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“Speaking in Tongues” approaches theater with unique framework
Chicago is brimming with big-budget theaters that seasonally produce classic moneymaking Broadway hits.
However, Chicago-based artistic director Jeffry Stanton is approaching the craft with a new voice—one that provocatively sheds light onto a seldom-explored realm of theater.
This voice, The Interrobang Theatre Project, is now in its third season and has employed a simplistic approach to the upcoming play, “Speaking In Tongues.”
With a plotline centered on marital deceit, Stanton said the production explores the darkest facets
“It’s about the difficulty of human communication in relationships and how savage we can be to each other in pursuit of getting what we want,” Stanton said. “It’s essentially two one-acts linked together through similar stories and characters that bridge the gap.”
Stanton said he first read the script in grad school and was struck by its haunting storyline and overlapping characters and dialogue.
“[The script] is tricky to read on the page,” Stanton said. “It’s one that doesn’t reveal itself so easily.”
With nine roles being performed by only four cast members, the Interrobang Theatre Project’s team of creatives had a visually unique challenge to wrestle, said set designer and Columbia alumnus Mike Mroch.
Mroch said he used the emotionally complex script and small cast as foundations for his design ideas.
“I worked with [Stanton] and began talking about the world and emotions we felt from reading the script,” Mroch said. “We always try to stay true to these initial impulses we have together.”
He said they started with about 40 stimulating images inspired by the script to get a feel for color palette, mood and line for the set, eventually narrowing it down to a few basic visual concepts.
Technical director and Columbia alumnus Adam Gorsky was enlisted to ensure that Mroch’s vision could be safely realized.
“It’s important to build something that not only looks good but is also built safe,” Gorsky said, adding that fabricating set pieces that abate the possibility of actors falling and hurting themselves is the most important element of his job.
“[Together,] Mroch and I created a world in just a matter of weeks,” Gorsky said.
Mroch said he drew design inspiration from the Lars Von Trier film “Dogville” about a woman hiding from mobsters. Unlike most big productions, the film takes place on an exposed set. His stage designs mimic the film’s unconcealed scenery by blatantly labeling the story’s locations on-stage regardless of the set’s simple
“We started to approach [the play’s technique] Brechtian style,” he said. “We were trying to find a way to give the audience as much information as we could while stripping [the play] to its
Carlos Murillo, a faculty-member of DePaul University’s Theatre Department, said Brechtian style increases the audience’s awareness of reality by puncturing
“Rather than hiding a theatrical light pointing at an actor, [Brechtian theater] leaves it exposed,” Murillo said. “There is a disappearance of the play’s ‘fourth wall.’”
In keeping with a minimalist aesthetic, Mroch said he deliberately chose to physically display only eight key locations, while the script discusses 30. Signs that read, “This is the bar,” for example, make up the core of Mroch’s simplistic set.
Lighting designer and Columbia alumna Claire Chrzan aided Mroch by illuminating the stage in a minimalist manner that fueled the storyline, but left the audience curious.
“It has been a challenge with how we want this world to look like and how we want the characters to inhabit the world,” Chrzan said. “The biggest consideration we’ve all been focusing on is how to
move the audience through this story that has a lot of twists and turns in it.”
Although she said “Speaking In Tongues” follows real people in real situations, it is not written in a way that forces the designers to create visually realistic work.
“We’re trying to have these really isolated areas [of light,]” Chrzan said. “When [the characters] are in the hotel, we’re only focused on the hotel, and the other spaces really sort of fall away.”
This approach not only upholds Mroch’s vision of the on-stage world of “Speaking In Tongues” but also further solidifies Stanton’s initial mission when he founded the Interrobang Theatre Project in 2010.
Without a huge budget, Stanton said the company has directed its focus on implementing strong storytelling, smart playwrights and passionate teams to deliver optimal plays every season.
“I would like to say we’re trying to redefine minimalist theater,” Stanton said. “[For ‘Speaking In Tongues’], we’ve focused on the story and what needed to be on
stage. I think what we’ve arrived with is not a cheap production
but rather the smartest production for display.”
Speaking In Tongues opens Feb. 21 at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., and will run until March 24. For more information, visit