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NU alum Ed Rutherford brings John Collier short stories to stage

Kevin+Webb+plays+the+role+of+The+Dweller+in+%E2%80%9CNightmares+and+Nightcaps%3A+The+Stories+of+John+Collier.%E2%80%9D+The+play+premiered+at+Athenaeum+Theatre+Aug.+17+and+will+run+through+Sept.+15.
Kevin Webb plays the role of The Dweller in “Nightmares and Nightcaps: The Stories of John Collier.” The play premiered at Athenaeum Theatre Aug. 17 and will run through Sept. 15.

Kevin Webb plays the role of The Dweller in “Nightmares and Nightcaps: The Stories of John Collier.” The play premiered at Athenaeum Theatre Aug. 17 and will run through Sept. 15.

Source: Cole Simon

Source: Cole Simon

Kevin Webb plays the role of The Dweller in “Nightmares and Nightcaps: The Stories of John Collier.” The play premiered at Athenaeum Theatre Aug. 17 and will run through Sept. 15.

Andrea Michelson, Assistant Summer Editor

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Ed Rutherford (Communication ’03) first encountered the writings of John Collier while he was studying theater at Northwestern. After reading a teleplay adaption of one of Collier’s short stories, Rutherford said he was hooked on the British expatriate’s cynical yet humorous tone and promptly checked out Collier’s “Fancies and Goodnights” from the Evanston Public Library.

Rutherford said he dabbled in adapting Collier’s work for several years before finally creating a stage adaptation drawing on seven of Collier’s short stories from the mid-20th century. The play, “Nightmares and Nightcaps: The Stories of John Collier,” premiered at the Athenaeum Theatre Aug. 17 and will run through Sept. 15.

“I’m really interested in (Collier) in particular just because I consider him to be the ancestor of a certain type of story,” Rutherford said. “His stories have elements of the fantastical and the supernatural but also have a very dry, comedic, sardonic tone in a way that reminds me of episodes of the Twilight Zone.”

Rutherford, who is also the director of “Nightmares and Nightcaps,” is no stranger to bizarre and imaginative stories. His theater company, Black Button Eyes Productions, has been performing works that deal with all things fantastical since its founding in 2014. The company’s name tips its hat to their first production, the Midwest premiere of the musical “Coraline.”

Several members of the cast and production team are what Rutherford calls “Black Button Eyes favorites.” He said he has worked with actor Kevin Webb, who plays the lead role as The Dweller, on several productions in the past. Webb “instinctively locks in on” the dark humor characteristic of Collier’s work, Rutherford said.

Webb said after years of collaborating with Rutherford, the two of them share an “inherent trust” and are able to communicate seamlessly throughout the production process. The real challenge for Webb, however, is connecting with the audience in his role as the narrator of the piece.

“Whether or not the audience is going to go with me on this disturbing, horrific journey is a little more challenging than if they’re going to laugh at jokes that are written in,” Webb said. “It’s an exhilarating thing to be speaking to an audience and looking into their eyes and seeing whether or not they’re on this ride with you.”

Webb’s character, a reclusive apartment dweller, comes from a story called “Are You Too Late, Or Was I Too Early?” The play is set in The Dweller’s dreary apartment, said Jeremiah Barr, the scenic designer, but props and other “little flourishes” will transport the audience to the settings of the other six short stories featured in the show.

Barr is also the props designer, puppetry designer and technical director of the show. He praised the “collaborative environment” that Rutherford created throughout the production process, as well as the creative freedom he has enjoyed while working with Black Button Eyes.

“Chicago’s a great theater town, and if you want to do a specific type of theater, you can find a company that’s geared toward that,” Barr said. “Black Button Eyes invites these shows that have that somewhat sinister but at the same time playful feeling, and that’s something that’s attractive to me artistically.”

Email: andreamichelson2020@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @amichelson18

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