Original Founding Ensemble (1985-1994)
Norma J. Cribb
Richard V. French
Barbara J. Hummel
Laura (Blobaum) Knor
John S. Reinhardt
Bryan W. Simon
Mary Ellen (Durkin) Vanderventer
Other Ensemble Members
Brad Davidson 1990-1992
Marjorie Engesser 1989-1994
Shawn Fitzgerald 1990-1994
Mary May Johnson 1989-1994
Founded in October, 1985, Stage Two attempted to offer entertainment that was energizing, not tranquilizing; which involves the audience with the artists in a reciprocal relationship. H. Lee Murphy, in his Chicago Tribune article of January 24, 1986, stated of founder Bryan W. Simon, “Now he has started his own company that promises to shake up the theater scene in the North Suburbs.” Stage Two attempted to stimulate thought and arouse imagination with it’s choice of productions, and believed that theater is a vehicle to inform and to disseminate ideas which could change opinions. The company’s productions reflect a strong social conscience. Stage Two’s first home was the black box theater at the Chicago suburban College of Lake County in Grayslake, Illinois.
In January, 1986, Stage Two presented it’s first play, Christopher Durang’s BABY WITH THE BATHWATER, which was directed by John S. Reinhardt. In May, 1986, Stage Two produced Sam Shepard’s FOOL FOR LOVE. John Poyton’s review for the News-Voice newspaper stated, “Honorable mention to Stage Two for it’s most recent performance of Sam Shepard’s surrealistic drama, ‘Fool for Love.’ A great deal of talent and potential in the ensemble. We look forward to their continued efforts and successes.”
Stage Two’s first Midwest Premiere was PACK of LIES, which was presented August, 1986, and was directed by Barbara J. Hummel. H. Lee Murphy of the Chicago Tribune again writes in his August 15, 1986, article, “This week Stage Two takes another leap forward with the Chicago premiere of High Whitmore’s ‘Pack of Lies’, a British drama that debuted on Broadway more than a year ago but which thus far been bypassed by major Chicago companies.”
As Stage Two began it’s third season, it continued to strive to be an innovative leader in the Chicago area arts community. A October 1, 1987 News-Sun article stated, “Stage Two has done even better this season because this January it will produce the world premiere of ‘Dark Outlines’ by Chicago playwright William Rosen.” The dark comedy ran January through February 1988, enjoying a sold out run and gaining recognition for the company. After DARK OUTLINES successful run, the March/April 1988 issue of New Plays and Playwrights magazine heralded, “Stage Two’s most recent production, the world premiere of Dark Outlines, has opened doors for a new, young, professional theater company…” Also according to the News-Sun, “Stage Two, a theatrical group under the direction of Bryan Simon, is being recognized on both coasts.”
In January 1989, Stage Two mounted it’s most successful play to date, P.S. YOUR CAT IS DEAD! In his January 13, 1989, Chicago Tribune article H. Lee Murphy wrote, “Stage Two’s biggest problem over the last year has been to find enough seats to satisfy ticket demand.” When Stage Two closed it’s fourth season at the end of 1989, it now had outgrown it’s home in Grayslake and began looking for a permanent home in Waukegan, Bryan W. Simon’s hometown. Mary Ann Dadisman in her August 18, 1989 New-Sun article, STAGE TWO at 4, reiterated what had become known throughout the theater world. She stated, “Stage Two gained a national reputation for it’s willingness to take the risks involved in producing new works.” Gloria Davis of Lakeland Newspapers writes, “Very few theater companies are willing to take the ultimate risk of presenting new plays. Stage Two on the other hand, has embraced that challenge.” And in his News-Sun article DOING IT FIRST, Frederic Woldt writes on December 22, 1989, “Stage Two holds a quiet national status.”
In keeping with it’s commitment to present an exciting, creative, and relevant alternative to the more traditional modes of theatrical fare, Stage Two opened it’s 1990 season with the world premiere play MOONBIRDS. In February, 1990, Stage Two embarked on a new project. Houston playwright Christopher Woods, author of MOONBIRDS, INTERIM, LA LOMA and CATHOLIC’S IN HEAT was invited to be Stage Two’s first Resident Playwright.
November, 1990 marked several milestones for Stage Two. The first was it’s move to it’s permanent home at 11 North Genesee Street in historic downtown Waukegan, Illinois. The three story store front space provided Stage Two with a 60 seat modified thrust theater and lobby on the first floor. An office and rehearsal space on the second floor and a third floor for future expansion. Lakeland Newspapers in their November, 1990 article, Stage Two Moves To New City Home, “with this move Stage Two will become Waukegan’s first professional theater company.” In addition, this permanent home allowed Stage Two to expand it’s programs. On The Fringe, spearheaded by ensemble member Shawn Fitzgerald, presented new and risky works between main stage shows and Super Saturday’s run by Co-Artistic Directer Marjorie Engesser, programed special programs just for kids on Saturday mornings. Stage Two also launched the Ray Bradbury Play and Film Festival which raised funds for Stage Two and the community presenting lectures by Mr. Bradbury, staging his plays and screening his films.
To open the 1990-1991 season and christen the new space, Stage Two presented the one man show, LA LOMA. Starring Artistic Director Bryan W. Simon, LA LOMA again thrust Stage Two into the national spotlight when the play toured the country after it’s world premiere in Waukegan. The critically acclaimed show, won three coveted Drama-logue Awards in Los Angeles in 1992 including Outstanding Achievement in Performance for Bryan and two U. S. Cable awards that same year for Best Entertainment and Audience Favorite. Beth Hill of the LA Reader called Bryan’s performance, “emotionally charged” in her February 21, 1992 Critics Choice review and Drama-logue critic Robert J. Sessions also gave the show a Critics Choice and called Bryan’s performance, “Excellent,” “Powerful,” and said “Simon is fantastic from start to end.”