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Northlight Theatre’s 2015-16 season opened with “Funnyman,” a world premiere written by Northlight favorite Bruce Graham. Starring George Wendt, Amanda Drinkall, Tim Kazurinsky, and other well-knowns, “Funnyman” opened to acclaim from critics.

Developed through Northlight’s “Interplay” script development series, the play is set in 1959 to the tune of fading vaudeville star Chick Sherman’s melancholia. An attempt to revive Chick’s career by taking a role in an avant-garde production, as well as his daughter’s attempts to find answers for her father, cause old and new struggles to rise to the surface.

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This fourth world premiere by Graham at Northlight is again directed by 18 year Artistic Director BJ Jones. Other world premieres by Graham have included “The Outgoing Tide”, a Jeff winner, and last season’s “White Guy on the Bus.”

Wendt and Lindley in “Funnyman”.

BJ Jones spoke with Evanston Now about the successes of Graham’s work at Northlight, as well as the joy of producing world premiere plays.

How does working with one playwright over the course of now four world premieres at Northlight influence your direction of his work?

I believe working with artists over time creates an aura of trust and an understanding of style that first time experiences don’t often provide. This continued collaboration allows me to have an intimate understanding of Bruce’s values and aesthetic.

How would you describe Bruce Graham’s method of crafting a story? What are his tics, his trademarks?

Bruce employs theatrical audacity, humor, darkness and ultimately hope in all his plays. He understands the large gesture as well as nuance. For instance, the title “Funnyman” is ironic…

Looking back at not only Graham’s world premieres, but the other premieres at Northlight, what are you proudest of about the body of work you have helped birth?

Jason Robert Brown had only two songs written for “The Last Five Years” when he played them for me. I told him if he would finish the piece, I would close the season with it the next year. He did, and I did. That courage, in taking huge risks, is what makes me proudest of our theatre. “White Guy On the Bus” was an enormous risk, as was “The Outgoing Tide,” and both are tremendous successes. I am incredibly proud of that.

Northlight’s “Funnyman” runs through Oct. 18. Visit Northlight.org for ticket information. 

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