UT veteran goes pro with Nightmare-ish tale of love

Fourth-year TAPS major Augie Praley gets his break at Gorilla Tango Theatre.

By Matt Zakosek

Unlike most venues, Bucktown’s Gorilla Tango Theatre has a ratings system like the one used for movies. So what does fourth-year Augie Praley, whose show Lea: A Nightmare opens tonight, think of its PG-13 rating?

“It’s surprising to me,” Praley said. “If my parents had taken me to this when I was 13, I’m sure I would have walked out of the building saying, ‘I don’t know what the fuck I just saw.’”

A visit to Praley’s Web site, augiepraley.com, leaves a similar impression. With plays and poems like Augie Praley Masturbates and “Samuel Beckett Was a Sonuvabitch,” that PG-13 feels more and more like a typo.

“Well, the show going up after us is Cat Aerobics [actually Circus Cats of Chicago],” he said. “I’m pretty sure that’s a G.” He’s right.

Lea, which deals with everything from abortion to what Praley calls “controversial talking about whether love exists,” is dark stuff. But the playwright is nowhere near as tortured as his body of work suggests.

“Chicago theater is absolutely amazing,” Praley said, citing the House Theatre and the Hypocrites (in particular, writer/director Sean Graney) as favorites. His comment would reek of self-aggrandizement if not for the fact that Lea is the complete opposite of a vanity project.

“The show they have now has changed entirely from what I sent them,” Praley said, who answered a call for submissions from the League of Chicago Theatres. A true collaborator, he admits that his work with director Hollis Rabin and the cast resulted in a much stronger piece.

“We ended up going through many, many drafts of the show,” said Praley, who sat in on auditions and communicated constantly with Rabin via e-mail (though “not as much as either of us would have liked”). And although he was stuck at home in Maryland for a portion of the rehearsal process, he said he was pretty happy with the run-through he saw earlier this month.

The University Theater veteran and Theater and Performance Studies major has been through this process three times before—first with his show Progress, at last year’s Around the Coyote Arts Festival; then with The World According to Charles Barkley, a collaboration with U of C student Phoebe Holtzman; and finally with A Christmas Story, based on the character Ralphie from the 1983 cult classic by the same name. He’ll workshop the creative portion of his B.A. paper, The Last 90 Minutes in the Life of Nikola Tesla, this spring. As with Lea, Praley says his Tesla script is “something I’m really proud of and happy with, but nowhere near what I started out to write.” (No kidding: It began as a project about Tesla’s pal Mark Twain.)

In the short term, Praley’s goal is to find a theater job around Chicago; long term, it’s going to grad school for playwriting. He applied to the prestigious Yale School of Drama, but on that count, he says, “I’m not holding my breath.”

According to Praley, the school’s new dean, Paula Vogel, believes in “getting people who know that they want to do this [playwriting] for the rest of their lives, no matter what”—which means fewer newly minted B.A. holders and more students who’ve toiled in the professional theater world post-graduation. They only accept 3 out of 150 applicants anyhow. In that case, Praley should consider reapplying in a few years; there’s no doubt this young talent will receive plenty of opportunities to hone his craft.