Front row, l to r: scenic designer Williams Boles, costume designer Sally Dolembo, scenic designer Sarah Watkins, director Laley Lippard and lighting designer Will Kirkham. Back row, l to r: director Adam Goldstein, scenic designer Courtney O’Neill, director Emily Campbell, lighting designer Rebecca Jeffords and costume designer Kelsey Ettman.Photo by Carl Morrison Photography.

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Steppenwolf Theatre and Northwestern University’s MFA programs secure their commitment to nurture and showcase the next generation of theatre artists with the announcement of the second annual NEXT UP, a three-production series to be presented in rotating repertory June 5-24 at The Steppenwolf Garage, 1624 N. Halsted St. in Chicago.

NEXT UP features the work of graduates of NU’s Direction and Design MFA program, and casts professional Chicago actors. Headlining this year are “Life and Limb” by Keith Reddin, directed by Emily Campbell; “South of Settling” by Emily Schwend, directed by Adam Goldstein; and “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams, directed by Laley Lippard.

Directors and designers make their Steppenwolf debut under the mentorship of Steppenwolf staff and artists, including ensemble member Anna D. Shapiro and scenic designer Todd Rosenthal – both members of the Northwestern faculty – as well as Steppenwolf associate artistic director Erica Daniels. “Steppenwolf has made a commitment to the development of emerging artists,” said Ms. Shapiro. “This multi-year mentor/mentee experience is vital to the careers of these very talented theatre-makers.

“Life and Limb” focuses on Franklin, a wounded enlistee, who returns home from Korea without an arm or hope for normalcy. Void of work prospects and swept up by the agony of a faltering marriage, the once optimistic Franklin struggles to regain his life but finds himself working for a sadistic manufacturer of artificial limbs. Not a typical veteran’s story, “Life and Limb” utilizes deadpan humor and sharp comic rhetoric to reach its audience.

“South of Settling,” which landed playwright Ms. Schwend the 2011 ACT New Play Award, hovers over the once quiet and ordered life of Kate and Irwin Deckhouse – now chaotic upon the surprise arrival of Kate’s long-estranged cousin, Amy, and new husband, Randall. Volatile scenes balance those stressing the importance of endurance and generosity, as family secrets are unleashed amid an attempt at hospitality.

Tennessee Williams’ classic “The Glass Menagerie” requires no prelude.  Known as Williams’ most sedate play, it makes up for the lack of southern passion found in “A Streetcar Named Desire” or “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” with its poetry and emotional mess.

Timeless and semi-autobiographical, the play is narrated by Tom Wingfield, a shoe warehouse worker who yearns to be a poet. He weaves truth and imagination while recalling his younger self and the family he escaped long ago. The Wing-field household corrodes as an overbearing mother, Amanda, yearns for the glamour of her past, and fragile sister Laura is crippled by both a leg brace and her timidity. The characters are trapped in a menagerie of Tom’s memories, and
they have become as illusory as the glass animals that Laura loves.

NEXT UP performance dates and time vary, utilizing the Steppenwolf Garage on alternating days or evenings June 5-24.  A complete schedule is available at www.steppenwolf.org.