CHICAGO: Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company will be forced to close its doors at the end of its 30th year, as developers take over the block that inhabits the Angel Island Theater, the home of the alternative theatre company above a convenience store on W. Sheridan Road.
Mary-Arrchie, spearheaded by founding artistic director Richard Cotovsky, has been a venerable fixture in the storefront theatre scene, producing edgy works and launching the careers of many actors and directors in the Windy City. But with the lease ending at the conclusion of the company’s 30th season, Cotovsky has decided to shut down. “Running a theatre is a struggle,” says Cotovsky. “It is a lot of stress, and if you don’t have enough support, it is hard to continue.”
Despite the circumstances, Cotovsky says he wants to celebrate the milestone anniversary and go out with a bang. “I hope we can go out on a positive note and that the things we are planning will be worthwhile and attended by good audiences.”
The final season will begin with Peter Morris’s The Guardians (Sept. 10–Oct. 18), directed by Arianna Soloway. “This production highlights some of the things we have done over the years, which is to give young artists the opportunity to do some work,” says Cotovsky. “Soloway has worked with us in various capacities—she wants to start being known as a director, and this piece she picked is compatible with what we are doing.”
The season will also include the company’s annual Abbie Hoffman Died for Our Sins Festival. It began in 1989, when the company moved into its theatre space, around the time of the 20th anniversary of Woodstock. Reasons Cotovsky, “I thought we should do something to commemorate that—they did three days of music, so we did three days of theatre.”
Other productions slated for the valedictory season are Greg Allen’s adaptation of Ibsen’s Ghosts and a production of David Mamet’s American Buffalo. “We’re thinking that will run right to the end of our lease!” adds Cotovsky with a laugh.
Looking back on the past 29 seasons, Cotovsky recalls memorable productions of Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Tracy Letts’s Superior Donuts, Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie, and collaborations with director David Cromer on a number of works.
“We contributed a lot to bringing new artists to the forefront,” Cotovsky notes. “I always called Mary-Arrchie a launching pad. People started with us and went onto good careers as actors and directors after getting some recognition with us.”
One example of a student’s success is memorialized in the theatre’s oddly spelled name. In the company’s early years, when it only produced workshops, a girl who participated in one of the workshops would talk about her parents, Mary and Archie. Later on, when a student had trouble with a monologue, Cotovsky told him to forget the dialogue and talk to Mary and Archie, which helped give him focus. Cotovsky ever after dubbed this the Mary-Archie Technique.
“He then went to the Goodman Theatre for an audition and he went up on his monologue,” Cotovsky says. Then, though, the actor “started talking to Mary and Archie and he got cast. I decided if we ever got a show, we would name our company Mary-Arrrrrrrchie after our technique,” says Cotovsky. “I wanted 7 r’s in the name, to sound more New York—but it came back from the printer with only 2 r’s. So that’s how it stuck.”