The Gift Theatre moved to its current Jefferson Park storefront in the fall of 2005, an overdue homecoming for a very itinerant company who debuted in 2001 at the University of Chicago campus, then bounded between the Chopin, Victory Gardens, National Pastime and Raven theaters before finding a home. Its retail space-turned-theatrical studio beckons the audience with an ample window display before scrunching them into a tiny lobby that manages to overwhelm most nights' crowds.
That's a fitting disparity for this brazenly talented company, whose big dreams meet with modest resources. Most of the Gift ensemble have trained at the School at Steppenwolf, and a few of that celebrated company's talent serve as mentors and Board members. Steppenwolf's influence is reflected in the skilled, often physically demanding performances and acutely creative scenic designers. Recent works include Craig Wright's "The Pavilion" and Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie."
The long studio space, which we saw brilliantly transformed into a Southern California living room circa 1980, accommodates around 50 patrons who are never more than three rows from the action. Expect a great value for your $20-$25, but donít expect lots of frills. The queue forms early for the single restroom behind the non-functioning water fountain, and the air can seem rather dry, but the management is considerate enough to put out water bottles and snacks, for which it requests donations.
Centerstage Reviewer: Justin Sondak