Barbara Figgins has acted in bars before. Who hasn’t, right?
But in Figgins’ case it’s meant memorizing a whole script, not just a bunch of lines, to perform at the Atlantic Bar & Grill in Lincoln Square with Seanachie (now Irish Theatre of Chicago) and even in a biker gang version of Shakespeare’s Richard III at the Underground Wonder Bar with Wayward Productions.
Soon, she’ll be all by her lonesome at Chief O’Neill’s Pub & Restaurant as the ITC launches its 2015-2016 season with the Midwest premiere of Geraldine Aron’s one-woman show, My Brilliant Divorce.
First staged almost 15 years ago in Galway, Aron’s play is set in London and concerns itself with Angela, a middle-aged Irish woman whose husband dumps her for that dreaded dramatic device – the younger woman. There’s a version where Angela is an American, but Figgins said that won’t be the case upstairs at the Chief’s.
“It’s an Irish story. It really is,” Figgins said. “The sense of humor is there. I’m first generation Irish-American myself and noticed that Irish trait of humor in the face of tragedy this work has.”
Figgins said the play is fun with its take on modern life and the foibles it has in store for family and relationships.
“It just about being human,” Figgins said.
Aside from having to fill in at the last minute in a production many moons ago where she was originally the stage manager, Figgins said this is her first one-person show.
Actually, she plays 19 characters in addition to Angela and is the only one onstage for 80 minutes, but for a stuffed animal version of a small pet dog.
“The dog’s already popular at Chief’s,” Figgins said. “When we have a pint or two after rehearsal while going over notes, people come up and pet it.”
As you might imagine when a play winds up being performed in a bar, pints played a role.
Figgins explained that ITC/Seanachie had done readings at Chief’s over the years as a way to help decide which works the troupe would stage.
Figgins, however, first read My Brilliant Divorce herself, on a beach no less, and fell for the tale. At the time, though, the company was only doing two shows a year, which meant less opportunity for the other members to perform.
Siobhan McKinney (who owns Chief’s with her husband, Brenda) is a big supporter of ITC, Figgins said, which led to staging My Brilliant Divorce upstairs near the fireplace, not at the bar.
“We set it up more like a theater,” Figgins said.
On Sundays, it’s almost brunch theater.
“We typically have been performing our Sunday matinees at 3 p.m., but with the great brunch they have at Chief’s we moved that up to 2:30 p.m. in case anyone wanted to catch the play right after they ate,” Figgins said.
Hey, it’s something else to do on Sundays since the Bears are bad news this season.
For the record, Figgins is a Steelers fan, having been raised there by parents whose careers took them from Belfast to Canada to Pittsburgh. She wound up in the Chicago area to attend Northwestern.
And while a bar might be an unusual place to see a play, it’s not the oddest place Figgins has acted.
“That would be at the corner of Randolph and Michigan, singing numbers from a musical as part of Chicago Theater Week,” Figgins said.
My Brilliant Divorce plays Oct. 7 – Nov. 1 at Chief O’Neill’s Pub & Restaurant, 3471 N. Elston Ave., Chicago. Tickets are available at www.irishtheatreofchicago.org.