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The Audacity of Hope

In the 100 years since the Cubs won a World Series, the underachieving team has managed a single unmitigated triumph: inspiring the play Bleacher Bums. On this centennial, we look back at the creation of that memorable drama.

(page 2 of 5)


OUR CAST (In order of appearance, left to right): Joe Mantegna (writer and actor); Richard Christiansen (critic); Stuart Gordon (director); Dennis Franz (actor); Roberta Custer (actor); Dennis Paoli (writer)

 

JOE MANTEGNA: When I was 18 or 19 years old, I’d go to a lot of Cubs games. It didn’t cost much to get into the bleachers, and these were all afternoon games, before the lights came to Wrigley Field. And I’d sit there and watch the game. And that was the same time I started to get serious about acting, as well.

Shortly after that, I became part of the Organic, which had a theatre that seated 150 people. And it was a struggle to fill those seats—an effort on everyone’s part, no matter how good the play was or how good the reviews were. Then in the afternoons I’d be at this ballpark seeing 35,000 people watching this team that, at best—I mean, I love the Cubs, and I’ve been following them since I was a kid—was basically mediocre.

Why does that happen at Wrigley Field? I’d wonder. What is it about this that brings people back over and over when, frankly, the “show” isn’t that good? If I could capture whatever it is that makes people follow the Cubs and use that to make people follow a play, I’d really have something.

RICHARD CHRISTIANSEN: The Organic Theater was a crucial player in the development of small resident theatres in Chicago, chiefly for its ensemble work and its cultivation of local talent. Stuart Gordon was a native Chicagoan, and the people he gathered around him were, by and large, natives of the city, too. Stuart once told me that to be a good Chicago actor you need improv skills and a sense of humor. And Bleacher Bums turned out to be the masterwork of that process. 

STUART GORDON: At the Organic, we would always decide as a company what we would do as our next show. We were a true ensemble group, from conceiving the plays to sweeping the floors. We did it together.

Photography: (Second from left) Charles Osgood/Chicago Tribune; (third from left) Charles Hugare/Chicago Tribune

 

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