Steppenwolf’s ‘The Rembrandt’ takes the audience on a fantasy back to the past

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FRANCIS GUINAN AS Rembrandt and Ty Olwin as Titus discuss Rembrandt’s color palette. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., Chicago Crusader

Steppenwolf Theatre Company opens its 42nd Season with the Chicago premiere of “The Rembrandt,” written by Jessica Dickey and directed by Hallie Gordon. This subtle and elegant play features ensemble members Francis Guinan as Henry/Rembrandt and John Mahoney as Simon/Homer with Ty Olwin (Dodger/Titus), Karen Rodriguez (Madeline/Henny) and Gabriel Ruiz (Jonny/Martin). Performances run through November 5, and “The Rembrandt” takes place in Steppenwolf’s Upstairs Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted St.

When a museum guard decides to touch a famous Rembrandt painting, a remarkable journey across the ages ensues. Spanning centuries of human experience, Jessica Dickey’s “The Rembrandt” movingly explores the power of creative expression and the sacrifices we make in the pursuit of love and beauty, reminding us that though our beliefs may die with the sound of our voice, it’s the love we share—and the art that love inspires—that finds eternity.

Director Hallie Gordon shares: “‘The Rembrandt’ asks you to step into the painting and its different worlds. What we find is beauty and meaning in the understanding that no matter where we are, art allows us to unravel the mysteries of being. It could be in a temple or it could be in a dark apartment. We are all attracted to and seeking after that elemental spark of genius, and ultimately that which we leave behind.”

In regards to her process play-wright Jessica Dickey shares, “Researching the world of museum guards was a fascinating window into a very particular subculture. The result is an examination of the eternal and the ephemeral that is funny, surprising and filled with yearning.  ‘The Rembrandt’ explores how encountering a work of art can be practice for the real thing—really seeing one another.”

Hailed as a “talent to watch” by the New York Times, Jessica Dickey is an award-winning actor and playwright most known for her play, “The Amish Project,” which opened Off-Broadway at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (Helen Hayes Award, Barrymore Award, among others). “The Rembrandt”  was commissioned and produced (then titled “The Guard”) by the Ford’s Theatre as part of the Women’s Voices Festival and was awarded the Stavis Award for Playwriting.

This play took me by surprise, and I didn’t know what to expect. However, it made me think more about all the dynamics that go into presenting an exhibit at an art gallery. As the stodgy rules at any art gallery would dictate, the public is not supposed to touch the artwork; they are only to admire the works of the greats. After a hilarious first act, the guard, an intern and an art student decide to touch Rembrandt’s 1653 “Aristotle with a Bust of Homer.”

This is when the deep thinking begins. The three of them are transported to the time when Rembrandt created this masterpiece. Rembrandt, his lover Henny, Homer and Rembrandt’s son all come to life. Homer in this second act is played by the iconic actor Mahoney, who is an audience favorite and great at playing the dual roles. What ensues is a conversation about Rembrandt’s painting style, Homer’s consternation around his “Iliad” and “The Odyssey” and a father-son moment between Rembrandt and his son, Titus, who died a year before his father. “The Rembrandt” explores themes of happiness and grief, life and death, and the role that art plays in society.

For more information, visit www.steppenwolf.org.

Released on OWN

The United States has approximately 2.3 million people in corrections facilities across the nation – more than any other country in the world. The first 90 days of being released are crucial for those who have been incarcerated – as they often face many challenges and few resources – and nearly 40% of formerly incarcerated men and women re-offend within the first six months, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

OWN Television presents “Released,” a compelling new eight-episode docuseries that features intimate, first-person narratives of formerly incarcerated men and women as they walk out of the prison doors for the first time to restart their lives. The men and women are merely trying to reconnect with their loved ones, establish their independence and begin the long, hard work of resurrecting their abandoned lives. However, this isn’t always easy.

In the series premiere, former inmates Kevin, Kay and Jermaine complete their prison sentences and finally leave after serving decades behind bars. Some return to loving family and eager friends, but the overwhelming joy they feel dampens when faced with the challenges of adjusting to life in a changed world. Her sixth time out, Kay is now sober with a new attitude. Jermaine’s daughter refuses to forgive him and Kevin makes the long trip home from San Quentin to Los Angeles.

Kay, who is in her late 50s, cannot seem to convince her sister that she is finally clean. Her sister was charged with taking care of Kay’s special needs son when Kay was arrested yet again. Kevin is so amazed about all of the developments that have taken place while he was incarcerated. He has a hard time even picking out snacks at the kiosk at the airport—there were too many choices, he lamented. Jermaine was locked up for a domestic shooting that his daughter witnessed, and it involved her mother, even though her mother wasn’t the victim. She has lived with this image and her perceptions about her father and she would just as soon that he had stayed in jail. These are pretty tough circumstances for a recently-released person to face, when they have been cut off from society for so long.

“Released” is executive-produced by Oprah Winfrey and produced by Lucky 8 TV with executive producers Greg Henry, Kim Woodard (“60 Days In”), Jarrett Lambo, Jon Sinclair and Keayr Braxton, alongside author and advocate Shaka Senghor as consulting producer.

Look for listings for this premiere on OWN on September 30.

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