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Art of relationships at heart of West Chicago production

Carl Zeitler crafts six short-form plays in one

The latest offering by Glen Ellyn playwright Carl Zeitler explores interactions among couples, friends and family in "Relationships in Progress," a collection of six short plays coming to Gallery Theater in West Chicago.

"There's a variety of relationships – friends, co-workers, a first date, a younger couple, older spouses [and] siblings," Zeitler said, noting the scenes are independent. "Some are serious in tone, some are lighthearted and more comic, or a mixture of the two."

It's been a collaborative process for the performers and Zeitler, who directs the production, and also appears in three of the scenes. He said he's grateful to Gallery Theater for supporting the show.

"I couldn't ask for a better cast," he said. "I was fortunate to have cast members who voiced their opinion – [to] help the play evolve. It's grown through the rehearsal process."

The action opens as two people recount their recent first date – each from their own perspective. Next, an estranged brother and sister try to cope with each other, while their mother recovers from emergency surgery. Friends at a sports bar offer dating advice. An older married couple undergoes a form of marriage counseling, and must discuss unresolved issues. 

In the cast is Debbi Dennison of Streamwood, a cable producer for Elk Grove Television by day, who trained at The Second City in Chicago. She performs in two of the short acts.

"One is a comedy," she said. "I'm in the scene with Carl [as] husband and wife. I interrupt him watching a Bears football game to take a marriage survey in Cosmopolitan. That one's fun and light. The other one is more serious. I'm with two other women, and we just came back from our friend's funeral. She was killed by a drunk driver."

The scene delves into their stages of grief.

"Even though it's more of a dramatic piece, I look at it as a celebration of friendship; it leaves you with a positive message," said Dennison, noting it's about taking the time to appreciate the special people in your life while you still can.

Dennison has worked with Zeitler in past productions he's penned, including some of the interactive murder mysteries for which he's known. By day, he's an elementary school-level reading specialist in Berwyn.

"I love being in original pieces," Dennison said. "This is a nice way to see what local talent is doing, to see something you've never seen anywhere else. I think it's great to come out and support local artists."

What's it like to craft the short-form theatrical piece?

Zeitler said a 10-minute play is difficult and easy at the same time. One doesn't have to sustain plot continuation, but does have to keep it interesting and make it something that feels complete. He said he approached the writing from the perspective of an actor.

"You don't need a lot of characters," he said, but they must have dimension. "What is genuine that people can relate to? It doesn't have to have a lot of bells and whistles. It can be something simple that people discuss, rather than twists and turns. It's more who these people are."

Cast members

Also appearing in the show are Dennis Stewart and Scott Surowiecki, both of Streamwood; Elizabeth Thompson of Roselle; Renata Allelujka of Downers Grove; Jerry Moore and Lauren Visser, both of Lombard; Vicky Giannini of Chicago; Beth Goncher of Aurora; Debbie Roberts of Lockport, and Erick Sosa of Franklin Park.

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