Cole Theatre to Present Mike Leigh's ECSTASY, 8/21-9/28

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Cole Theatre to Present Mike Leigh's ECSTASY, 8/21-9/28

The newly formed Equity Cole Theatre presents its inaugural production, Mike Leigh's Ecstasy, running August 21-September 28 in Old Town. An intensely naturalistic and darkly comic portrait of gloom and joy, violence and romance, Ecstasy is the story of six sharply drawn characters and their struggle against despair one evening in a run-down London flat. The production stars Boyd Harris, Maura Kidwell, Layne Manzer, Lauren Pizzi, Michaela Petro and Joel Reitsma. Mike Leigh connoisseur Shade Murray, who directed the Jeff Award-winning Abigail's Party for A Red Orchid in 2010, directs.

Ecstasy previews run August 21-24 at A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells St., Chicago. Opening night is Thursday, August 28. Press performance is Monday, August 25. Performances are Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. through August 28. Single tickets, $10-$25, are available at www.coletheatre.org or by calling the box office at (773) 747-6821.

Defying the prevailing wisdom of theater startups, Cole is coming out of the gate big and ambitious with a Seventies-era period drama and a six-member ensemble cast speaking in British dialects. Ecstasy is directed by Jeff Award-winner Shade Murray. The last major mounting of Ecstasy in Chicago was Roadworks Productions' in 1997, a dazzling production that moved to Los Angeles with Nick Offerman in the cast. Murray was a young company member of Roadworks when they mounted Ecstasy in 1997, and was left in charge of the company when they took it to L.A. and never came back.

"Mike Leigh has held a special place in my heart, from my early days at Roadworks to my tenure as an ensemble member at A Red Orchid," says Murray. "He offers character, nuance, truth, relationship in alternating waves of keenly observed humor, unexpected violence and ordinary beauty. These are also the hallmarks of the very best of the Chicago storefront scene. An apt debut for Cole Theater."

Acclaimed Chicago actors Boyd Harris and Layne Manzer founded Cole Theatre, working under an Equity contract with non-profit status, with the tagline "victory of the people" as its battle cry. The company is conceived as an arena for underused and under-sung artists to rise up and be seen louder and clearer. (The name "Cole" is Greek for "people's victory".)

"The choice of Ecstasy as our inaugural production has to do with the underdog's journey to get to a better place," says Manzer, Cole's managing director. "A group of middle- to lower-class people finds their own victory within a change in the way they look at what that victory is. Victory is not in achieving more money, a bigger home, more children, rather finding peace and happiness in one's own situation."

Shade Murray (director) has directed Mud Blue Sky, Trevor, The Aliens, The Butcher of Baraboo, Abigail's Party, Kimberly Akimbo (A Red Orchid); The Chosen, The Subject was Roses (Writers); HP Lovecraft's The Shadow over Innsmouth (WildClaw); Fatty Arbuckle... (The Second City); End Days (Next); The Petrified Forest, The Good Soul of Szechuan, R.U.R., Marathon '33, Detective Story, WRLS #5, Our Country's Good (Strawdog); Stupid Kids, Some Explicit Polaroids, Santaland Diaries, Never Swim Alone (Roadworks); as well as productions at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Shattered Globe, About Face and Chicago Moving Company. Upcoming credits include Love Tapes, opening this week at The Inconvenience.

Boyd Harris (Mick) has anchored some of the longest running and most successful, community-affecting shows in Chicago in the last few years, including Northwest Highway at The Gift Theatre and David Cromer's Picnic at Writers Theatre. Other credits include: Hollow Lands, directed by Jonathan Berry at Steep Theatre and Austin Pendleton's production of Bus Stop outside of Washington, DC. Boyd can be seen in The Onion's hit satirical series Sex House. Born and raised in Chicago's old Little Sicily neighborhood on the same street as Dennis Farina, Harris is a graduate of DePaul University and the School at Steppenwolf.

Maura Kidwell (Jean) has worked on plays at Court Theatre, Steppenwolf, Lookingglass, Royal George and The Gift. She can be seen in the role of Stats on the USA comedy series Sirens and as Bryce Markle, GameByte reporter for The Onion. Other television credits include guest star roles on Chicago Fire, Mind Games and Boss. Kidwell is an artistic associate with Erasing the Distance, a Chicago-based company whose aim is to shed light on issues of mental health through theater.

Layne Manzer (Len) was in the original cast of Hit the Wall with The Inconvenience as part of Steppenwolf's 2012 Garage Rep which recently remounted at The Greenhouse Theatre. Other Chicago credits include The Jewels with TUTA, Assisted Living with Profiles Theatre, The Lady's Not for Burning with Theo Ubique and Our Bad Magnet with Mary-Arrchie. He can be seen in the soon-to-be-released romantic comedy In Between Engagements with Armand Assante. Manzer is a founding member of The Plagiarists where he served as the managing director until 2013.

Michaela Petro (Dawn) is an ensemble member with Strawdog Theatre Company, as well as a company member of WildClaw Theatre. She's also spent time with Lifeline Theatre, Mary-Arrchie Theatre, Interrobang and various other storefronts.

Lauren Pizzi (Val). Originally from California, Pizzi was a founding member and managing director of the San Francisco-based improvisational theater company Revolving Madness and managing director of the children's theater company, The Story Stretchers. Work with Chicago companies includes: Griffin Theatre, The House Theatre of Chicago, Fox Valley Rep, The Plagiarists, LiveWire Theatre and Steppenwolf.

Joel Reitsma (Roy) has been working in Chicago theater and film for eight years. He just played Tye in Vieux Carré at Raven, Neal in Love And Understanding at Redtwist, Danny in Motortown at Steep (Non-Equity Jeff Nomination) and Prisoner #9 in The Brig at Mary-Arrchie. Reitsma also performs with EnSolo, a solo performance ensemble he co-founded in 2011.

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