Steppenwolf Theatre Company hosted a one-night only performance of Studs Terkel’s book Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Death, Rebirth, and Hunger for a Faith. excerpted from the stage adaptation by Derek Goldman on Monday night, May 21st.
Steppenwolf ensemble members Ian Barford, Robert Breuler, Ora Jones, Martha Lavey and Alan Wilder with Anthony Fleming III, Justin Hayford, Rick Kogan, L. J. Slavin, Mary Ann Thebus, Guy Van Swearingen, Andrew White and Dennis Zacek performed readings from Terkel’s book. The staged readings were directed by Artistic and Educational Director of Steppenwolf for Young Adults,Hallie Gordon. Three vocalists—Tina Brown, Rhonda Preston and David Simmons performed under the direction of Musical Director, Robert Reddrick.
Rick Kogan, playing Studs Terkel, introduced the perople as each narrated their stories, while reading at a desk at the corner of the stage.
Robert Breuler read the stories of Dr. John Barrett, Chief Trauma Specialist, Cook County Hospital, speaking of the necessity of saying the word “dead” to the parents of their children who were lost due to gunshot wounds and Kurt Vonnegut speaking of Hitler’s last words before he committed suicide as “I regret nothing”. (Yes, that is the song by Edith Piaf!).
L. J Slavin read "Doc" Watson’s story about his son’s death and performed the song Will the Circle Be Unbroken accompanying himself with the guitar.
Anthony Fleming III read as Delbert Lee Tibbs who was on death row for 20 years convicted of murder in Florida by an all white jury. He spoke of his rebirth after his conviction was overturned because of no evidence.
The story of the tragic death of Mame Mobley's son, Emmet Till, was narrated by Ora Jones.
Steppenwolf hosted the performance with the Studs Terkel Centenary Committee as part of a citywide celebration of Terkel’s birth. Born on May 16, 2012, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and oral historian Louis "Studs" Terkel was a Chicago television pioneer who, after being blacklisted during the McCarthy hysteria of the 1950s, carved out an illustrious career as the nation's pre-eminent radio interviewer for nearly half a century at WFMT in Chicago. “Studs was a great friend to Steppenwolf, where we have performed adaptations of both Division Street and Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” recalls Steppenwolf Artistic Director, Martha Lavey.
“Studs has also appeared numerous times on the Steppenwolf stage as a part of our Traffic series, including his one-man performance as Dalton Trumbo,"a writer blacklisted in the 1950s. "We are honored to help celebrate the centenary of a great Chicagoan and a great American voice.”
An unabashedly left-wing activist in such causes as the peace, labor and civil rights movements, Studs Terkel died at the age of 96 in October 2008, just four days before Barack Obama was elected the first African American president. In early 2012, a loose-knit group of Terkel's friends, neighbors, associates and admirers formed the Studs Terkel Centenary Committee to recognize Studs and his wife, Ida Goldberg Terkel, who also would have turned 100 on May 9 of this year. The committee, headed by longtime Terkel colleague and friend Tony Judge, is organizing a re-dedication of the Division Street Bridge, which was originally named for Terkel twenty years ago. Division Street: America, published in 1966, was Terkel's first book of oral history. The bridge re-dedication ceremony was scheduled for Saturday, May 12.