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Goodman Play Tweaks Online Crowd with a Twist on Miss Lonelyhearts

A new play that pokes fun at the online, wired community is opening at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago next week as part of a program that gives playwrights a chance to create and showcase fresh works in front of an audience.

Ask Aunt Susan, a play written by Seth Bockley will open at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 10. The play expresses a theme of “urban alienation,” Bockley said in an interview at the theater, and satirizes the life of a tech-savvy man in his late 20s. Bockley’s inspiration for Ask Aunt Susan sparked from Nathaneal West’s 1931 novel Miss Lonelyhearts where the main character wrote a newspaper advice column. Bockley metaphorically transformed that idea into Ask Aunt Susan, where the main character writes an online advice column.

“I have a quirky sense of humor and enjoy absurdity,” Bockely said from a rehearsal room. The plot pokes fun at the online, wired community, he said.

Ask Aunt Susan is part of New Stages Amplified. The playwright can then learn how the audience reacts to the piece and learn from its reaction.

Also in New Stages Amplified was the play Dartmoor Prison by Carlyle Brown that concluded showings on Oct. 23. Chicago Boys by Kathleen Tolan is currently running through Nov. 6.

The series also included three readings. Attendance to these readings is free. A reading is a skeleton of a play; actors do not wear costumes or memorize lines, they stand and read them. The reading Smokefall by Noah Haidle concluded on Oct. 24. Two Lakes, Two Rivers by Laura Jacqmin begins Monday Nov. 7, and Teddy Ferrara by Christopher Shinn begins Nov. 14.

The audience reacts differently to plays than to readings, Bockley said. Plays affect the audience with sets and interaction; readings focus more on stationary body language.

New Stages Amplified “is a testament to our belief in new plays and our commitment to developing them,” said Denise Schneider, publicity director at the Goodman Theater.

Casting director Adam Belcuore met with potential actors three times over a two-week span to determine the cast of the show.

Actors rehearse six hours per day, six days per week, for four weeks total. They are currently in their third week of rehearsal. This is standard rehearsal time for play practice, director Joanie Schulz said.

Ask Aunt Susan “has a noir quality… also has a kind of nostalgia,” said Tanya Palmer, Director of New Play Development. The production’s contemporary and nostalgic mix creates a show that attracts young and old audience members alike.

In addition to Ask Aunt Susan, Bockley directed The Ugly One, which is currently playing at the Oracle Theater through Nov. 20.

On the day of a show, the Goodman offers a $10 ticket price for students who show student identification. The program, called “Ten Tix,” allows each student to buy two tickets with his or her ID, $10 each. The seats sold for “Ten Tix” are any available seats in the theater, not limited to the back rows.

The Goodman Theater was established in 1925 and is Chicago’s largest not-for-profit theater. It is also the oldest in the city.

Ask Aunt Susan runs at the Goodman through Nov. 20.


Reporter Chelsea Tomala contributed to this story.


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