Photo Flash: First look- Cole Theatre'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.

Check out the first production shot below!

Ecstasy previews run August 21-24 at A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells St., Chicago. Opening night is Thursday, August 28. Performances are Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. through September 28. Preview tickets $10. Single tickets, $15-$25, are available in advance at 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.

"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."

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