In 1979 Washington D.C., socialite Hester Ferris throws posh dinner parties that can change the course of politics. But when her son turns up with an ambitious Reagan-ite girlfriend and a shocking new world view, it ignites a family divide that spans over 30 years and six presidential administrations. As power shifts from one generation to the next, a family struggles to maintain ties while on opposite sides of the partisan fence.
Chuck Osgood Photography
by Chris Jones
September 23, 2016
‘City of Conversation’: Politics get personal, beginning in 1979
…”The City of Conversation,” the truly superb, deeply involving 2014 play by Anthony Giardina about the death of inside-the-beltway conviviality, is set in the comfortable home of a Washington hostess and Democratic political fixer — she’s called Hester Ferris here and played at the Northlight Theatre by Lia Mortensen. It’s 1979, the beginning of the end, you might say. The first crack in the formidable Hester’s armor appears when her son Colin (Greg Matthew Anderson) arrives home from the London School of Economics with a new fiancee, Anna Fitzgerald (Mattie Hawkinson), whom his mother immediately recognizes as a dangerously ambitious climber. She’s also a conservative. Colin — a malleable child of privilege who lacks his mother’s drive and ideological determination — is entranced by Anna’s beauty and brains. Sides are taken.
So. There you have a very juicy, well-made play that is no font of formative experimentation but is nonetheless a rarity in American theater — a sharp commentary on Washington politics and personal behavior, then and now. Giardina clearly sympathizes most of all with Hester, who has to fend off this Minnesota Eve Harrington, but it’s not an adoring portrait nor a characterization oblivious to the flaws and inequalities of the old system. To its credit, this sharply written drama, justly acclaimed when it premiered at New York’s Lincoln Center, allows for the notion that all politics should be personal, especially since those legislative matters often make their way into the bedroom or the doctor’s office. And it also acknowledges the argument that the old ways of drinks and persuasion were anti-democratic and served no one but those sipping the drinks.
by Hedy Weiss
September 25, 2016
In ‘City of Conversation,’ a key to our political polarization
Why has this country become so ferociously polarized? And why has the American electoral landscape become so distressingly fraught, tattered and seemingly irreconcilable about so many things?
These are the questions addressed in “The City of Conversation,” the uncannily timely, uniquely balanced, multi-generational drama by playwright-novelist Anthony Giardina, now receiving a live-wire Midwest premiere at Northlight Theatre under the direction of Marti Lyons.
Making a clear-eyed assessment of the present as extracted from the not-so-distant past, Giardina homes in on the many reasons why the center has failed to hold, and why, since the 1960s, positions have become so entrenched, while the essential social glue that once made a certain amount of compromise possible has disappeared. To be sure, at certain points Giardina stretches things a bit to make his case, yet anyone who has witnessed the tension between friends and family members during the current election cycle might say he has not stretched things far enough. The so-called “culture wars,” that really have been raging since the 1960s, seem to be more heated than ever, with the front lines redrawn in ever starker ways.
Greg Matthew Anderson
Greg returns to Northlight Theatre where he previously appeared in The Mousetrap and Sense & Sensibility. Greg is an Artistic Associate at Remy Bumppo Theatre Company where credits include Power, The Best Man, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Night and Day, The Importance of Being Earnest, Chesapeake (Joseph Jefferson Award nomination), Northanger Abbey, An Inspector Calls and Travesties (Joseph Jefferson Award nomination). Chicago credits include Arcadia, Death of a Streetcar Named Virginia Woolf (Writers), Rock ‘N Roll, the commercial production of Immediate Family (Goodman), Arcadia (Court), Sons of the Prophet, Oklahoma! (American Theater Company) and A Moment Alone (iO Theater). Television credits include Chicago PD, Chicago Fire, Betrayal, The Playboy Club, Underemployed, The Chicago Code, Detroit 187 and the pilot Matadors. Film credits include Transformers: Age of Extinction, The Middle Distance, Game Day and Older Children. Greg is a graduate of Duke University’s Department of Theater Studies.
Tim returns to Northlight after appearing in City of Conversation. Other notable work includes Hamlet, Mary Stuart, Romeo and Juliet ( Chicago Shakespeare); Spill (Timeline); Stop.Reset (Goodman); Million Dollar Quartet (Apollo Theatre); Peoples Temple, Dark at the Top of the Stairs (ATC); Complete History of America Abridged (Noble Fool); All My Sons (Milwaukee Rep); Toys in the Attic (Lead Actor-Jeff Award, American Blues). Film: Slice, Later Days, Thrill Ride, Bad City, Uncle John, and Ash. TV: Chicago Justice, Empire, Chicago Fire, Boss, Detroit 187, Turks, Cupid and online work with The Onion.
Mattie is excited to make her Northlight debut. Regional Credits: Loves Labour’s Lost (Pennsylvania Shakespeare); As You Like It (Baltimore Centerstage); Midsummer Night’s Dream, Winter’s Tale, Real Inspector Hound (Monmouth, ME); Circle Mirror Transformation (Cincinnati Playhouse); The Games Afoot (premiere, Cleveland Playhouse); Mourning Becomes Electra, Misanthrope, Arms and the Man (Quintessence); Othello (Milwaukee Rep); Third (Denver Center); Equivocation (Manhattan Theatre Club); A Little Night Music (Centerstage); Bell Book and Candle (Ensemble, Santa Barbara); Inherit the Wind (Indiana Rep). Chicago credits: Blackbird, The Snow Queen, Half & Half, Hanging Fire (Victory Gardens); Rock ‘N’ Roll (Goodman); Winter’s Tale, A Flea In Her Ear, A Little Night Music (Chicago Shakespeare); I Never Sang for My Father (Steppenwolf); Hillbilly Antigone (Lookingglass); Vincent in Brixton (Apple Tree); Boston Marriage (Roadworks); Importance of Being Earnest (First Folio). Film Credits: The Gambler, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Everybody’s Fine. Ed: Northwestern University. mattiehawkinson.weebly.com
The City of Conversation, marks Tyler’s stage debut, as Young Ethan Ferris. Tyler, a third grade student from the Chicago area, made his small screen debut earlier this year, playing “Teddy,” a guest starring role in a pivotal episode of Chicago Fire (NBC). Soon after, he began shooting the series regular role of “Scottie,” in the television pilot, Written Off, which can currently be viewed on Amazon Prime. Tyler, along with his fellow cast members of Written Off, were honored to be awarded the Best Ensemble Cast in the 2016 DePaul Premiere Film Festival. Tyler has been acting since the age of 4, and has appeared in over a dozen national television commercials for brands such as Sargento Cheese, Barilla USA, Autozone, Build-a-Bear, Libman Brooms and Mops, etc. He has also appeared in industrial films, music videos, independent films, print ads and the award-winning web series, Platoon of the Power Squadron. When not acting, he is creating his own films with his friends, playing on the local baseball team, practicing tennis or playing minecraft.
Brian is thrilled to be returning to Northlight and working with Marti Lyons. Brian is an actor, singer and musician born and raised on the south side of Chicago. Chicago Theatre Credits include: The Hypocrites Theatre, The Gift Theatre, Lookingglass Theatre, Profiles Theatre, Eclipse Theatre, Collaboraction
Tim is happy to be back to Chicago and Northlight where he appeared in Butler this spring. Chicago credits include: Goodman, Court, Apple Tree, Next, Bailiwick. Also Peninsula Players in Wisconsin for many years. New York: Minetta Lane (Marvin’s Room), Playwrights Horizons. Regional: Kennedy Center, Hasty Pudding, Dallas Theater Center, Cincinnati Playhouse, Arena Stage, Mark Taper Forum. Film: Men Of Honor, Blink, Cotton, The Second Greatest Story Ever Told TV: Desperate Housewives, Modern Family, Numb3rs, King of Queens, Frasier, Mad About You, 7th Heaven, Monk, Cybill, Law and Order. Tim lives in LA and recently wrote, directed and acted in the film The Tale of Fenton Black (with Shannon Cochran and Greg Vinkler), appearing in festivals soon.
Lia D. Mortensen
Lia is delighted to be returning to Northlight where she last appeared in Ten Chimneys. Other Chicago credits include: Company, The Mystery of Love and Sex (Writers); Pericles, All’s Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure (Chicago Shakespeare); Big Meal (Best Ensemble-Jeff Award, ACT); Cymbeline (First Folio); Ten Chimneys, Lady Windermere’s Fan, Sky Girls, and Talley’s Folly (Northlight); Rabbit Hole (Goodman); Closer, Faith Healer (Steppenwolf); An Inspector Calls, Night and Day (Remy Bumppo); The Other Place, Annapurna (Profiles); Jacob, Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, Spoon River Anthology, The Hiding Place (Provision); Fighting Words (Rivendell); Well, A Doll’s House, Macbeth, The Illusion (Next); and several productions at Court Theatre. Directing Credits: Bus Stop, Quality of Life (Den); Jacob (Provision). Film Credits: Consumed (2015), Resurrecting McGinns (2015), A View From Tall (2015), Imperfections (2015), Market Value (2015) Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), Blink. TV Credits: Shameless, Empire, Chicago Fire, Crisis, Chicago Code, Family Practice, The Onion, Early Edition and Missing Persons. Lia is an ensemble member of Provision Theatre and The Den Theatre.
Elaine is making her Northlight debut. Most recently, she played Martha in Death of a Streetcar Named Virginia Woolff (u.s./performed) at Writers Theatre. Chicago credits include: Picasso at the Lapin Agile, Libra (Steppenwolf Theatre) and The Crucible (Steppenwolf Outreach); Pyretown and Tree (Victory Gardens); You Never Can Tell (Remy Bumppo Theatre); The Cider House Rules, The Homecoming, Conquest of the South Pole, Hushabye Mountain, Beautiful Thing, Speaking in Tongues, Remembrance, Mann Ist Mann, Salt of the Earth, and Hellcab, among others (Famous Door Theatre); ‘Night Mother (Hancock Productions); Execution of Justice (About Face); St. Colm’s Inch (Chicago Dramatists) and La Bete (Pegasus). Outside Chicago: Brighton Beach Memoirs at Cardinal Stage, Broken Glass and The Lover (North Coast Rep); The Inge Festival (William Inge Center for the Arts); Hellcab (Singapore Arts Festival); and The Early Girl (Edinburgh Fringe Festival). This winter Elaine will play Tess in Marjorie Prime for North Coast Rep.
Natalie returns to Northlight where she previously appeared in How I Learned to Drive and Quilters. She is an ensemble member of A Red Orchid, where she most recently appeared in The Mutilated. Other AROT productions include Standline, Mud Blue Sky, The Butcher of Baraboo and Abigail’s Party. Over the years she has appeared in shows at The Goodman, Steppenwolf, and American Theatre Company among others. She is a former ensemble member of Remains Theatre. Natalie was a regular on the television show Roseanne as Crystal. Films include Nate and Margaret, Poker House, Life Sentence and Bushwhacked. Natalie is a recipient of three Jeff Awards for supporting actress for The Butcher of Baraboo, Abigail’s Party at A Red Orchid and Life and Limb at Wisdom Bridge. She holds a MSW from Loyola University Chicago, a BA in Theatre at Indiana University and she attended Webber Douglas Drama Academy in London.
Anthony Giardina’s plays, including Living at Home, The Child, An American Tragedy, Scenes from La Vie de Boheme, The Beach, Black Forest and Custody of the Eyes, have been produced in New York at Playwrights Horizons and the Manhattan Theater Club, and regionally at Arena Stage, Seattle Rep, Yale Rep, Long Wharf and the Cleveland Playhouse. The City of Conversation, which premiered at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center in 2014, was nominated for the Outer Critics Circle and Drama Desk Awards for Best Play of the 2014/15 season. He is also the author of five novels, most recently White Guys and Norumbega Park.
Tom’s favorite Northlight productions include Ten Chimneys, Sense & Sensibility, The Lady With All The Answers, and Studs Terkel’s The Good War. Off- Broadway: Mistakes Were Made (Barrow Street, originated at Chicago’s A Red Orchid Theatre) Chicago credits include shows at Goodman, Court, Chicago Shakespeare and many with The Hypocrites. Regional credits include: Milwaukee Rep, Cleveland Play House, Actors Theatre Louisville, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, American Repertory Theatre, and others. Awards: three After Dark Awards (including one for Northlight’s Red Herring) and one Jeff (and four nominations). He teaches at University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and is thrilled to return to Northlight. www.tomburch.com
Sally is happy to make her debut at Northlight Theatre. Dolembo is a Chicago-based Costume Designer and Adjunct Lecturer at Columbia College and Northwestern University. Design credits include productions with WolfTrap Opera, The Second City, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Lookingglass Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre, Timeline Theatre, Paramount Theatre, Drury Lane, Porchlight Music Theatre, Steep Theatre, The Gift Theatre, The Hypocrites, and Northwestern University. Dolembo was a 2007 Fulbright Scholar to Italy, where she researched and worked at Tirelli Costumi in Rome. Upcoming projects include I Love a Piano at Milwaukee Repertory Theatre and A Disappearing Number at Timeline Theatre . Dolembo has her MFA from Northwestern University. www.sallydolembo.c
Sarah is pleased to be working on her eighth design with Northlight after Miss Bennet, The City of Conversation, Discord, Butler, The Commons of Pensacola, Tom Jones and Black Pearl Sings!. Recent Chicago credits include Vietgone, The Scene, Doubt: A Parable, The Diary of Anne Frank (Writers); Mr. and Mrs. Pennyworth (Lookingglass); Straight White Men (Steppenwolf); Moby Dick (Blair Thomas & Co.); Cocked, The Who and the What, Samsara (Victory Gardens). Other recent credits include Crossing Mnisose and Sense and Sensibility (Portland Center Stage); The Cake (Asolo Rep); and As You Like It (Guthrie Theater). Ms. Hughey has received a Jeff Award (Scorched, Silk Road Rising), and the Maggio Emerging Designer Award. She holds an MFA from Northwestern University.
Joe is a freelance composer, sound designer, vocalist, and producer. Northlight Credits: Ten Chimneys, Sense & Sensibility, The Cripple of Inishmaan, Visiting Mr. Green, The Old Neighborhood, Master Class, and God’s Man in Texas, among others. Recent credits include: American Buffalo (Deaf West in LA), The Ideal Husband and The African Company Presents Richard the 3rd (American Players Theatre), The Flick and Mr. Burns (Forward Theatre), Of Mice and Men (Milwaukee Rep), The Rainmaker (American Blues), and compositions and performances with Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre of which he is the Producing Director/Composer in Residence. Joe has composed and designed sound for over 200 productions around the nation, including at Steppenwolf, Goodman, Court, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, The Mark Taper Forum, The Alliance, BAM, and National Jewish Theatre. His scores and sound designs for Homebody/Kabul, SideMan, Broken Glass, How I Learned to Drive, and Master Class have all enjoyed national tours. Joe is the Supervising Producer for the Music Department at Columbia College Chicago.
Rita is proud to be returning to Northlight for her 39th production, and delighted to be collaborating again with Cody Estle. Other favorite stage management projects include the recent hit The Luckiest at Raven Theatre, three years of The Polar Express Train Ride, seven seasons of The Christmas Schooner at Mercury Theater, and productions at Victory Gardens, Route 66 Theatre Company, Theatre at the Center, and Northlight’s productions of Chapatti and Stella & Lou in Galway, Ireland. She is the proud wife of actor Tom Hickey and mom to nine-year-old Charlie, and last year she celebrated her 20th anniversary as a member of Actors’ Equity Association. Thank you for supporting live theatre!
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