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‘Big Lake Big City’ paints Chicago’s brash image with humor

David Schwimmer is directing 'Big Lake Big City' Lookingglass Theatre. | Liz Lauren Photo

David Schwimmer is directing "Big Lake Big City" at Lookingglass Theatre. | Liz Lauren Photo

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‘BIG LAKE BIG CITY’

When: Opening June 29, running through Aug. 11

Where: Lookingglass Theatre, 821 N. Michigan

Tickets: $28-$70

Info: (312) 337-0665; lookingglasstheatre.org

Updated: July 30, 2013 6:20AM



Chicago is home to a million stories. Playwright Keith Huff (“A Steady Rain”) has a knack for bringing a few of them to life onstage.

His latest tale is “Big Lake Big City,” a dark comedy homage to Chicago, opening Saturday at Lookingglass Theatre.

“I’d always wanted to write a light ensemble piece, so that was part of this play’s impetus,” Huff said. “I wanted it to take place in Chicago. I wanted to give myself a challenge, and I wanted to weave three stories together.”

Mission accomplished. The play’s 30 characters (brought to life by 10 actors assuming multiple roles) tell the stories of a Chicago detective suffering from burnout, a doctor residing in a Harbor Point condo who has a sculpture stolen, and a man who is told he’ll die instantly if doctors remove it the screwdriver from his head. This only skims the surface of this multilayered play..

“It’s a murder mystery at heart, but there’s playfulness to it,” said Huff, whose TV writing credits include episodes of “Mad Men” and “House of Cards.” “I mean, it’s not Neil Simon-type comedy, by any means. But it’s funny.”

His choice for a director is Lookingglass co-founder, ensemble member and film/TV star David Schwimmer — no stranger to Chicago’s theater scene, with productions such as “Trust,” “Race,” “Our Town” and “The Odyssey” to his credit. And he knows a thing or two about comedy.

“I had heard about Keith as a Chicago playwright,” Schwimmer said of his foray into the “Big Lake” project. “It wasn’t until I’d seen ‘A Steady Rain’ on Broadway that I told my agent that I’d love to sit down with Keith and grab a meal ’cuz we’re both Chicago theater guys. We met and I suggested that we find a project to do together, never thinking he would, because he had just arrived on Broadway and had launched his hot TV writing career. Then a year later, he sent me an email saying he had just written [‘Big Lake’] and said it might be right for Lookingglass. I read it and loved it.”

For Schwimmer, working with Huff was everything a director could ask for.

“I’m amazed at how easily we work together,” he said. “How it just fell into this natural, easy rapport. It’s one thing for him to be able to write, but to rewrite is such a challenge and such a gift, and it comes so easily to him.”

Lookingglass, a troupe which rarely veers into full-out comedy, and Huff also were a perfect fit.

“I think [Keith] really has enjoyed the kind of atmosphere we create at Lookingglass,” Schwimmer said. “It’s always respectful of the playwright. As a creative ensemble we all contribute to the process, but the writer always has the final word.”

Next up for Schwimmer the director is a pilot for a sitcom called “Growing Up Fisher.” Comedy is near and dear to Schwimmer the actor from way back, having shared the improv stage with Stephen Colbert in the mid-’80s when both were students at Northwestern.

“What I learned from improv is that I’m not very good at improv,” Schwimmer said. “But it was great doing it with Colbert because I learned I would never be as good as him. His mental agility was so refined and so fast and so clear. I knew there and then I was gonna do something else with my career.”



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