World Premiere

A wealthy white businessman and a struggling black single mom ride the same bus week after week. As they get to know each other, the threads that tie them together gradually unravel in a complex web of moral ambiguity, revenge, and racial biases. This world premiere play provides a candid and surprising perspective on the racial and socioeconomic divide.

at Northlight Theatre
9501 Skokie Boulevard, Skokie, IL 60077


Guts and race – advertising illusions, class, social inequities all have seats on the bus


February 1, 2015


I’ll say this for Bruce Graham’s White Guy on the Bus, now premiering at the Northlight Theatre: It is a play with guts. This writer has previously been inclined toward sentimentality, as such sweet works as Stella & Lou and The Outgoing Tide attest. Not this time. The gentle first few minutes notwithstanding, this one is red, racially charged meat.

Consider this line: “Wanting to kill someone is the most natural thing in the world.”

Or this: “If Bernie Madoff had been dragged out into Central Park and hung from his neck until he was dead, and they’d shown it on CNN, then we wouldn’t need the SEC” …

I see so many plays that want to blurt out some of the things that these characters say but don’t have the nerve. This one goes for the jugular.


Read the entire review online >


Bruce Graham’s White Guy on the Bus sure to stir controversy at Northlight and beyond


January 31, 2015


Bruce Graham’s play White Guy on the Bus, now in its world premiere at Northlight Theatre under the take-no-prisoners direction of BJ Jones, is an altogether incendiary examination of race in this country. And Graham says things that many other playwrights would quickly self-censor.

Ray (Francis Guinan) is an investment banker who makes rich people richer, and he would happily leave his job and unload his upscale surroundings — vast garden, pool and all the rest. His wife, Roz (Mary Beth Fisher), is a still attractive and driven woman who teaches at an inner-city high school where she is routinely called “bitch,” a term she can almost laugh at. And in a uniformly fiery cast, Fisher, who has many of the best lines, is particularly brilliant in her caustic, no-holds-barred exposure of how political correctness can poison rather than ameliorate the racial divide.

[T]he shattering second act … suggests how privilege and poverty, and matters of power and race, can become so combustible, igniting resentment, fear, escalating violence and tragedy.

Credit goes to Graham for his sheer chutzpah. And you can bet there will be some mighty heated post-show discussions for this play.


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Northlight Theatre’s new show confronts America’s problem with race
Bruce Graham’s White Guy on the Bus shows the toxic legacy of slavery.

February 4, 2015


Bruce Graham’s White Guy on the Bus demonstrates how completely f***ed-up we all remain as a result of crimes that only technically ended 150 years ago. Not that this Northlight Theatre world premiere is about slavery per se. As far as I can recall, the word never gets mentioned. But Graham’s 21st-century Philadelphians don’t need to talk about it any more than a fish needs to discuss water. They’re swimming in it …

And it’s in the fraught negotiation between Ray and Shatique—with its power differential, its edge of violence, its very American sense of race as destiny—that the modern resonances of slavery vibrate most viciously.

I wouldn’t have believed that Graham had this in him … White Guy on the Bus can be called tricksy and conventional and contrived and maudlin, and I’m probably betraying my standards by liking it as much as I do. Still, when the time comes to put up or shut up, it most definitely puts up.


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Northlight’s White Guy on the Bus a fiery examination of race


February 6, 2015


White Guy on the Bus may not change anyone’s opinion on race. But Bruce Graham’s play, in its world premiere at Northlight Theatre, will most certainly ignite conversations.

The characters in this provocative, unflinchingly candid examination of race make some pretty shocking admissions, several of which elicited audible gasps from the mostly Caucasian opening-night audience. But it was the offhand comment from Ray, the titular white man, that stayed with me after the curtain came down on director BJ Jones’ combustible, powerfully acted production.

Sitting beside an African-American woman on a city bus headed toward the penitentiary, Ray, played by the always authentic Francis Guinan, comments on the racial composition of the passengers.

“No white people of course,” he says casually.

Barely audible, but loaded with class as well as racial overtones, the comment reveals a prejudice so deep-rooted Ray doesn’t recognize it in himself. Even people who ought to know better aren’t immune.

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Modern revenge tragedy is brutally honest but fascinating


February 2, 2015


Northlight Theatre’s promotional materials keep the details of its world premiere play, White Guy on the Bus, under tight wraps. It’s something to do with racial tension, revenge, and a white guy riding a bus. Going into further detail than that would give away some crucial surprises that would detract from the excitement of seeing a brand new play, but might possibly persuade some people for whom that brief description does not provide enough information to arouse their interest to give the work a chance. So what I’ll say for those wishing to read no further is that the play is about much more than one location, and contains arguments over racial perspective that are all the more upsetting because of how sympathetic the characters on both sides are.


Most important to the show’s success are Guinan and McClain’s performances. Guinan’s Ray loves the people close to him dearly, but is a masterful manipulator when he’s not overcome with rage. In one person, you see both the dedicated family man and the cutthroat businessman-turned avenger. I’ve enjoyed Guinan in roles as a bumbling hero and a comedic villain, but he’s equally engaging with this dark character. McClain’s Shatique is also a clever warrior for her family, but I was not bothered by her initial agreeability toward Ray. She has rage of her own, yet for now retains her morals. The power struggle between these two is so painful because they hold nothing back in their condemnations of each other’s entire lives and personal character, and they both make strong cases. It requires some theatrical magic to get these two talking to each other at all, but that’s forgivable because of the drama that contextualizes their dialectic. Graham’s play doesn’t exactly say we’d all be better off if we did that, but it certainly says we’re no good where we are now and where disingenuous oversensitivity has us headed.


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Northlight’s White Guy on the Bus sparks crucial conversation

January 15, 2015


[Director BJ] Jones admitted, “It is challenging. I know it invites conversation – which I think is important right now.”


The play has become even more timely than it was when Jones chose it. “Ferguson was not on the horizon or Staten Island or Cleveland,” he noted. “That timeliness is serendipity but the truth is that the conversation should always be on the front burner.”


He described the structure of the play as “theatrically surprising” because scenes are not in chronological order.


“This show is a perfect social response to all of the racial and social/economic clashes that we’re having in our country right now,” [actor Patrese D.] McClain said. “It is so timely and appropriate. It really does ask the question, ‘What lives matter in this country?'”


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World premieres highlight local theater scene in 2015

January 7, 2015


Also at Northlight, the world premiere of White Guy on the Bus (Jan. 23-March 1), the play about the unlikely friendship between a successful white businessman and a struggling African American single mother written by Bruce Graham (The Outgoing Tide).


Read the entire preview online  >


Top 10 Plays to See This Winter


December 31, 2014


I’m anticipating with particular relish … White Guy on the Bus: The world premiere of a new play by Bruce Graham that probes the friendship between a successful business executive and a young single parent who is struggling to make ends meet. Artistic director BJ Jones, who has worked with Graham several times before, stages this drama with a stellar Chicago cast, including Patrese D. McClain, Mary Beth Fisher, Amanda Drinkall, Francis Guinan and Jordan Brown.


Read the entire preview online >


Jordan Brown


Jordan is proud to return to Northlight Theatre, where he previously appeared in White Guy On The Bus and Sense and Sensibility. His other Chicago credits include the Goodman Theatre’s Wonderful TownVanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Brigadoon (Jeff Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor, Musical), and A Christmas CarolIphigenia In Aulis (Court Theatre); The Pitmen Painters and Juno (TimeLine Theatre) and In The Company Of Men (Profiles Theatre). Off-Broadway, he played Claudio in Much Ado About Nothing (Theatre Row in the Beckett Theatre). In Baltimore, he appeared in A Skull in Connemara (Centerstage Theatre). Mr. Brown’s television credits include Sirens and Crisis. Mr. Brown can also be seen playing the role of Kirt in NBC’s very first web series, Bobby & Iza. He is a graduate of the University of the North Carolina School of the Arts.

Amanda Drinkall


Amanda returns to Northlight where she previously appeared in White Guy on the Bus and Funnyman. Other Chicago credits include: King Charles III (Chicago Shakespeare); Mary Page Marlowe (Steppenwolf), Venus in Fur and Measure for Measure (Goodman); Dutchman (American Blues); Last Train to Nibroc (Haven Theatre-Jeff Award, Best Actress); Rest (Victory Gardens); Pygmalion (Oak Park Festival); Great Expectations (Strawdog); Pride and Prejudice (Lifeline); hamlet is dead. no gravity, The Skriker, Brand, The Love of the Nightingale, and Pullman, WA (Red Tape); and sixteen shows with The Back Room Shakespeare Project. Regional credits include North Carolina & Michigan Shakespeare Festivals.  TV credits: Chicago Med, Bobby & Iza. Film credits: The View From Tall. Ms. Drinkall holds a BFA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is represented by Gray Talent Group.

Mary Beth Fisher


Mary Beth most recently appeared in the West Coast premiere of Rebecca Gilman’s Luna Gale in Los Angeles. Select Chicago credits: Luna Gale, The God of Carnage, The Seagull, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Boy Gets Girl,Spinning into Butter (Goodman); Dead Man’s Cell Phone, The Dresser, The Memory of Water (Steppenwolf);Angels in America, Three Tall Women, The Year of Magical Thinking (Court, Jeff Award). NY credits: Frank’s Home (Playwrights’ Horizons); Boy Gets Girl (Manhattan Theatre Club, Drama League Honoree, Drama Desk and Lucile Lortel nominations); The Night of the Iguana (Roundabout); Extremities (Westside Arts). Select regional credits: the world premiere of Sarah Ruhl’s Dear Elizabeth at Yale Repertory Theatre and Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Select TV/Film credits: Chicago Fire, Chicago Code, Without a Trace, Numb3rs, Prison Break, NYPD Blue. Ms. Fisher received the 2010 Chicago’s Leading Lady Award from the Sarah Siddons Society and was named Best Actress in Chicago Magazine‘s “Best of Chicago” issue. She was an Inaugural Lunt-Fontanne Fellow at Ten Chimneys Foundation and a Beinecke Fellow at Yale University.

Francis Guinan


Francis returns to Northlight where he previously appeared in By the Water, White Guy On The Bus, Stella & Lou, Season’s Greetings and Inherit the Wind. Chicago credits include The Night Alive, The Birthday Party, Time Stands Still, The Book Thief, American Buffalo, Balm in Gilead and Say Goodnight, Gracie (Steppenwolf); The Book of Joseph (Chicago Shakespeare Theatre); Twist Your Dickens, Pullman Porter Blues and The Seagull (Goodman); A Guide for the Perplexed (Victory Gardens, Jeff Award); and Rantoul and Die (American Blues). He appeared on Broadway in August: Osage County, The Grapes of Wrath and As Is. His television credits include Boss, Eerie, Indiana, ER, Frasier and several Star Trek franchise episodes. Mr. Guinan’s film credits include Abundant Acreage Available, The Last Airbender, Typing, Low Tide and Constantine.

Patrese D. McClain


Production Team

BJ Jones


BJ JONES is in his 25th season as Artistic Director of Northlight. Mr. Jones is a two-time Joseph Jefferson Award Winning actor and a three-time nominated director. He’s directed the world premieres of Charm (Jeff Award Best New Play), The Outgoing Tide (Jeff Award Best New Play), White Guy on the Bus (Jeff Nominated Best New Play), Chapatti (Nominated Jeff Award Best New Play), Better Late, and Rounding Third. Notably, he has directed productions of Outside Mullingar, Grey Gardens, The Price, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, and The Beauty Queen of Leenane. As a producer he has guided the three world premieres of The Christmas at Pemberley Trilogy (Jeff Award Best New Play), Shining Lives, The Last Five Years, and Studs Terkel’s ‘The Good War’. Additional directorial credits include Pitmen Painters (Timeline, Jeff Award Best Production); 100 Saints You Should Know (Steppenwolf); Glengarry Glen Ross (Alliance Theatre, Atlanta, Suzi Bass nomination Best Director); The Lady with All the Answers (Cherry Lane, New York); Animal Crackers (Baltimore Center Stage); Three Musketeers, The Tempest, Twelfth Night, Much Ado About Nothing (Utah Shakespeare Festival), and four productions at the Galway International Arts Festival. As a performer, he has appeared at Northlight, Goodman, Steppenwolf, Court, and other theatres throughout Chicago. Film/TV credits include The Fugitive, Body Double, Law and Order: Criminal Intent, Early Edition, Cupid, and Turks, among others.

Bruce Graham


Plays: White Guy on the Bus, Stella & Lou, The Outgoing Tide (2011 Jeff Award – Best New Play),Burkie, Early One Evening at the Rainbow Bar & Grille, Moon Over the Brewery, Belmont Avenue Social Club, Desperate Affection,Coyote on a Fence (Winner of The Rosenthal Prize, Two Drama Desk Nominations), According to Goldman, The Philly Fan, Mister Hart and Mister Brown. He has won consecutive Barrymore Awards for Best New Play for Something Intangible and Any Given Monday. Film: Dunston Checks In, Anastasia, Steal This Movie. TV: Roseanne, Ring of Endless Light (Humanitas Award Winner – Best Children’s Screenplay), The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, Trading Christmas. Graham is a past winner of the Princess Grace Foundation Statuette. Along with Michele Volansky, he is the author of the book The Collaborative Playwright. Graham teaches film and theatre courses at Drexel University. He divides his time between South Philly and Elkton, Maryland, with Stephanie.

John Culbert

Scenic Design

John previously designed Northlight productions of White Guy on the Bus, Faceless, and Grey Gardens. Other recent Chicago scenic and lighting design credits include: Gospel at Colonus, Arsenic and Old Lace, Oedipus Rex, The Adventures of Augie March (Court); The Chinese Lady, Chimerica and Juno (TimeLine); Villette (Lookingglass); Objects in the Mirror and Having Our Say (Goodman) and Twelfth Night and Arcadia (Writers Theatre).  Regional credits include productions with Glimmerglass Opera, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Long Wharf, Berkeley Repertory, McCarter and Shakespeare Theatre Company. Other projects include the lighting design for the Chicago Park District’s Buckingham Fountain. Mr. Culbert served as Dean of The Theatre School at DePaul University for over 20 years.

Rachel Laritz

Costume Design

JR Lederle

Lighting 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.

Andrew Hansen

Original Music & Sound Design

Andrew returns to Northlight where he previously collaborated on DiscordFunnyman, Outside Mullingar, White Guy on the Bus, Tom Jones, Stella & Lou, The Outgoing Tide, She Stoops to Conquer and Mauritius. Andy is an Associate Artist at TimeLine where he has been designing since 1999.  Regionally he has composed for American Players, Indiana Rep, Summer Shakespeare at Notre Dame and Montana Shakespeare in the Parks.

Kristin Leahey, Ph.D

Production Dramaturg

Kristin is the Resident Dramaturg at Northlight and formerly the Literary Manager at A Red Orchid and Woolly Mammoth in Washington, DC. She has worked with Goodman, The Kennedy Center, Indiana Repertory, Cleveland Play House, Victory Gardens, The Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival, Collaboraction, Teatro Luna, Teatro Vista, Steep, Eclipse, Redmoon, Next and A Red Orchid. Leahey received her M.A. from Northwestern and her Ph.D. from The University of Texas at Austin. Her publications include articles in Theatre Topics, Theatre History and Theatre Studies, and she has taught at Columbia College, University of Chicago and DePaul University. She is an Artistic Associate at Steep Theatre Company and was the 2014 artist-in-residence at Weber State.

Rita Vreeland

Production 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!