Victory Gardens Announces 45th Season

Victory Gardens Announces 45th Season

(Top row): Cheryl Strayed, Nia Vardalos, Vanessa Stalling, Lee Edward Colston II, Malika Oyetimein, Lilly Padilla. (bottom row): Marti Lyons, Madhuri Shakar, Chay Yew, Sharyn Rothstein, and Gary Griffin.

Victory Gardens Theater has announced the slate for the 2019-20 season—its 45th.

“I’m thrilled to announce our 45th season of incredible American plays that speak to our current times,” said Artistic Director Chay Yew. “From an African American family grappling with a daughter’s death, to a South Asian immigrant battling his children over the fate of their family restaurant in Chicago, we are also giving a home to powerful plays that courageously address the issues of our country’s rape culture, and the right to privacy on social media. These relevant works speak truth to power and celebrate the best in our diverse nation, and inspire us to be better citizens.”

The season will include the world premieres of “The First Deep Breath” by Lee Edward Colston II, “How to Defend Yourself” by Lily Padilla, “Dhaba on Devon Avenue” by Madhuri Shekar, and the Chicago premieres of “Right to Be Forgotten” by Sharyn Rothstein and “Tiny Beautiful Things” by Nia Vardalos.

Vardalos is the Canadian-American actress, screenwriter, and producer famous for the 2002 film “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” which was based on a one-woman stage play she wrote and performed. “Tiny Beautiful Things” is her adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s best-selling book which features a selection of her popular “Dear Sugar” advice columns, which she wrote for the website The Rumpus from 2010 to 2012. Vanessa Stalling directs, kicking off the season in September.

Following in November is Lee Edward Colston II’s “The First Deep Breath,” a family drama surrounding a pastor, his deceased daughter, his son returned from prison, and long-buried secrets. It was developed through VG’s Ignition Festival, and will be directed by Malika Oyetimein.

Lily Padilla’s “How To Defend Yourself” is a co-premiere with the Actors Theatre of Louisville about seven college students who gather for a DIY self-defense workshop after a sorority sister is raped. It was also developed as through the Ignition Festival, and won the 2019 Yale Drama Series Prize. Marti Lyons directs in January.

Chay Yew directs Madhuri Shekar’s Chicago-set “Dhaba on Devon Avenue,” set in a failing Sindhi restaurant. The family that has run it for generations is ready to go to war over its fate. It opens in March of 2020.

Closing the season next May is Gary Griffin’s production of “Right To Be Forgotten” by Sharyn Rothstein. A young man’s mistake at 17 haunts him online a decade later in an allegory about privacy, social media and human forgiveness in the age of the internet. The play will have its world premiere at Arena Stage in Washington D.C. this fall.

Victory Gardens Theater’s 45th Anniversary Season (from the press release):

Chicago Premiere
“Tiny Beautiful Things”
Based on the book by Cheryl Strayed
Adapted for the Stage by Nia Vardalos
Co-Conceived by Marshall Heyman, Thomas Kail, and Nia Vardalos
Directed by Vanessa Stalling
September 6-October 13, 2019

Based on the best-selling book by Cheryl Strayed and adapted for the stage by Nia Vardalos, Tiny Beautiful Things personifies the questions and answers that “Sugar” was publishing online from 2010-2012. When the struggling writer was asked to take over the unpaid, anonymous position of advice columnist, Strayed used empathy and her personal experiences to help those seeking guidance for obstacles both large and small. Directed by Vanessa Stalling (“Photograph 51” Court Theatre, “A Shayna Maidel” TimeLine Theatre, “The Wolves” Goodman) “Tiny Beautiful Things” is a story about reaching when you’re stuck, healing when you’re broken, and finding the courage to take on the questions which have no answers.

World Premiere
“The First Deep Breath”
By Lee Edward Colston II
Directed by Malika Oyetimein
November 15-December 22, 2019

Originally developed as part of Victory Gardens 2018 Ignition Festival of New Plays, “The First Deep Breath” tells the story of Pastor Albert Jones who is planning a special church service to honor his late daughter Diane on the sixth anniversary of her death. But when his eldest son, Abdul-Malik, returns home from prison, the First family of Mother Bethel Baptist Church is forced to confront a hornet’s nest of long-buried secrets. Written with a ferocious passion by Lee Edward Colston II and directed by Malika Oyetimein, The First Deep Breath finds each member of the Jones clan desperately fighting to stay afloat and disregarding the caution that sometimes a family that stays together drowns together.

Co-World Premiere with Actors Theatre of Louisville
“How to Defend Yourself”
By Lily Padilla
Directed by Marti Lyons
January 24-February 23, 2020

“How to Defend Yourself” circles around seven college students who gather for a DIY self-defense workshop after a sorority sister is raped. They learn how to “not be a victim,” how to use their bodies as weapons, how to fend off attackers. The form of self-defense becomes a channel for their rage, trauma, confusion, anxiety, and desire–lots of desire. Challenged to determine what they want and how to ask for it, the students must ultimately face the insidious ways rape culture steals one’s body and sense of belonging. Developed as part of Victory Gardens 2018 Ignition Festival of New Plays and the winner of the 2019 Yale Drama Series Prize, “How to Defend Yourself” is funny, raw and brutally honest – a triumph from playwright Lily Padilla. The production will be directed by Marti Lyons (“Cambodian Rock Band,” “Native Gardens” Victory Gardens, “Witch” Writers Theatre).

World Premiere
“Dhaba on Devon Avenue”
By Madhuri Shekar
Directed by Victory Gardens Artistic Director Chay Yew
March 27-April 26, 2020

Dhaba Canteen has been a Devon Avenue institution since the 60s, with their delicious Sindhi food transporting you back to the halcyon days of undivided India. Now it’s on the verge of bankruptcy. And the family that has run it for generations is ready to go to war over its fate. Written by Madhuri Shekar, (Queen) and directed by Victory Gardens Artistic Director Chay Yew, it’s King Lear meets The Cherry Orchard in this Chicago story of fathers and daughters, of legacy, and of survival at all costs.

Chicago Premiere
“Right to Be Forgotten”
By Sharyn Rothstein
Directed by Gary Griffin
May 29-June 28, 2020

The internet never forgets and a young man’s mistake at 17 haunts him online a decade later. Desperate for a normal life, he goes to extraordinary lengths to erase his indiscretion. But freedom of information is big business, and the tech companies aren’t going down without a fight. Secrets, lies and political backstabbing abound in this riveting new drama about one man’s fierce battle to reclaim his right to privacy. Playwright Sharyn Rothstein (By the Water, USA Network’s “Suits”), winner of the prestigious 2015 Primus Prize and whose work has been called “touching & affecting” (New York Times), has written a striking allegory about privacy, social media and human forgiveness in the age of the internet.

Subscriptions start at $99 and will soon be on sale at and by phone at the Victory Gardens Box Office at 2433 N. Lincoln. Call 773.871.3000 with questions. Victory Gardens Theater is located at 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue.

About author

Jason Epperson

Jason is a producer, manager, and designer with 17 years of experience in Chicago, New York, and in the touring market. In 2015, he founded Lotus Theatricals - the publisher of Performink, and an independent commercial producing company - with Abigail Trabue.