Your Regional Guide To The Performing Arts

Steppenwolf to Host Phylicia Rashad and Liesl Tommy in 17-18 Season

 Steppenwolf to Host Phylicia Rashad and Liesl Tommy in 17-18 Season
Photo Credit: Steppenwolf Theatre Company.

Premieres have a way of making an impact on the local theater scene, but Steppenwolf is making sure that two of their premieres in particular make an even more prolific impact on summer theatergoers.

In summer 2017, critically acclaimed director Liesl Tommy will direct the world premiere of Antoinette Nwandu’s Pass Over, and next summer Phylicia Rashad will direct the Chicago premiere of Jen Silverman’s The Roommate.

Steppenwolf has described Nwandu’s piece as “a bold, incendiary riff on Waiting for Godot. Pop culture, historical and religious references collide to create a hilarious and disturbing meditation on manhood, race and the cycle of violence that prevents too many from realizing their full potential.”

The Roommate is a comedy that highlights the differences between two new roommates: Sharon, who is Midwestern nice, and Bronx-born Robyn, who categorizes Sharon's demeanor as talkative and nosy. The mismatched duo face the idea that choices early on in life can lead to challenges later in life.

Both Tommy and Rashad have impressive resumes that make them solid choices to direct both productions.

In 2016, Tommy was a Tony Award nominee for Best Direction of a Play for her work on Eclipsed by Danai Gurira which starred Lupita Nyong’o on Broadway.

She was the first woman of color to receive a nomination for the award.

On the reverse, Rashad, who is the 2017 Steppenwolf Women in the Arts honoree, is no stranger to the caliber of work Steppenwolf provides its audiences.

"We were looking for a director for The Roommate and knew that ensemble members Sandra Marque and Ora Jones were going to star," artistic director Anna D. Shapiro explained when asked how they chose Rashad to direct. "They needed someone formidable in the room who would meet them at their level, and who also knew a thing or two about what it is to be a woman over 50 who is still fighting the fight everyday."

Formidable is an apt description of Rashad, who has received several awards over her career. Awards include the 2014 NAACP Theatre Award for Best Director for her work on Joe Turner’s Come and Gone at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, and a Drama Desk and Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for her portrayal of Lena Younger in the 2004 Broadway revival A Raisin in The Sun--making her the first black woman in history to win the award.

It's that drive--not notoriety--that ultimately led to Rashad directing The Roommate.

"Here is an artist whose entire career has been focused on the work," Shapiro explained. "[Focused] on just getting in there and working with her collaborative partners to push both herself and everyone around her to be better." 

Pass Over runs June 1-July 9, 2017, and The Roommate runs June 21-August 8, 2018. More information about both productions is available at




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