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SICK BY SEVEN Set for A Red Orchid Theatre's Incubator Series


Anxiety, phobias, mental illness, mysterious diseases and medication are among the issues explored by artists in SICK BY SEVEN, which premieres in Chicago as part of A Red Orchid Theatre's Incubator Series.

The seven interconnected works combine live theater and video to investigate physical, mental and societal health in the modern world.

The project was co-curated by Northwestern University's David E. Tolchinsky and Brett Neveu and produced by Sarah Gitenstein. It also features playwright Marisa Wegrzyn, theatre director Shade Murray and filmmaker Melika Bass.

"Unexpected diseases are often more common than we'd like to believe," said Tolchinsky, a screenwriter and director of the School of Communication's MFA in Writing for Screen and Stage program at Northwestern. "Sickness is partly real, partly based on beliefs."

The collection of plays and videos evoke a range of unusual illnesses and symptoms, from phobias and alien hand syndrome to Morgellons disease, a uncommon, unexplained skin disorder characterized by sores and crawling sensations on and under the skin.

They include:

"KISS ALIVE!!!" by Grant James Varjas. Varjas explores mental illness, medication, brothers and the possible healing aspects of nostalgia, all through the lens of an actual disorder that can cause visual hallucinations in adults. Varjas, who has suffered from anxiety in differing forms over the years, is interested in how environment informs or contributes to a disorder.

"Alien" by Lisa Dillman. As a child, Dillman was phobic about germs and disease. "Every freckle on my body was a potential melanoma, every pain a possible malignancy," she said. The fears eventually faded away but Dillman said she is "still fascinated by the intertwined psychological and physiological issues surrounding health and illness." Her new play, "Alien," looks at a disorder where one's limbs seem to move of their own accord.

"Where's the Rest of Me?" by David E. Tolchinsky. As a debut playwright and director, Tolchinsky won the "best director" award at the Riant Theatre's Strawberry One-Act Festival in New York for "Where's the Rest of Me?" The "Sick by Seven" project embodies what he tries to teach: exploring the edge of theater, combining theater with video and pondering how theater can be produced and performed anywhere.

The night also features works by Neveu, Shannon Pritchard, Wegrzyn and Bass. In addition to Murray and Tolchinsky, theatre directors include Monty Cole, Jessica Fisch, Sarah Gitenstein, and Steve Haggard.

An Institutional Quality Productions presentation, SICK BY SEVEN will be performed at 8 p.m. Friday, June 17; 8 p.m. Saturday, June 18; 7:30 p.m. Sunday, June 19; 8 p.m. Friday, June 24; 8 p.m. Saturday June 25 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, June 26, at A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells St. #5, Chicago.

Half of the $15 ticket price will benefit the Mental Health Association of Illinois. "The project is meant to shine a light on mental illness, as well as illness that may have a physical component or a combination of both," said Neveu, a lecturer in the radio, television and film department at Northwestern.

A fundraiser will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. Monday, May 16 at Four Moon Tavern.

Tickets for SICK BY SEVEN go on sale May 16 at A Red Orchid Theatre. For more information, call 312-883-5967.

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