Following word that "All in the Family" actress Jean Stapleton died Friday at age 90, tribute clips included interviews with Stapleton explaining she rarely watched reruns of the hit sitcom because she didn't want to risk channeling the character she'd become so closely associated with.
While at Northlight Theatre in Skokie last month to catch the world premiere run of "Stella & Lou," now playing until Sunday, I had wondered if the play's female lead actress, the great Rhea Perlman, ever had the same reservations from her many years playing the best abrasive bar maid of TV fame on NBC's "Cheers."
Perlman, like Stapleton is a legendary lady and it's clear, after seeing her performance in "Stella & Lou," she is a woman who can channel many characters.
Under the direction of the space's artistic director BJ Jones, Emmy Award winner Perlman performs opposite actors Francis Guinan and Ed Flynn.
Bruce Graham, the Jeff Award-winning playwright of "The Outgoing Tide," which previously played Northlight (and I loved), penned "Stella & Lou," a nicely crafted examination of relationships, loneliness and potential romance among today's aging set.
It opens on a quiet night at Lou's bar, as Perlman and Guinan's title characters are played as two kindred spirits who seek solace as they navigate changing times and relationships past.
Perlman's Stella works as a hospital emergency room nurse who has just returned from Florida with thoughts of scouting out a retirement community condo. Lou is a widower who owns a neighborhood bar that is near the hospital and a regular after work haunt of Stella's. One of the favorite other bar patrons has just died and his sad and solo final state-of-affairs has left deep and distressing impression on everyone. The third character, played by Flynn, is a young bartender conflicted about his impending nuptials, and the side storyline doesn't add so much to this 90-minute, no intermission story.
While Guinan is good, some of his characterization of his Lou felt familiar to me from some of the other performances I've seen Guinan in.
Perlman is the primary reason to make the trek up north to see this heartfelt tale, peppered with humor, emotion and lots of realism. And by the performance's conclusion, I guarantee you'll be glad were back in the bar with Perlman.
Final performances are 1 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 and 7 p.m. Sunday.
Northlight Theatre is located at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd, in Skokie, Ill. Tickets are $25-$72, with student tickets $15 for any performance. FYI: (847) 673-6300 or northlight.org