Melissa Merli: Can't wait to see great actors in 'Lost Lake'

Melissa Merli: Can't wait to see great actors in 'Lost Lake'

I can't wait to see "Lost Lake," the in-development David Auburn play that opens next week in the Studio Theatre at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts as part of the first Sullivan Project.

My anticipation is based on several reasons.

No. 1: Auburn. He won a Tony Award and a Pulitzer Prize for drama for "Proof."

No. 2: Daniel Sullivan, one of the most respected names in American theater, directs.

And No. 3: British film, theater and TV actor Jake Weber plays one of the characters.

I loved Weber in the TV series "Medium" as Joe DuBois, the husband to Patricia Arquette's character, a psychic who helps prosecutors solve crimes.

Sullivan also brought in Opal Alladin to play opposite Weber in "Lost Lake"; the director has worked with both before. Alladin has acted on stage and in movies, among them "United 93" and "Brown Sugar."

Most of us might know Weber and Alladin from TV and movies. But they are Juilliard-trained and have serious theatrical chops, said Jeffrey Eric Jenkins, head of the University of Illinois Department of Theatre, which started the Sullivan Project.

The idea of a big project involving Sullivan, a UI professor, had been kicking around the theater department well before Jenkins took over in August 2012.

He got the ball rolling by going out to find the money. Dasha Epstein, a friend of his who produces plays on Broadway, donated to the cause.

And so did UI business school alumna Lucy Anda, a longtime donor to the UI who Jenkins said "has been an important force in making this happen."

The biggest chunk of change for the Sullivan Project, though, came from the Swanlund Endowment; Sullivan holds an endowed Swanlund chair at the UI.

The Sullivan Project will be annual, probably each January. Its namesake will direct, choose the new play to help develop — and select the Equity actors and crew. (Retired UI theater Professor J.B. Harris is back, working on costumes for "Lost Lake.")

In addition to the Sullivan Project, the theater department will start a summer project called The New Studio, with Professor Kathleen Conlin as producing artistic director. She's a former dean of the UI College of Fine and Applied Arts.

Jenkins said The New Studio will be a mix of things, among them short plays and informal readings at Stage 5 in the Krannert lobby.

The New Studio will involve theater students, and he and Conlin hope to bring in UI alumni who have gone on to start or direct theater companies.

As for "Lost Lake," Jenkins said the rehearsals have been going well, and Weber and Alladin are excited to be here and are having a great time.

Auburn, who lives in New York, also has attended many of the rehearsals, which started in early January. He's making daily changes in his script, based on notes he receives from Sullivan, or vice versa, according to Jenkins, who sees the rehearsal reports each day.

"They're developing it right along," he said.

Auburn and Sullivan also might make revisions after each performance, depending on how "Lost Lake" plays to audiences here.

Don't look in The News-Gazette or elsewhere for reviews of "Lost Lake." Because it's a play in development, no formal reviews will be written.

A winner

Champaign artist Pat Baron Monigold's portrait of Champaign County sheriff's Deputy Whitman Davis, titled "To Serve and Protect," is one of nine winners of the "Over 60" competition in The Artist's Magazine.

A reproduction of it appears in the February issue of the magazine. The original portrait is a 20-by-16-inch oil on canvas.

Monigold showed it and others several months ago in a brother-sister show at the Art Coop Gallery at Lincoln Square Village in Urbana.

News-Gazette staff writer Melissa Merli can be reached at 351-5367 or Her blog is at

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