Marti and Christine are both working their way to a better life – one a self-made building owner clawing her way to the top, the other a single mom juggling the care of her daughter with a part-time job and a complicated ex-boyfriend. They have a lot in common, but as landlady and tenant their friendship walks a delicate balance. Faced with dilemmas of fairness versus kindness and honesty versus eviction, both women are determined to build a home, and both know the threat of losing one.
This production is supported in part by an Edgerton Foundation for New Plays Award. and as the recipient of the Selma Melvoin Playwriting Award.
Photos by Michael Brosilow
by Kris Vire
March 24, 2019
Matters of love, friendship find a home in compelling ‘Landladies’
In Rothstein’s tale, the landlady is Marti (Shanesia Davis), a former nurse’s aide who’s reinvented herself in the image of a successful businesswoman, even if image is all there is to it. Marti owns three buildings in an undesirable neighborhood of an unnamed city. Judging by the unit she shows to prospective tenant Christine (Leah Karpel) in the opening scene, Marti knows her renters are likely to be desperate enough to accept all kinds of indignities.
That Poet proves to be exactly who Marti pegs him as is, frankly, a little disappointing; Parker is too intelligent and charming a performer to be playing such a stock character. But all three actors help enliven the material in Jess McLeod’s canny staging. It’s a treat to see the smart, Chicago-bred Karpel back onstage here after a few years in New York.
And the always-engaging Davis seems to saturate Marti with unspoken backstory — the better to cover for her character’s relatively low stakes, compared to Christine’s. Marti might be in debt, but her home has, as Christine sarcastically notes, “a refrigerator just for wine,” while the unit Marti rents to Christine is literally lacking a kitchen sink.
by Marissa Oberlander
March 28, 2019
Landladies explores the power dynamic between renters and owners
The world premiere of this Northlight Theatre- commissioned work, written by Sharyn Rothstein and directed by Jess McLeod, presents a wonderfully complicated female relationship anchoring a larger story of income inequality and abuse of power. Christine (Leah Karpel) is a single mother struggling to find a home and keep herself and her daughter afloat, all while getting away from a destructive ex named Poet (Julian Parker). Lying about her situation, she rents an apartment from Marti (Shanesia Davis). It’s oven-less and has a gaping hole in the floor, but it has four walls, so it will have to do. A poster of Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth on the wall best sums up this moving representation of eviction and homelessness: it’s crippling, it disproportionately affects women, and solutions feel completely out of reach.
Karpel and Davis play their roles with a compelling mix of sharp cynicism and genuine empathy, finding common ground over their shared “otherness” and inability to get ahead. Marti has gained some independence through real estate entrepreneurship (albeit teetering on slumlord status), and sees in Christine a similarly gutsy spirit familiar with making her own luck. She gains Christine’s trust through intimate conversations, acting as a seasoned advisor with her best interests at heart. What muddies the relationship, though, is Marti’s power and financial dominance as the landlady. As her motives slowly come into question, it becomes clear that Christine traded one manipulative relationship for another. The shades of grey painted by Rothstein’s character development and McLeod’s visceral direction are a thought-provoking delight to watch.
by Rick and Brenda McCain
March 23, 2019
Fighting for a Better Life
Landladies ask the question, What happens when the proprietor who is considered a slum landlord has a heart? When it’s not just about the government funds that section 8 can provide or the easy cash by maximizing profit by minimizing spending and providing substandard amenities, but about a mother with a child needing a place to live? When others who can move into any place that has occupancy, we sometimes forget that for some, ‘If it weren’t for the slum landlords you wouldn’t be here!”
“Landladies” by Sharyn Rothstein brings a diverse story of fairness versus kindness and honesty versus falsifying information on an application to avoid eviction to Northlight Theatre in Skokie.
Davis does an excellent job as the portrayal of Marti as she humanizes the slumlord character by breaking down her walls of vulnerability with Christine. She shows signs of caring for the single Mom when she buys her a microwave, water purifier and toys for her daughter.
Karpel shows the depths a mother will go through to provide a glimmer of hope as she endures her depression of providing for her daughter. Karpel battle as a young mother frustrated with life and the fact that she had a child so young is evident in her words that she wishes her daughter had a mother that could give her a better life; displays the feeling of all adolescent mothers fighting to survive. The women of Landladies are smart, complex and intelligent which makes for great dialogue throughout the play.
Julian Parker, Ensemble Member at Definition Theatre Company, is also a writer and producer is a native of Chicago, and his recurring co-star on The Chi is as wayward Poet. Known for his role in Antoinette Nwandu’s world premiere, Pass Over, at Steppenwolf Theatre, Parker effortlessly plays the troubled boyfriend fighting substance abuse issues. His ability to transform himself in any role makes him a natural choice for any director seeking a well-rounded professional such as Parker.
Landladies main focus, however, is the relationship between the two ladies and their very different and yet similar lifestyles. The message about life decisions and how they affect our future is a universal message but delightful portrayed in this play.
by Chris Jones
March 24, 2019
‘Landladies’ at Northlight Theatre
The strength of the show is the acting. Karpel and Parker are, to my mind, two of Chicago theater’s most interesting young talents, both capable of great emotional vulnerability (really notably so) and each a natural scene-partner for the other, resolutely present and always live and in the moment. Their work is, at time, quite exceptional, and they’re supported well by Davis, a highly experienced actor.
Rothstein has said that her play is about poverty and that she was inspired to write such a work after reading “Evicted” by the Princeton sociologist Matthew Desmond, a powerful piece of writing about how eviction has become a fact of life for the urban poor, constantly upending their lives and their chances for stability for their families. Desmond writes a good deal about the complex landlords who oscillate in this world, both caring and despairing for their tenants and wanting them to write a consistent check (or, at least, hand over their Section 8 money). The most interesting aspect of this play is whether these entrepreneurs, filing a gap when government is failing, are part of the solution or a manifestation of the problem.
Leah returns to Northlight after previously appearing in The Commons of Pensacola. Other Chicago credits include: Appropriate, The Whale, We Are Proud to Present… (Victory Gardens); Buena Vista, The Glass Menagerie, The Hot L Baltimore (Steppenwolf); The Diary Of Anne Frank (Writers); Punk Rock (Griffin). NYC/regional credits include: Lewiston/Clarkston (Rattlestick), The Harvest (LCT3), Pocatello (Playwrights Horizons), Porto (Women’s Project). Regional: Miller, Mississippi (Dallas Theatre Center, Longwharf Theatre); Residence (Actors Theatre of Louisville Humana Festival); 4000 Miles (Long Wharf Theatre); Ten Chimneys (Milwaukee Repertory). Film/TV: Chicago Med, Patriot, Olympia.
Julian returns to Northlight after appearing in Charm. Stage credits include: Pass Over, Gospel of Franklin, BlackTop Sky, and understudy in Head of Passes (Steppenwolf); Genesis, Dutchman, and The Brothers’ Size (Definition Theatre Company); Seize the King (La Jolla Playhouse); Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Smart People (Writers); Prowess (Jackalope); Hairy Ape (Oracle Productions, Jeff Award recipient for Actor in a Principal Role); and The Royale (American Theatre Company). TV/Film: Pass Over (Amazon Studios, directed by Spike Lee); The Chi (Showtime); Chicago PD and Chicago Fire (NBC); and Home for the Weekend (Comedy Central). He is represented by Grossman & Jack Talent and managed by Authentic Talent. He is a co-founding member of Definition Theatre Company and received his BFA from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
Sharyn is a playwright and television writer, whose plays and musicals have been workshopped and produced around the country, as well as internationally. Her play By The Water was first produced by Manhattan Theater Club and Ars Nova and was the recipient of the American Theater Critic’s Association Francesca Primus Prize. Her play All The Days was the recipient of the Edgerton Foundation Award and was produced at the McCarter Theater Center, directed by Emily Mann. In addition to playwriting, Sharyn is a writer and consulting producer for the USA Network drama SUITS. She is currently working on a television pilot for Apple, a theater commission from Manhattan Theater Club, as well as a stage adaptation of the beloved film Hester Street. In 2019, Sharyn’s comedy Tell Me I’m Not Crazy will premiere at The Williamstown Theater Festival and her drama Right To Be Forgotten will premiere at Arena Stage in Washington, DC. She holds an MFA in dramatic writing from NYU and a Masters in Public Health from Hunter College, with a concentration in Urban Health. She lives in Brooklyn with one husband, two kids, two cats and a mountain of laundry.
Jess is the Resident Director of Hamilton Chicago. Recent Chicago credits include Fulfillment Center (A Red Orchid Theatre), There’s Always the Hudson (Goodman Theatre, 2017 Michael Maggio Fellow), Hang Man (The Gift Theatre), Marry Me A Little (Porchlight Music Theatre), How We Got On (Haven), Season on the Line (The House Theatre), L-vis Live! (Victory Gardens Theater, 2018 Next Generation Artistic Fellow), Venus (Steppenwolf Next Up!), Short Shakes! Midsummer (Chicago Shakespeare), and five short operas developed with Chicago community groups (Lyric Opera of Chicago). New York credits include The Last Five Years and The Unauthorized Musicology of Ben Folds (New York Musical Theatre Festival, Director of Programming). Festival Coordinator, Louder Than A Bomb Youth Poetry Festival @ Young Chicago Authors (2016-17). Teaching Artist, Storycatchers Theatre. M.F.A., Northwestern University.
Arnel returns to Northlight where his work was previously seen in Landladies. He has designed all around the United States and has received an Equity Jeff Nomination for Scenic Design. Credits include The All Night Strut (Milwaukee Rep); Crumbs from the Table of Joy (Raven); Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt, Empower (Lyric Unlimited); The Cake (Rivendell); Master Class, Boy (Timeline) Photograph 51,The Belle of Amherst (Court); We Are Proud to Present, The Crucible (Steppenwolf); The Wiz, Little Fish (Kokandy); Hangman, Pilgrims (The Gift); Hookman, Earthquakes in London (Steep); Peerless (First Floor); The Total Bent, The Displaced, How We Got On (Haven); You on The Moors Now (The Hypocrites); Carousel, Titanic, Rock of Ages (Timberlake Playhouse); and Xanadu (American Theatre Co.) For a more in depth look at his work visit www.ArnelDesigns.com
Christine is delighted to be making her Northlight debut. Recent credits include: The Total Bent, The Displaced (Haven Theatre); La Ruta (Steppenwolf): Crumbs From The Table of Joy (Raven Theatre); Lady in Denmark, Feathers and Teeth, The Happiest Song Plays Last, Fish Men, El Nogalar, Massacre, New Stages Festival (Goodman); Put Your House in Order (Jackalope Theatre); Hang (Remy Bumpo); Traitor (Red Orchid); Simpatico (McCarter Theatre). She has also worked at American Theater Company, Teatro Vista, Victory Gardens, Chicago Children’s Theatre, Theatre Wit, Court, Congo Square Theatre. Off-Broadway credits include The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity (Second Stage Theatre). Regional credits include work at American Players Theatre, Virginia Stage Company and Centerstage. Pascual was a 2010 Henry Hewes Design Award nominee and a 2018 3Arts Awardee.
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.
Credits include: Nell Gwynn, QBrothers Christmas Carol (Chicago Shakespeare); Mies Julie (Victory Gardens); Long Way Home (Q Brothers w/ Chicago Children’s Choir); The Skin of Our Teeth (Remy Bumppo); The Pride, The Flowers, Stupid Kids, The Young Ladies Of… (About Face); How We Got On (Haven); Killer Angels (Lifeline); Breach, Roadkill Confidential, Dead Letter Office, The Twins Would Like To Say, God’s Ear, As Told By The Vivian Girls (Dog & Pony); Faster (Side Project). Film: May Days, What Remains, Some Girls Never Learn. TV: Brujos. Education: BA in English, Theatre Arts, University of Iowa. Awards: Non Equity Jeff Awards for Sound Design in 2008, 2014, and 2017; Nicholas Meyer Scholarship for Playwriting 2005. Thanks to Jess for bringing me aboard. www.StephenPtacek.com
Proudction Stage Manager
Katie is pleased to return to Northlight after serving as Assistant Stage Manager on You Can’t Take It With You. Recent credits include Hamilton: An American Musical (Chicago, Rehearsal, Sub ASM); Sorin: A Notre Dame Story (National Tour); Indecent, Lettie (Victory Gardens); The Realistic Joneses (Theater Wit & Shattered Globe); Southern Gothic (Windy City Playhouse); and Mother and Me (Geva Theater Center, Rochester, NY). She’s also served as resident production stage manager from 2008-2018 for over 25 productions at American Theater Company where highlights include the world premieres of Disgraced (Pulitzer Prize) and The Project(s) as well as columbinus which played to audiences in Chicago and Boston (ArtsEmerson). She is on the faculty at Loyola University Chicago and is a proud member of Actors Equity Association.
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OPEN CAPTIONING – Landladies, April 13, at 2:30pm
This performance will be open captioned. All seats do not provide a clear view of the captions. Please indicate your need for captioning when purchasing your tickets by phone 847.673.6300 to be seated in the correct area, or use the “Purchase by Seat” option when buying online (select the LEFT section and look for the symbol indicating seats for open captioning).