Judith is a woman in exile, relegated to a Florida condo after her husband’s Wall Street crimes have expelled her from a luxurious life. Family ties are tested when her daughter Becca comes to visit for Thanksgiving, joined by Becca’s filmmaker boyfriend and rebellious niece. Guilt by association, lost wealth and questionable motives make trying to love your family an uncommonly difficult challenge in this funny, incisive and timely new drama.
Production photos by Michael Brosilow.
The Commons of Pensacola homes in on shattered family
by Hedy Weiss
Some might describe The Commons of Pensacola — the tremendously accomplished first play written by actress Amanda Peet, now receiving a deliciously fierce Midwest premiere at Northlight Theatre — as a tale of survival. Others might call it a picture of the afterlife, or a study in collateral damage, guilt, denial and our uniquely 21st century form of tabloid narcissism. A few might even call it an American tragedy.
In fact, it is all these things, and more. Peet has managed to spin her story into an airtight 90 minutes full of memorable characters and painful truths. And director Robin Witt, who is enjoying a stellar year (The Commons follows on the heels of her extraordinary helming of Griffin Theatre’s Men Should Weep), has gathered a cast of six that is pure perfection …
As mother and daughter, [Linda] Kimbrough and [Lusia] Strus, veteran Chicago actresses who can flip from tragedy to comedy in a single breath, are a match made in heaven as two women imprisoned in a web of love, loss, fear and need. Their blistering mother-daughter firefight is a stunner.
Bernie Madoff story inspired darkly comic Commons of Pensacola
by Catey Sullivan
…For director Robin Witt, the questions Commons asks are as significant as they are vexing: “What happens to a family that’s been destroyed from within? What happens when you’re so hated, when the things your husband or father has done are so heinous that you don’t even have the right to mourn his loss?”
As Judith, veteran Chicago actor Linda Kimbrough has a personal connection to Madoff and the ruinous schemes that cost people their homes, their retirement and even their health. “I have a relative who worked in Madoff’s office. She didn’t do anything wrong. Doesn’t know anything. But, you know, they’re still trying to find out what happened to all that money. Every year, she gets reinvestigated and polygraphed,” Kimbrough says.
Whether you have a tie to Madoff or not, The Commons of Pensacola tells a compelling story of a family struggling with crippling guilt and trying to mend relationships that seem irrevocably broken. Peet’s drama is set on Thanksgiving, as Ruth’s daughters Becca (Lusia Strus) and Ali (Lori Myers) arrive for a visit that unleashes the demons buried just below the surface at Judith’s new Florida home.
50 shows for fall: The game’s just beginning
by Kerry Reid
The Commons of Pensacola: With the recent death of Bernie Madoff’s last surviving son, Andrew, Amanda Peet’s play about the wife of a Madoff-like figure coming to terms with her husband’s crimes may have extra poignancy. Robin Witt directs the local premiere. Northlight Theatre, Skokie; Sept. 12-Oct. 19
Theater for fall 2014: Looking local, Airline Highway to Native Son
by Chris Jones
The Commons of Pensacola: One persistent critique of the American theater is that writers are too slow to react to current events. This is why we’ve seen such a rise in the prestige and currency of television. But you could not apply that charge to the new play at the Northlight Theatre, written by the actress Amanda Peet. For legal and, perchance, aesthetic reasons, the names have been changed. But The Commons of Pensacola, which has not been seen before in Chicago, is about the fallout from the Bernie Madoff scandal. Peet wisely does not focus on the man himself, or on some stand-in for the convicted trickster. Instead, her play (seen and acclaimed in New York) focuses on the members of his family, who must come to terms both with the scale of the crime committed on their watch and with the total upheaval of their lives. Robin Witt, fresh from her recent triumph with Men Should Weep at the Griffin Theatre is at the helm. Sept. 12 to Oct. 19 at Northlight Theatre, North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie; $25-$78 at 847-673-6300 and northlight.org
Erik is happy to be returning to Northlight after The Commons of Pensacola and Lost in Yonkers. Select Chicago credits: Luna Gale (Goodman and Center Theatre Group, LA); The Good Book, Tartuffe, The Misanthrope, Proof (Jeff Nomination – Supporting Actor), The Comedy of Errors, The Mystery of Irma Vep (Jeff Nomination – Lead Actor), Titus Andronicus and Arcadia (Court); Eastland (Lookingglass); Hesperia (Writers); The Madness of King George III, The Taming of the Shrew, Macbeth and Edward II (Chicago Shakespeare); Honest, The Elephant Man and Huck Finn (Steppenwolf). He is a company member of Strawdog. Select regional credits: Kirk Douglas Theatre, Milwaukee Repertory. Film/TV: The Dark Knight, The Chicago Code, Boss, Betrayal, Chicago Fire and Chicago PD.
Chicago credits include: Buena Vista, The Glass Menagerie, and The Hot L Baltimore (Steppenwolf); Appropriate, The Whale, and We Are Proud to Present… (Victory Gardens); Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom (Strawdog); and Punk Rock (Griffin). Regional credits include: 4000 Miles (Long Wharf), Ten Chimneys (Milwaukee Rep), Half And Half (Penguin Rep), The Play About My Dad (CollaborationTown), and Evanston: A Rare Comedy (HERE Arts/PS 122). Leah received her BFA from Boston University and is a graduate of The School at Steppenwolf.
Linda has appeared at Northlight in Ten Chimneys, A Life and Better Late (both opposite John Mahoney), She Stoops to Conquer, Red Herring, The Gamester, Hearts, and The Old Neighborhood. Most recently she played Feste in Twelfth Night (Baltimore Center Stage), Silda in Other Desert Cities (Goodman), and the Mother in GNIT as part of the Humana New Plays Festival (Actors’ Theatre of Louisville). She is proud to have originated roles in four of David Mamet’s plays: Edmond, Reunion, The Water Engine, Squirrels, and in his adaptation of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. Movies include State & Main, Spartan, Red Belt, Homicide, and The Phil Spector Story (with Al Pacino) for HBO.
Lily is tickled to be working with Northlight for the first time. This summer, she performed in King Richard III and Twelfth Night (Lakeside Shakespeare). Some favorite Chicago credits include Welcome Home Jenny Sutter, The Overwhelming (Jeff Nomination – Best Production), and Well (Next – where she is an Artistic Associate); fml: How Carson McCullers Saved My Life, The Elephant Man, and The Brother Sister Plays (Steppenwolf); Romeo and Juliet (Chicago Shakespeare); A Twist of Water(Route 66); and Greensboro: A Requiem (Non-Equity Jeff Nomination – Best Supporting Actress) and In Arabia We’d All Be Kings (Non-Equity Jeff Award – Best Ensemble) at Steep.
Lori was last seen as Maggie in Robin Witt’s critically acclaimed Men Should Weep (Griffin). Favorite roles include Julia Gibbs in David Cromer’s Obie & Lucille Lortel Award-winning Our Town (Hypocrites) in a record-breaking run in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles; Theresa in Annie Baker’s Circle Mirror Transformation (Victory Gardens); Mother Courage in Mother Courage and Her Children (Vitalist); and Paula in Mrs. Klein (London, UK). Mrs. Myers has worked with Steppenwolf, Upright Citizen’s Brigade, The Building Stage, Bailiwick Rep, Theatre Wit, Shattered Globe, Vitalist, Redmoon, Next, and countless other vibrant storefronts in Chicago, New York, and London.
Lusia is so happy to be at Northlight where she earned her Actor’s Equity Card in their inaugural production at the North Shore Center, Atomic Bombers. Select Chicago credits include Ironbound, Good People (Jeff Award nomination), her own solo show It Ain’t No Fairy Tale (LA Weekly Award – Solo Performance), Hysteria, Our Town, and Whispering City (Steppenwolf); Love’s Labours Lost, Merry Wives of Windsor, and Henry IV (Chicago Shakespeare Theater/Royal Shakespeare Company);Go Away Go Away (Jeff Award – Principal Actress) and Slavs! (European Rep); and many years of Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind (Chicago and New York City) as a Neo-Futurist. Other recent credits include Enron and Elling (Broadway); The Retributions (Playwrights Horizons); Travesties and Are You There, McPhee? (McCarter). Film and television credits include Restless, 50 First Dates, Cotton, Kelly and Cal, The Mend, Modern Family, Blue Bloods, Wayward Pines, and recurring roles on web series Jack in a Box and Whatever This Is.
Amanda Peet has starred in numerous films including Something’s Gotta Give, Igby Goes Down, Syriana, The Whole Nine Yards, and Nicole Holofcener’s Please Give. On television she starred in the WB drama Jack and Jill, as well as Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Her theatre credits include the Broadway revival of Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park (opposite Patrick Wilson) and Off-Broadway productions of Break of Noon and This Is How It Goes, both by Neil LaBute. Peet will next be seen in the HBO comedy Togetherness, created by the Duplass brothers. Her play The Commons of Pensacola premiered at the Manthattan Theatre Club with Blythe Danner and Sarah Jessica Parker. A native New Yorker, Peet resides in Los Angeles with her husband, the writer David Benioff, and their two daughters. Commons of Pensacola 2014
Robin is an artistic associate at Steep where she has directed Motortown, Love and Money, Pornography, Harper Regan, Parlour Song, and Breathing Corpses. She is also an ensemble member at Griffin where she directed Men Should Weep, Flare Path, and Stage Door. Other theaters Robin has worked for include Steppenwolf, Lookingglass, A Red Orchid, The Artistic Home, and Everyman (Baltimore). Last year she directed Juliet: A Dialogue About Love for ‘sacred playground theatre’ at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Robin is an Assistant Professor of Directing at UNC Charlotte, and she is a graduate of NYU Tisch School of the Arts (BFA) and Northwestern University (MFA). She will be directing Alistair McDowall’s Brilliant Adventures for Steep in July 2015.
Jeffrey D. Kmiec
Jeffrey is a Chicago-based scenic designer. Local credits include: Butler, Funnyman, The Commons of Pensacola and Tom Jones at Northlight Theatre; The Little Mermaid, A Christmas Story and Les Miserables (2015 Jeff Award Recipient) at Paramount Theatre; Crazy For You, Deathtrap (2016 Jeff Award Recipient) and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Drury Lane Oakbrook; Man of La Mancha at The Marriott Theatre; Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, Double Trouble, Ain’t Misbehavin’, Sweeney Todd and Sondheim on Sondheim at Porchlight Music Theatre; Good Boys and True, Dividing the Estate (Jeff Award Nomination), The Old Friends, A Loss of Roses (Jeff Award Nomination) and The Assembled Parties at Raven Theatre; Watch on the Rhine (Jeff Award Nomination) and The Seagull at The Artistic Home. Regional credits include: American Players Theatre, Illinois Shakespeare Festival, Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre, Heritage Theatre Festival and the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte. Jeffrey received his MFA from the University of Virginia.
Emily is thrilled to be working with the Northlight team for the second time after making her Northlight debut with Black Pearl Sings!. In addition to being the Resident Costume Designer for Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of the Performing Arts. she also freelances for such companies as Lifeline Theatre (Monstrous Regiment, True Story of 3 Little Pigs), Oak Park Festival Theatre (Amadeus, Twelfth Night, Inherit the Wind, Richard III), Redtwist (Reverb), Artistic Home (American Plan), Dog & Pony (Roadkill Confidential), Gift Theatre (Suicide Incorporated), among others. She is a proud Artistic Associate of Steep Theatre, and has her MFA in Costume and Set Design from Northwestern University.
Sarah pleased to be working on her seventh design with Northlight after The City of Conversation, Discord, Butler, The Commons of Pensacola, Tom Jones and Black Pearl Sings!. Recent Chicago credits include Dutchman / TRANSit, Grounded (American Blues – Artistic Affiliate); Moby Dick (Blair Thomas & Co.); Cocked, The Who and the What, Samsara (Victory Gardens); Le Switch, Methtacular!, Brahman/i (About Face); Doubt: A Parable, The Diary of Anne Frank (Writers); and Martyr (Steep). Upcoming projects include Mr. and Mrs. Pennyworth (Lookingglass), Straight White Men (Steppenwolf), and The Scene (Writers). Ms. Hughey has received a Jeff Award (2011, Scorched, Silk Road Rising), and was the 2013 recipient of Chicago’s Maggio Emerging Designer Award. She holds an MFA from Northwestern University where she also teaches.
Nick is thrilled to be working with Northlight for the third time after Lost in Yonkers and Detroit ’67 last season. Nick has designed over 125 shows in the Chicago area, including shows at Court (Sizwe Banzi is Dead, The Illusion, The Piano Lesson), Next (Everything is Illuminated, End Days), Millennium Park (Guerra: A Clown Play), Neo-Futurists (The Sovereign Statement), Rivendell (These Shining Lives), A Red Orchid (The Iliad, Not a Game for Boys), and New Leaf (Arcadia, The Man Who Was Thursday, Touch, The Dining Room). He recently served as associate sound designer for Smokefall at Goodman. Nick teaches sound design at DePaul University and serves as a digital and web experience designer for a number of Chicago theatres, including the Neo-Futurists and the Paramount in Aurora.
Production Stage Manager
Rita is proud to continue her 11th season at Northlight where she is fortunate to have been the stage manager for 29 productions as well as two trips to Galway. Recent credits elsewhere in the Chicagoland area include productions at Theatre at the Center (Munster, IN), Victory Gardens, Route 66 Theatre Company, Goodman, and the annual Christmas Schooner at the Mercury Theater. She is the proud wife of actor Tom Hickey and mom to five-year-old Charlie, and has been a member of Actors’ Equity for over 17 years. Thank you for supporting live theatre!