Book store collaboration with theater group brings clarity to readers
Jenny Avry, artistic director of the Next Theater Company (left), and Nicole Ripley, assistant director of the play, "Everything is Illuminated," show members of a book group a model of the set design. | Pat Krochmal~for Sun-Times Media
Tickets are on sale now for the production, which will take place through March 31 at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes St. For more information, call (847) 475-1875.
Updated: March 22, 2013 6:47AM
NORTHBROOK — Everything actually was illuminated when the Book Bin in Northbrook and the Next Theater company in Evanston came together to discuss a book by Jonathan Safran Foer.
A Next board member, Linda Ring, who is also a customer of the book shop, asked shop owner Alli Mengarelli if its discussion group would like to talk about “Everything is Illuminated” during the month the play premiers.
“We said we would love to, which was the starting point. From there we thought ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to have some actors come and talk about adaptation, as well as do a scene?’” said Mengarelli, who grew up in Northbrook.
Both the book store and the theater company promoted the event through e-mail and social media each telling their patrons about the combined event.
However, only the most stalwart showed up because of an ice storm that kept a lot of people off the streets.
Instead of performers, it was Chicagoans Jenny Avery, artistic director of Next Theater, and Nicole Ripley, assistant director, who shared their knowledge of the work with the discussion group.
“Director Devon de Mayo saw this stage adaptation in London at the Hampstead Theatre in 2006. She really loved it, although as a director and an artist, she thought she could do it better,” Avry said.
“She started shopping it around and most places said ‘no’ to her. She brought it to me and I either very smartly or incredibly stupidly said ‘I think it’s fabulous and I think we should do it’.”
Avery noted that she was looking for a big epic tale that was theatrical. And a lot of plays are written more for TV than for the stage. But this story was theatrical and really epic.
“It has a lot of threads and talks about a lot of things that are universal. In fact, when the story was being discussed on the radio, an African American man in his 60s came on who totally identified with it. He wanted to know the truth about his own family’s history and legacy,” Avery said. “It was the Marx brothers meets Philip Roth in the land of magical realism. It was semi- autobiographical with the author trying to go back to the town his family was from in the Ukraine and finding the person who saved his grandfather.”
Ripley noted that she understood the book far better after working on the play.
“In one way it’s a documentary about a man going back to a Jewish town that doesn’t exist anymore,” she added.
“It starts out very zany and slapstick, and though there is a lot of humor, there is also tragedy.”
Mengarelli said the book was challenging, but definitely kept her interest.
Mary Demcak, Sue Hintz and Sheila Whalen, all of Northbrook, said that they understood it much better after the discussion with Avery and Ripley.
Several added that the theatre company representatives made them want to see the play.
Tickets are on sale now for the production, which will take place Feb. 21 through March 31, at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes St. for more information, call (847) 475-1875.