When co-ed Ann James tossed the tassel on her mortarboard at graduation from Smith College and thought ahead to her Yale Divinity degree, it’s unlikely her thoughts meandered to the day when she would spellbind audiences by wearing a combination Fredericks of Hollywood teaser with prosthetic hook arms.
That’s exactly what James does do every performance of Sideshow’s Maria/Stuart, while delivering more truth than her on-stage siblings can muster in a soothing mellifluous voice typically reserved for making Shakespearean lingo relevant to Chicago’s school children, or in for her pastoral work with the United Church of Christ.
Meet “Maria/Stuart’s Aunt Sylvia; meet Ann James.
A United Church of Christ minister and driving force to help the Summerdale Community Church provide a neighborhood place for all in the community, James has made her pastoral career share a platform with Chicago’s vibrant theater scene for decades. Not least of this work has been her devotion to making her beloved Shakespeare come alive to newer generations, including the many students who learn English as a second language.
Chicspeare, a name James coined to convey both a dual commitment to the city and to the Bard, is currently wrapping up its 2013 school programs. In the fall Chicspeare hopes to get back into full production mode helping teachers with Romeo and Juliet. Your funds and volunteer hours can make this happen and James welcomes all inquiries to http://www.chicspeare.org or (773) 699-BARD.
Why break from this work to perform the Aunt Sylvia role in “Maria/Stuart”?
This is how James explains what this role and the Sideshow Company mean to her—
“I love playing this part because Aunt Sylvia is a character who embodies a pure and genuine concern for the people around her—only wanting them to say and embrace the truth as she has. No matter what, she is determined to make sure that the lies that crippled her generation do not move on to the next and she will do anything to that achieve that goal.
“…Temperamentally I’m an introverted hermit, but professionally the things that consistently interest me from childhood musical interests, to performing, to politics, to church and then back to theater have always been what I call the communal imagination. History brings us into many forms of community and they each have a text that is worked out in a communal way—in music the score, in theater the script, in church the scripture. The text is always living. It is not just on the page.
“.. Or, as Shakespeare’s line in Hamlet Act 3 reads, “…to hold as 'twere the mirror up to nature: to show virtue her feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.
“Having worked with Sideshow Theatre before, I was thrilled to be asked to do this part—even before I read this wonderful script that combines cartoonish moments with truthful drama and then goes back to the absurd. The theme of this play, and especially lived by the character I get to play, is that the truth will set you free and it is only the truth that will set you free.
“We read our lines as a comedy but really this is a truly tragic tale with the would -be hero not being up to living as a hero. No happy ending here…
“…I am drawn to this work as a moral. In this play as in life nothing every goes away. Today we live in a society where so much is disposable and materialistic. We all think we can just go and remake ourselves but we cannot. We have to live as we really are. That is Sylvia’s message. It is a timely message of freedom for us all.”
“Maria/Stuart” by Jason Grote is presented by Sideshow Theatre at the Theater Wit performance space, 1229 West Belmont, Chicago.
Maria/Stuart run time: March 30 – May 5, 2013
Curtain Times: Thursdays- Saturdays at 7:30; Sundays at 3 PM
Tickets at either www.sideshowtheatre.org or Theater Wit box office, (773) 975 – 8150.