Monday, February 20, 2017

The Many Voices of THE FEW

by Kaitlyn Martin

Samuel D. Hunter's THE FEW is set within the "newsroom" of an unorthodox publication: a newspaper designed for truckers, populated largely by personal ads submitted by travelers just as lonely as our protagonists.

Sound designer and UWM professor
Chris Guse worked with director C. Michael Wright
and voiceover coach/casting director Raeleen
McMillion to find just the right voices
for the play's lonely souls placing personal ads. 
As such, the play's characters are often interrupted by incoming calls from readers, played over the office's answering machine (this is 1999, after all!). These callers, about a dozen in all, each provide a glimpse of the world outside our surroundings, conveyed in only a few lines.

To find just the right voices for those calls, director C. Michael Wright turned again to UW-Milwaukee's theatre department. MCT has previously partnered with the university on three other productions -- LOVE STORIES (2015), THE DETECTIVE'S WIFE (2013) and PICNIC (2009) -- and has a strong working relationship with many of the professors and students who have been a part of the program. For this collaboration, Wright worked with UWM professors Raeleen McMillion and Chris Guse to select and record more than a dozen students, faculty and alumni whose voices will be featured in the production.

Guse, also the sound designer for THE FEW, says the answering machine plays a central role in the drama, letting these voices be heard over the tension between the characters on stage.

"The characters that are on the answering machine are important to the description of the play [and] the description of the location, as well as evoking the emotional state of the characters and reinforcing the themes," says Guse, adding that they echo the emotional state of the small-town Idaho residents.

As the sound designer, Guse's role isn't just limited to lining up each of these voices. He's in charge of every sound cue, from scene change music to the beeping of the answering machine itself.

"Finding out ... the sequence of events that you go through with the simple operation of an answering machine is really much more complicated than it seems," A lot of thought was given to the amount of beeps needed, the starting of the answering machine tape spinning in its track, and the clicking and whirring of all of the moving parts that -- once crucial to hearing the voices of those you have missed -- are now obsolete.

Through the use of music from the late 90s as well as carefully designed soundscapes, Guse looks to reflect the emotional states of the characters onstage as well as invoke a sense of foreshadowing. Cueing the audience as to what is approaching in the story or allowing them to reflect on something they have just seen is all part of the subtlety and emotional sharpness of Guse's design.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The cast of THE FEW gets "personal"

Compiled by Kaitlyn Martin and Matthew Reddin

THE FEW, by acclaimed playwright Samuel D. Hunter, is a tale of three lonely souls seeking renewed faith in humanity. Set in the year 1999, in a disheveled office space in northern Idaho, Hunter's play is a compassionate, gently hued drama about "emotional and spiritual misfits" struggling to find a purpose for their lives. Centered around a newspaper for truckers (also titled The Few), the characters strive to connect others through personal ads while searching for how to connect themselves.

To introduce you to their characters, we asked our three featured actors to put together their own set of personal ads -- the ones their characters might write for themselves -- as a way to go beyond the usual "meet the cast" post. We hope their words here inspire you to check out Sam Hunter's in a few weeks!

Mitch Bultman (Matthew)

Mitch Bultman is from Wauwatosa and is thrilled to be making his Milwaukee Chamber Theatre debut. Mitch was most recently seen in Forward Theater’s production of 4000 MILES directed by Jen Uphoff Gray.
Mitch is currently a resident teaching artist with First Stage Children’s Theater in Milwaukee and has worked locally on stage with First Stage, Bunny Gumbo, and others. He spent a year studying classical text at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in London and performed as Henry in HENRY V at the Globe.

Mitch has had the privilege of working with and been directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel, Tim Carroll, Michael Sexton, William Carden and others. Mitch holds a BFA in theater from Rutgers University Mason Gross School of the Arts.

Mary MacDonald Kerr (QZ)

Mary is thrilled to be acting at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre again. Her last show here was THE DETECTIVE'S WIFE. Other favorite Chamber shows include THE SWEETEST SWING IN BASEBALL, JOE EGG, THREE DAYS OF RAIN, VOICE OF THE TURTLE and BEAST ON THE MOON. Mary has also acted in productions at Renaissance Theatreworks, Milwaukee Rep, First Stage, Milwaukee Shakespeare and Next Act Theatre.



Mary is also a director, whose most recent project was LUNA GALE for Renaissance Theatreworks. Her other directing credits include CRIMES OF THE HEART at MCT, THE GLASS MENAGERIE at In Tandem and GOING TO ST. IVES at Next Act, among others.








James Ridge (Bryan)
James first performed with MCT in the Shaw Festival, where he appeared in TOO TRUE TO BE GOOD and WAITING FOR GODOT. He and director C. Michael Wright have collaborated on the projects UNDERNEATH THE LINTEL and DICKENS IN AMERICA, as well as A NIGHT IN NOVEMBER and STONES IN HIS POCKETS for Next Act Theatre. 

James is a core company member of American Players Theatre in Spring Green, WI where he recently completed his 19th season with the repertory company. Past roles at APT include Iago, Teach, Richard III, Puck, Shylock, Petruchio, Tartuffe, Didi, Malvolio, Col. Pickering and Lickcheese.
He now directs the CTM (Madison) production of A CHRISTMAS CAROL in which he played Scrooge for 4 seasons.








Wednesday, February 1, 2017

I'm Just Looking For...

by Julie Ferris

There was a time in our recent history when marriage was first and foremost an enterprise that joined families and protected their lineage. Holy unions positioned oneself in society. And, of course, another reason to connect one’s life to another in a legally binding way has always been present: Money.

Yet, for most of us, we may engage in coupledom, partnership and even marriage for another wholly impractical and fantastical set of reasons—love and companionship.

But shifting our cultural standards of how to meet and marry, how to date and how to find that other half, has been slow. For more than 300 years, personal ads have been a tool to connect, and for nearly as many years, they’ve had their critics.

From Lonely to Looking
Noga Arikha’s essay, “Swiping right in the 1700s: The Evolution of Personal Ads” reminds us that the first personal ad published, by one Helen Morrison in 1727, landed its author in an asylum for a month as a result of this shockingly autonomous practice our culture wasn’t ready for. 

Arikha adds that “the values that had sustained the inherited rules of matrimony were changing during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries…ideals associated with romantic love were taking center stage at a time when Romantic reactions to a rationalized, industrializing world emphasized the individual, lonely soul,” (2009).

We were seeking companions because we were just plain lonely.

And despite whatever changes have happened to the technology of personal ads, from phoning in a print order to the profile picture-driven profiles of today’s “must love dogs” online matchmaking services, one thing remains true. Anonymity is the key.

The People Behind the Pen
The requisite intimate qualities and fantasies can be publicly shared and assessed only because they represent a person we have not yet met, who we do not know live and in the flesh. This concept isn’t new to popular culture, either. The Shop Around the Corner, later modernized as You’ve Got Mail, features a lead couple who know one another in person—frustrations and all—and then both rely on a personal ad-style connection where they write letters or chat, not realizing until the end that the poets at the end of the pen, saying all the right things, are indeed the same shopkeeper and businessman who are friendly foes in everyday life.

The safety included in anonymity has carried through all 300 years of personal advertising. From the ability to ignore all responses delivered to your post box to never swiping right, for the tiny sum of a few personal details, you purchase the right to remain safely behind your ad, unexposed in your choice-making. 

Anonymity is the thesis and catharsis of Rupert Holmes’ 1979 hit, often called “The Piña Colada Song” (actually named “Escape”).

A bored, lonely husband sings about his dissatisfaction in his partner and how he searched newspaper personal ads to see what his options were. The woman who wrote about the now famous piña coladas piques his interest and he responds. When the pair finally meet, both are shocked to see the other standing before them.
A form of confession, this sharing of secrets allows the writer to embody a person they hope to be, to showcase those qualities they want cherished and hope the perfect other is one drawn to these quirks. If your confession that you lick the microwave popcorn bag, don’t like ice cream or only read entertainment magazines and nothing more and someone responds, your match is made.

You’re Not Alone
The validation available to you when someone responds to these bold presentations of what’s “wrong” with you by cultural standards provides a kind of love. It provides forgiveness and verifies you can still fit in the social order. Your strange habit that, by all cultural measures is “different,” becomes sanctioned when another hears about it and continues to move forward, treating you as a regular member of society and importantly, telling you you’re not alone.

Pew Market Research says more than one third of those using online dating sites haven’t ever actually gone on a date with someone they met there. One third of personal ad or app users are engaging each other without even meeting because the gesture of having someone respond to self you’ve shared in and of itself is a connection.

300 Years and Going Strong
Today, the industry has exponentially amplified its profitability with online advertising and matchmaking services. There is, of course, an app for that. In fact, of the $2.9 billion dating industry, 70% of this annual profit is derived from online dating sites.

But personal ads were always profitable. Framed often as “classified” and purchased through the sales group of papers and magazines, advertisers paid for the privilege of creating a profile. Originally, publishers would offer a reply program: As readers responded to your ad, the paper would collect the mailed-in responses and deliver them to you, often weekly. Publishers soon began leveraging premium-rate telephone numbers to entice writers to publish their ad for free, but those replying via phone call must pay the premium rate. Newspapers charge by the character — a throwback to old typeset processes — and therefore, abbreviation and acronym became their own economy of love. Researchers note how this industry jargon has moved forward into today’s online dating as well.

The Lonely Hearts Club Cast of THE FEW
In THE FEW, personals remain the profitable choice for such a small publication. But, true to the history of personal ads, the play embraces the lonely over-the-road truck driver. This is one of many landmarks in the practice’s evolution. In the early 1900s, personal ads saw a resurgence as Western farmers wrote to solicit love and practical assistance. From housekeepers to wife material, this isolated group leveraged personal ads to improve their situation. A different sort of request—pen pals—became the hallmark of World War II soldiers using the same mechanism to connect with others.  

So, when we enter the publishing office of THE FEW, we immediately see instant and obvious hallmarks of the personal ad. A need for capital, flexing the economy of the paid service, is keeping the paper afloat. On the edge of a potential millennium breakdown, the 1999 setting also prompts an uptick in ad sales, further demonstrating that finding love, or, as some advertisers suggest in their ads, just companionship, is more essential now than ever.

The lonely, secluded setting of northern Idaho and the desolate profession of traveling the country alone in a big rig embody the more recent history of the practice.

When we meet the characters, we also see remnants of other popular plays on the anonymous ad. The man in the letters becomes someone not only validated by your response, but he becomes larger than life, more ideal than the man standing before you. On paper, he’s piña coladas and getting drunk in the rain.

THE FEW gives us another insight, however, and presents an important counterpoint to my case.

If anonymity is the key to personal ads working, what we learn from Hunter’s characters is that it’s their desperation to no longer be anonymous that drives them. All lonely, all looking for connection, those who manage the personal ads may be the most in need of validation and acknowledgement. They are the most in need of relationships with another.

In fact, THE FEW becomes a case study in how those who enable the search for connection through this time-tested model come to quickly realize they, too, are also looking. For validation. For companionship. For love. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

American Misfits

by John M. Baker

Playwright Sam Hunter
Photo: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Sam Hunter’s plays take us down roads not frequently traveled on the American stage. Anchored in small towns and cities throughout the landlocked state of Idaho, the plays are often set in unglamorous locations and populated by characters on the margins of society. From the tarnished evangelical in A BRIGHT NEW BOISE seeking employment at a Hobby Lobby craft store to the 600-pound online teacher in THE WHALE eating himself to death in his apartment, Hunter's characters find themselves in simultaneously ordinary and extraordinary circumstances, navigating big questions of modern life. With his growing body of work, Hunter is slowly mapping what he calls “a quotidian America that is often hidden behind curtains and doors.” In the process, he’s capturing the beauty and ugliness, the fragility and ruggedness, the banality and spirituality of living in America in the 21st century. 

Though New York City is Hunter’s home now, his roots are firmly planted in Idaho. Born and raised in the state’s panhandle, Hunter can trace his family’s lineage back six generations to the region’s first homesteaders. This deep-seated connection to the Northwest — like Horton Foote and the South — is only part of why Hunter frequently sets his plays in his home state. “Idaho has become a useful landscape,” he explains, “because people don’t have a lot of preconceived notions about it.” You’ve probably never set foot in the towns of Hunter’s plays, but there’s still something recognizable about the employee lounge in A BRIGHT NEW BOISE, the one-bedroom apartment in THE WHALE, and the lobby of the assisted living home in REST. “Which is really helpful,” he continues, “because it allows me to make something pan-American.” 


Morbidly obese writing instructor Charlie (Matthew Arkin) and his friend and caretaker Liz (Blake Lindsley) share a moment in this image from South Coast Repertory's West Coast premiere of THE WHALE (2013). Photo: Scott Brinegar.
Within these familiar and foreign landscapes, Hunter places characters from a particular walk of life. They’re Middle Americans: big-box store employees, nurses, a retired music professor, a former night watchman, a missionary. “I think the prevalence of upper middle class and upper class characters in our plays is surprising,” explains Hunter, “especially given the fact that the majority of America is not these people.” More specifically, Hunter is fascinated by the people living on the fringes of acceptability in these small towns. “The stories my dad told me about people from his hometown were just incredible,” he explained to David Rooney of The New York Times. “Like the guy who used to go to my grandpa’s grocery store: My dad had to deliver food to him, and his house was full of dead cats. You hear about somebody like that, and you think, ‘What is the story of that person?’” 

While a closeted gay teen in northern Idaho, Hunter attended a fundamentalist Christian high school and worked part-time at the local Walmart, which informs why so many of his plays center on characters living in quiet desperation, hungering for something greater. “Most of my plays are about seeking hope and meaning,” says Hunter, “and religion is the eternal well of hope and meaning for most Americans. It so shaped my childhood growing up in Idaho and going to a religious school, and so I see it in the larger cultural dialogue a lot. Mostly I write about it because people don't seem to want to talk about it.” Even when nonbelievers populate the plays, they still “point to the divine,” as Hunter says, whether it’s by way of Melville in THE WHALE or Estonian composer Arvo Pärt in REST. 


Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre pitted actors Michael Laurence and Tasha Lawrence against each other as former lovers Bryan and QZ in its Off-Broadway premiere of THE FEW (2014). Photo: Joan Marcus.
“Hunter’s characters live in an Idaho where the divine smacks up against the banal, where their expansive worldviews create a profound disconnection to their quotidian surroundings,” writes Adam Greenfield, director of new play development at NYC’s Playwrights Horizons. “They’re as lost within Idaho’s suburban sprawl as they are within the cosmos, each one struggling with a fundamental part of his or her self — whether it’s religion, sexuality, ethics, or a cocktail of all these things — that doesn’t fit into their surroundings or daily lives.” 

American culture is certainly a part of the topography Hunter is mapping, but he’s not writing “issue” plays. Although he weaves topics like obesity, the Rapture, and gay conversion therapy into his scripts, as literary manager Douglas Langworthy of The Denver Center Theatre Company puts it, “they are never about these issues.” Rather, at the forefront of Hunter’s plays are his emotional and spiritual misfits — drawn with sensitivity — mirroring back to us their experience of Middle America today.  


John M. Baker is a dramaturg and the Artistic Leadership Fellow at The Lark, an international theatre laboratory based in New York. He is also the associate producer of Partial Comfort Productions in NYC, interim literary manager and dramaturg at Long Wharf Theatre and has formerly worked at the Williamstown Theatre Festival and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. Versions of this article originally appeared in playbills for productions of REST at South Coast Repertory and Victory Gardens.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Review Roundup 2.0: LOBBY HERO

by Matthew Reddin, marketing director

It's been two weeks since we opened LOBBY HERO, and we've been thrilled to see such a positive response to the show from our audiences. We've also been fortunate enough to receive a second wave of critical reviews, each praising C. Michael Wright's production of this fantastic Kenneth Lonergan piece.

If you didn't catch our first Review Roundup, featuring press from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Shepherd Express, OnMilwaukee and more, you can find it here. For the rest ... keep on reading! And don't forget to pick up your tickets to LOBBY HERO! We close Dec. 18!

Chris Klopatek and Sara Zientek in
LOBBY HERO. Photos by Paul Ruffolo.
Paul Kosidowski,
Milwaukee Magazine
"Culture Club Review: Milwaukee Chamber Theatre's 'Lobby Hero'"

"Watch Henning project his confidence in the first scene, pacing the room in a crisp blue blazer as if he’s giving a Ted Talk to an audience of one. And watch those confident, studied gestures disappear as he learns more about his troubled brother."

"It’s no surprise that Lobby Hero is one of director C. Michael Wright’s favorite plays–every scene shows his skill in shaping dialogue to reveal the things going on beneath the surface."

"Lonergan lets the action evolve slowly, flavoring the events with smart dialogue that gradually reveals the knotty and very human struggles within each character."

Sara Zientek, Andrew Edwin Voss (C) and
Di'Monte Henning in LOBBY HERO.
Anne Siegel,
TotalTheater.com
"Review: 'Lobby Hero'"

"In Henning’s strong performance, we see William struggle with telling the truth while at the same time fearing that his brother won’t get a fair trial – just because he’s black and too poor to hire a 'good lawyer.'"

"In this delicately woven performance, Zientek both shuns and accepts her femininity."

"Director C. Michael Wright, the company’s producing director, keeps the audience so tightly focused on the progress of the characters’ difficult scenarios that the audience almost feels cheated when the play ends without any resolution. That’s the mark of a good play, and it’s one reason this production is a not-to-be-missed event."

Peggy Sue Dunigan,
BroadwayWorld
"MCT's LOBBY HERO pursues relevant ethical questions through bright comedy"

"Chris Klopatek's rhythm for comic timing fits perfectly into his character Jeff's gift of gab-or making jokes."

"A refreshing change while immensely thought provoking, MCT and Wright once again challenge audiences."

Friday, December 2, 2016

Review Roundup: LOBBY HERO

by Kaitlyn Martin, marketing and development assistant

After a successful opening week, LOBBY HERO has been receiving positive feedback from audiences and critics as we enter our second weekend. We hope you can join us for Kenneth Lonergan's play featuring a strong ensemble cast whose embodiment of the word "hero" evolves with the twists and turns of the play. Don't miss your chance to see it before we close on December 18!


Chris Klopatek (L) and Di'Monte Henning in
LOBBY HERO. Photos by Paul Ruffolo.



Mike Fischer,
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Theatre Review: Misfits search for answers in 'Lobby Hero'
Takeaways: 'Lobby Hero'


"With his impish grin and comedic instincts, actor Chris Klopatek has been playing cast clown on stage for as long as I can remember. But what happens to such characters when they must face the music and begin to grow up? And would a now-older Klopatek grow with them, building on hints he’s given over the years of something darker and deeper?"

"Stephen Hudson-Mairet’s set, accented by Madelyn Yee’s props, creates an apartment lobby that looks tired – not because it’s shabby, but because it’s sterile."

"Di’Monte Henning gives us a William whose surface certainties cover a world of doubt, much of it connected to his status as a black man in a white world."

"Conveying characters’ consequent struggle to find their own way, Lonergan’s dialogue rings true to life; it’s fractured and overlaps (handled well, here)."


Russ Bickerstaff,

Sara Zientek (L) and Andrew Edwin Voss
 in LOBBY HERO.
Shepherd Express
Milwaukee Chamber Theatre's 'Lobby Hero'

"In Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s staging, Chris Klopatek maintains a casually organic intensity as Jeff."

"Di’Monte Henning commands considerable gravitas in the role of Jeff’s boss, William, a man preoccupied by a family drama that threatens to compromise his altruistic respect for honesty and integrity."

"Andrew Edwin Voss delivers a dark edge to the mix as a police officer looking for promotion who runs into some drama with Dawn, a probationary police officer played by a charmingly poised Sara Zientek."

"Avoiding the peripheral clutter, director C. Michael Wright allows the power of the drama between four people to weave a crazy web across the stage in a provocative, tightly woven drama about dizzying human convolution of honesty and duty."

Dave Begel,
OnMilwaukee
Chris Klopatek (L) and Sara Zientek
in LOBBY HERO.

"Under the careful and comprehensive direction of C. Michael Wright, we then see the evolution of each character, moving well clear of who we thought they were when we first met them."

"Helping this play come life is a quartet young actors who have in the past, continue now, and will in the future leave serious marks on the theater world in Milwaukee."

"As Jeff, Klopatek is a marvel of both language and physical movement. His posture, gesture and glance all serve to both support and lead his dialogue, and he suffers agitation much as he enjoys poking fun at the world."

"(Zientek) finds in her character depths of personal development that only an actor in touch with life could do."

"Henning is an actor who is proving to be as versatile as any young actor in the city."

"(Voss) is a bit of a gypsy actor, ranging far and wide for work, but his power and skills are something I wish were a regular feature on stages. This is a man with all the chops, and it's no wonder he's in demand around the country."

Julie McHale,

Di'monte Henning (L) and Andrew Edwin Voss
in LOBBY HERO.
Waukesha Freeman
'Lobby Hero' adds depth to comedic characters

"(Lonergan's) present work, “Lobby Hero,” is a sterling drama, one with humor, depth, complex characters and a hint of romance."

"This is one of the best scripts I’ve ever encountered, and with a flawless cast and the gifted director, C. Michael Wright, at the helm, you are sure to enjoy your encounter with a 'Lobby Hero.'"



Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Kenneth Lonergan, beyond LOBBY HERO

by Matthew Reddin, MCT marketing director

When LOBBY HERO premiered Off-Broadway in 2001, New York magazine reviewer John Simon opened his critique of the play by describing playwright Kenneth Lonergan first and foremost as the man who wrote the year's best movie

It's fitting, though. Over his career, Lonergan has doled out his work sparingly, but evenly, between the screen and the stage, with each medium informing the other. In Milwaukee, the comparison will be easier than ever this fall, with MCT's production of LOBBY HERO overlapping with the limited release of Manchester by the Sea, written and directed by Lonergan. 

If full Lonergan immersion's your game -- or if you just want to know a little more about the guy before you come and see the show -- here's a breakdown of the most significant works he's written, for both film and the stage.

THIS IS OUR YOUTH (1996)

Lonergan's big breakthrough, THIS IS OUR YOUTH is set in the early '80s, tracking 48 hours in the lives of three lost young souls who've gotten their hands on $15,000 (stolen from a tycoon daddy, of course). As the first example of Lonergan's trademark balance of the dramatic and the comedic, with a focus on issues of materialism and adolescent maturity, the show was a quick success, receiving acclaim, a second Off-Broadway staging in 1998, and a series of productions in London's West End in quick succession.

The original production featured Mark Ruffalo in one of his first-ever professional roles, launching his career and a longtime partnership with Lonergan. Its recent revival -- on Broadway for the first time, in 2014 -- featured Michael Cera in Ruffalo's role, alongside Kieran Culkin and Tavi Gevinson.

THE WAVERLY GALLERY (1999)

A memory play in more ways than one, THE WAVERLY GALLERY depicts Gladys Green, an elderly woman slowly dying of Alzheimer's, seen through the eyes of her narrator grandson. Again displaying Lonergan's skill in comic drama, the play was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama, and picked up four major awards for the performance of Eileen Heckart, the actor portraying Gladys. 

You Can Count On Me (2000)

After co-writing the film Analyze This with Harold Ramis and Peter Tolan in 1999, Lonergan's next project was as big a breakthrough in the world of film as THIS IS OUR YOUTH had been on the stage. Reuniting Lonergan with Mark Ruffalo, the film follows an estranged brother and sister (Ruffalo and Laura Linney). They reunite when he returns to the Catskills community where they grew up, but his arrival subtly throws her life into disarray, slowly forcing them into conflict.

Lonergan directed the film, as well as wrote the screenplay, and critics took note. Many placed the film on their best-of lists for 2000, specifically citing Lonergan's "bottomless dialogue" and the film's emphasis on making everyday problems as compelling as high drama. Before the awards season was over, You Can Count On Me would pick up dozens of wins and nominations, including two Oscar noms and two awards at Sundance including the Grand Jury Prize.

THE STARRY MESSENGER (2009)

The '00s marked a creative drought for Lonergan (partly for reasons discussed in the next entry), but he would finally return to the stage in 2009 with THE STARRY MESSENGER, his first fully produced play since LOBBY HERO opened in 2001 and his debut as a director of his own work. A star vehicle -- pun only slightly intended -- for Matthew Broderick, MESSENGER orbits around a 40-something married man who works at the Hayden Planetarium and unexpectedly connects with a single mother.

MESSENGER didn't receive the same adulation as Lonergan's earlier works for the stage, but his ear for dialogue and unique mix of comedy and drama was once again highlighted even in mixed reviews (a fate shared by Lonergan's most recent play, HOLD ON TO ME DARLING, which opened earlier this year at Atlantic Theater Company).

Margaret (2011)

After the success of You Can Count On Me, Lonergan had a number of writing and co-writing gigs in Hollywood, including the screenplays for the sequel to Analyze This and Scorsese's Gangs of New York. But his most anticipated film was Margaret, a drama starring Anna Paquin about a teenage girl who believes she helped cause a traffic accident that killed a woman.

Filmed in 2005, Margaret was intended for release in 2007, but Lonergan and the film's studio, Fox Searchlight Pictures, disagreed on the film's runtime. Fox insisted on a tight 150 minutes or less, while Lonergan's own edit was closer to three hours. The legal battle ate up years, and ultimately concluded with two versions of the film being released -- a 150-minute edit, which hit theaters in limited release in 2011 and was commercially unsuccessful, and an extended cut released on DVD in 2012 completed by Lonergan. Despite all the drama, the final release of the film received raves from many critics, and Lonergan himself says he's happy with the final cut.

Manchester by the Sea (2016)

No such disputes marred the development of Lonergan's latest film, his third as a writer/director. Manchester by the Sea, set to be released in select theaters on Nov. 18 before a wider release in December, tells the story of a self-isolated man (Casey Affleck) who must unexpectedly return to his hometown to care for his nephew when his brother dies, and in the process revisits his greatest personal tragedy.

Originally, Lonergan was only booked to write the script -- the original idea came from producer Matt Damon, who had planned to direct himself and recruited Lonergan for the screenplay. But scheduling conflicts shifted Lonergan into the director's chair as well, and he would shape the film with his own vision.

Buoyed by strong advance reviews, early acclaim (a Hollywood Screenwriter Award for Lonergan and five Gotham Award nominations) and lots of Oscar buzz, Manchester looks poised to make this Lonergan's year. All the more reason to catch MCT's LOBBY HERO now -- before all the hype kicks in.