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Thursday, Oct. 14, 2004 08:10 pm

backstage pass 10-14-04

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The community has lost another champion of the arts with the passing of Martha Jackson of Petersburg. Jackson and her partner, Linda Nordeman, owned the City Arts Venue art gallery, a space dedicated to new artists and their work, downtown on South Sixth Street. The first time I met Marty, she asked, "Why don't you do a play in here sometime?" That suggestion led to a weekend of performances of The Laramie Project in the space two years ago. Jackson, who died Sept. 22, will be missed.

A production of The Laramie Project is playing through this weekend at MacMurray College in Jacksonville. The play, which examines the town of Laramie, Wyo., and the murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard, runs Friday and Saturday, Oct. 15 and 16, in MacMurray's Educational Building. The production is directed by newcomer J. Nick Dickert, visiting professor of theater. Dickert, a Virginian, comes to Jacksonville from the University of Oregon in Eugene, where he recently acted in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. For reservations, call 479-7208.

The Celebration Company at the Station Theatre in Champaign is producing Brian Friel's play Aristocrats, which plays through Sunday, Oct. 16. Friel, one of the theater's most prolific playwrights, is the author of Dancing at Lughnasa, a Tony Award-winning play. Aristocrats is one of his best works. Set in Ireland in the 1970s, the play is about an American academic who has come to a mansion that was once a symbol of privilege and influence but has been reduced to a crumbling monument to the past. For reservations, call 384-4000.

A week after a new revue of the music of composer Stephen Sondheim opened in New York (Opening Doors at Carnegie Hall), Gordon Productions brings a 1977 musical revue about Sondheim (by the creator of the first one, David Kernan) to the Club Room at the Hoogland Center for the Arts. Side by Side by Sondheim opens Friday, Oct. 15; continues through Sunday, Oct. 17; and is presented again Friday-Sunday, Oct. 22-24. The show features Gus Gordon, Nancy Diefenback, Doug Hahn, Becky Watts, Cynda Wrightsman, and Dennis Rendleman. For tickets to shows at the Hoogland Center, call 523-ARTS.

Springfield Theatre Centre stages a youth-theater show titled The Trial of the Big Bad Wolf on the mainstage at the center. Directed by Kari Anderson, the show opens Friday at the Center for the Arts and runs this weekend and Oct. 22-24.

A hit Broadway comedy from the 1970s, Same Time, Next Year, can be seen at the Little Theatre on the Square in Sullivan, playing Oct. 14-17 and Oct. 21-24. A long-running show that was also made into a movie, it tells the story of a man and woman, both married to other people, who have a decades-long affair. For tickets, call 728-7375.

Springfield native Leslie Sloan Orr has just directed a stunning production of Regina Taylor's musical play Crowns at the Illinois State University's Center for the Performing Arts in Normal. In the play, a group of African-American women tell their stories, including the tales behind the fabulous hats they wear to church. As one character says, "These hats are like family heirlooms, like crystal or china." With any luck, Crowns will be given more productions in the area; it is one of the best new works to come along in recent memory.

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