Workshop Production – Hilton Asmus Contemporary

Urania the play - The life of Emilie du Chatelet by Jyl Bonaguro

Original Photography & Graphic Design by Shea Waffles Johns featuring Actress Ellen Dunphy – Location courtesy of Chicago History Museum

After the successful staged reading in January, Jyl Bonaguro continued to move the play forward with a workshop production. She met with Arica Hilton, owner of Hilton | Asmus Contemporary, who after attending the reading offered to help produce a workshop production and create an original painting for the stage backdrop from her Luminism series.

arica hilton

She was a pioneer, not only in the fields of mathematics and physics, but a role model for men and women. Not only of her time, but our time as well. ~ Arica Hilton, Producer

Arica is an Artist & Poet, whose own work is inspired by the interconnectedness of human beings with the universe and she felt a natural kinship to Emilie’s story.  Until recently, she was the president of the board of the Poetry Center of Chicago and was voted one of the LIT 50: Who Really Books in Chicago 2011 by New City.  Her works have been seen in Fine Art Magazine, Michigan Avenue Magazine, Huffington Post, ASTRONOMY Magazine, ART WORLD NEWS, THE EXAMINER, CHICAGO TRIBUNE, CHICAGO SUN TIMES.  A 2 night workshop production at Hilton | Asmus Contemporary was the next logical step for Urania’s development.  Located  in Chicago’s River North Art District, the gallery specializes in modern and contemporary paintings, works on paper, fiber art, glass, sculpture and photography featuring Chicago-based emerging and established artists, as well as internationally known artists.

Eileen Tull

What I love about Emilie as a character and historical figure is that she’s unapologetic about what she wants. Whether it’s in her creative life, her scholastic work or her love life. ~ Eileen Tull, Director

Eileen Tull stepped in as Director for the production days after moving back to Chicago after a hiatus in California and Ohio.  The day after moving, she was already in meetings for Urania and her dedication and vision for the the project was essential to its’ success.  She spent endless hours breaking down the scenes into an entertaining circular stage performance that kept the audience and actors energized and highly entertained.  A graduate of Loyola University Chicago, her work has been seen with Theatre Seven of Chicago, Prologue Theatre, Dream Theatre, 20% Theatre Company, InnateVolution Theatre Productions, The Abbie Hoffman Festival, Casa Duno, Open Source Theatre Project, and Pride Films and Plays.  She also performs stand-up comedy and one woman shows throughout the country, most recently in New York City at the United Solo Festival and in Tampa at the New Seeds Festival.

Amber Lee Olivier - Urania The Play

What drew me to the script was the well crafted meticulously chosen words….It is so rare that we see a new play that is written well. ~ Amber Lee Olivier, Assistant Director & Director of Development 3 Crazy Ladies, Inc

Amber Lee Olivier took on the role of Assistant Director and fiscal sponsor with her non-profit 3 Crazy Ladies, Inc.  She judiciously corrected the actors on verbial slips and was greatly appreciated for her tenacity in adhering to the script word for word. Hailing from the Gaiety School of Acting in Dublin, Ireland, she has performed as an actress, dancer, and singer as well as fitting into technical roles including set and costume design, fight choreography, and directing. Amber has choreographed and directed a wide variety of shows from “The King & I” to “Hello, Out There” as well as being the fight choreographer for productions including “West Side Story” and “Romeo & Juliet.” Here in Chicago she is a company member with New American Folk Theatre and also an associate company member with Quest Theatre Ensemble.

Katy Werlin - Urania The Play

Learning about Emilie makes you wonder who else has been forgotten. Who else has made incredible contributions that we have forgotten about, but that their work needs to be honored. ~ Katy Werlin, Actress, Costume Design, Dramaturgy

The fabulous costume on Ellen Dunphy in the role of Emilie would not have been possible without Katy Werlin.  Katy far surpassed any expectations Jyl had for costuming for a small budget workshop production. Before and after her audition, she mentioned an interest in 18th century costume design.  The more apt description is obsession for everything 18th century and Ellen’s dress is a hand sewn original creation.   Katy is an actress and professional fashion and textile historian.  She has worked at several museums including the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Chicago History Museum. Katy has also served as costume designer for a number of productions including The Tempest and the world premier of Blue (Burning Coal Theatre Company), among others.

Ellen Dunphy - Urania The Play

Not only is Emilie a great character. All the other characters of the play are just fabulous, colorful, often hilarious characters, who you just fall in love with. ~ Ellen Dunphy, Actress

Ellen Dunphy in the starring role of Emilie Du Châtelet was thrilled and honored to help bring Emelie’s story to life in this production.  Her dedication to preparing for her performance in Urania was clearly visible as she seemed on stage to reincarnate the character of Emilie from her aristocratic reserve to her passions.  She read Judith’s book to learn even more about Emilie and modeled for a photoshoot at the Chicago History Museum in order to create the iconic image by Shea Waffles Johns.   Her dedicated acting was only surpassed by hours in costume while only being allowed sips of water to guard against damaging the dress fabric.  Her other credits around Chicago include: The Sellout (Amazing Sammo Productions), The Three Musketeers (Theatre-Hikes), The Taming of the Shrew (Blunt Objects Theatre); The Hothouse and Dead Man’s Cell Phone (Pink Banana Theatre); In My Mind’s Eye and Medea (Fools for Tragedy); and Arcadia, The Imaginary Invalid, and Anatomy of Gray (Ripon College).

Nathan Ducker - Urania The Play

One of the things that struck me the most about Jyl’s script was how incredibly actor friendly it is….Jyl showed alot of restraint in being able to let go and let the actors steer this ship that she built with her words. ~ Nathan Ducker, Actor

Nathan Ducker in the starring role of Voltaire brought his energy to the fore for this production.  His delightful performance radiated humor and sarcasm, yet descended beneath the surface comedic appearances to delve into the depth of Voltaire’s character.  Nathan continuously quipped that in some ways he was only playing himself.  His enjoyment translated to the audience, who eagerly awaited his appearances.  Voltaire was after all one of France’s greatest wits and his immediate and cutting responses caught all of his foes off guard, except for Emilie and her more cool version of reason.  He was elated to be a part of such a rich and immersive process as Urania and for bringing to life one of his favorite roles.  Other Chicago faves include: Shakespeare’s r&j (Jeff nom 2012), Othello, Biloxi Blues, Taming of the Shrew, Cabaret, King Lear, Into the Woods, Kiss me, Kate and Tartuffe.

Matthew Huston - Urania The Play

What I really loved about the script was not only did it give a lot of history and culture knowledge of the time, it presented it with a comedic edge. So you didn’t come and sit and go through this long history lesson, you came and you enjoyed yourself… ~ Matt Huston, Actor

Matthew Huston had the enjoyable task of playing multiple roles.  Urania is written so that several actors have multiple characters.  It keeps the audience on their toes and wondering who the actor will next embody on stage.  He made the smooth transition from Pierre Robert Le Cornier de Cideville, Voltaire’s sarcastic friend to Emilie’s final lover, the sweet and handsome Jean-Francois de Saint-Lambert.  Matt was excited to work on this production and help keep the story of Emilie alive and well! He has worked at a number of theaters around Chicago since moving from Wisconsin in 2013. Some of his recent roles include Tempura in Adrift in Macao (Towle Theatre), Peter U/S in Diary of Anne Frank (MPAC), Brad Majors in Rocky Horror Show (Underscore Theatre), and Scarecrow in Marvelous Land of Oz (New American Folk Theatre).

Watch excerpt & interviews  ~~~  View Highlight Pics ~~~  Read Program

Special Thanks to Our Amazing Cast
Starring Ellen Dunphy as Emilie & Nathan Ducker as Voltaire
Supporting Cast
Jeff Dolecek as Florent Claude, Matt Huston as Cideville and St. Lambert, Jesse Hutson as Clairaut and Gossip Man, August Lysy as Longchamps and Maupertuis, David Smith as Duc de Richelieu, Elise Soeder as Therese, Madame Denis and Gossip Lady 2, Katy Werlin as Gossip Lady 1 and Madame Graffigny, Andrea Young as Maguerite
Special Thanks to
Shea Waffles Johns – Photography & Graphic Design of our beautiful poster image, Tuan H. Bui – Photography, Francisco Arcaute – Photographer, Tamairis Dixon, Andre Payne Guillory, Chris McCray, Joel Torres, and James Duke – Videography through the generosity of Mark Furigay and Street Level Youth Media

The Cast & Crew of Urania The Play

The Cast & Crew of Urania July 2014 Workshop Production