as understudies.  Thanks and Love to Mom and Charlotte.  When pronounced correctly, Scott Sawa rhymes with “Hot Lava”.

Rich Oliver


Rich Oliver(he/him) is a recent graduate of The Theatre School at DePaul with his MFA in acting. He is an actor and writer, currently working on his first full length play. He is originally from Miami and a graduate of Florida A&M University with an undergraduate degree in theatre performance. This is his Northlight debut and he is so grateful.  He Chicago credits include The Light (Rashad) at Fleetwood Jourdain and understuded as Ace in Congo Square’s world premiere of How Blood Go.His Theatre School select credits include Topdog/Underdog (Lincoln), Good Grief (Papa/Zeus), Sweat (Brucie).  New York theatre credits include Much Ado About Nothing (Friar Francis) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Snug) with the Classical Theatre of Harlem. Rich would like to thank his family, his wife Jazmin and their growing family.

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Accessible Performances

September 20 at 7:30 pm: Relaxed/Sensory Friendly Performance

September 29 at 7:30 pm: Open Captions

September 30 at 2:30 pm: Audio Description and Open Captions



This guide holds many different accessibility tools to make your experience at our show as comfortable as possible. Please be aware that not every element of this guide will be useful to each individual, therefore, please feel free to pick and choose which accessibility tools would be most beneficial to you. The guide includes a synopsis of the show, sensory warnings, and photos of what to expect when you arrive at the theater.

Birthday Candles Sensory Guide

For more information or questions about Captioning or Audio Description please contact Ruben Carrazana: 847.324.1615 or

Visit our Accessibility Page for more information for our whole season.