Northwestern alums star in dark comedy production

Sophia Bollag, Reporter

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Kristin Collins flexed her palms and smiled neurotically, pausing in the center of the stage to speak.

“Let me tell you,” she said enthusiastically, grabbing a thick instruction manual from one of the shelves on the set. “I am a manual junkie.”

Laughter rippled through the audience in the 58-seat theater.

Collins plays Beth, the manager of a rich family’s household, in the play “The Mistakes Madeline Made,” which premiered Thursday at The Greenhouse Theater Center in Chicago near DePaul University.

The description of the hyper-organized, condescending character as a “manual junkie” is appropriate, Collins said.

“I describe her as a manic preschool teacher,” she said. “I had a lot of fun taking her over the top in certain areas.”

Collins is one of two Northwestern alumni in the LiveWire Chicago Theater production of the play. The other is Fred Geyer, who plays the characters Drake, Jake and Blake.

“The Mistakes Madeline Made” tells the story of a young woman, Edna, who works as an office assistant and develops a fear of bathing and a hatred of her boss, Beth.

Although Collins’ and Geyer’s characters do not interact during the play, when they sat together after the performance and proudly pointed out that they were both wearing purple — socks in Geyer’s case and a dress in Collins’  — it was obvious they shared an alma mater.

Geyer has been acting since he graduated from the School of Communication as a theatre major in 2010. Aside from some work he did for a Montana Shakespeare company, he has been performing mainly in Chicago.

“I’ve been trying to break into acting as consistently as possible,” Geyer said.

During the day, Geyer works at the Museum of Science and Industry, which he said combines theatricality, science and working with kids.

Unlike Geyer, Collins did not start acting right after graduating from NU. She worked as a freelance writer for newspapers, then in public relations, then as a stay-at-home mom.

She said she used to tell her friends she wished she could do something else with her career.

“I kept saying, ‘You know what I always wanted to do? I wanted to act,’” Collins said. “These women were great. They were like, ‘You should do it!’ And I’m like, ‘But I’m 28!’”

Eventually, her friends convinced her to take an improvisation acting class.

“It just kind of snowballed from there,” Collins said. “So that’s what I do now, and it’s wonderful.”

“The Mistakes Madeline Made” is Collins’ second LiveWire Chicago Theatre production. The play’s author, Elizabeth Meriwether, is best known as the creator of the television series “New Girl,” starring Zooey Deschanel.

Collins said until she saw “New Girl” on a plane ride a few weeks ago, she hadn’t known that the writer of the show and the author of the play she was rehearsing were the same person.

Geyer said he was also surprised to learn Meriwether wrote “New Girl,” comparing his character to Schmidt, Deschanel’s character’s roommate.

“I see certainly some connections,” Geyer said. “There are moments when my characters are extremely sincere in what they’re saying, but saying something absolutely ridiculous, which her characters do on that show all the time.”

At one point, Geyer saunters onstage wearing a black sweatband, a colorful striped tank top, gym socks and silver basketball shorts worn comically low, revealing red Tommy Hilfiger boxers. In an absurd attempt to serenade Edna, he begins beat-boxing.

“The beat-boxing is not in the script,” Geyer said. “It’s just something we thought would be fun for the character. It’s something that I did a lot of when I came to Northwestern because I sang in Purple Haze.”

Despite similarities between some of the characters, the tone of “The Mistakes Madeline Made” is very different from that of “New Girl,” Collins said.

“This play’s not adorkable,” she said. “It’s a much darker topic and a darker humor.”

“The Mistakes Madeline Made” runs through Nov. 3.

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Elizabeth Meriwether’s last name. The Daily regrets the error.