Michael Shannon Returns to His Roots in Turret in Chicago | Playbill

Chicago News Michael Shannon Returns to His Roots in Turret in Chicago

The new play, written by Grey House's Levi Holloway, is running at the theatre Shannon co-founded, A Red Orchid.

Michael Shannon in Turret Fadeout Media and Jesus Santos

Before he became a household name through films such as Man of Steel, The Shape of Water, and Knives Out, two-time Oscar nominee Michael Shannon got his start in Chicago’s storefront theatre scene. In 1993, he cofounded A Red Orchid Theatre, an ensemble-based company known for intimate stagings of daring new works in the city’s Old Town neighborhood.

Amidst a busy film and TV career, Shannon has continued to work onstage, finding success on and off-Broadway. In 2016, he earned a Tony nomination for his performance as James Tyrone, Jr., in the Broadway revival of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night. Last year, he played Estragon in Theatre for a New Audience’s off-Broadway production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. But he hasn’t forgotten his Chicago roots. Along with A Red Orchid’s other cofounders, Guy Van Swearingen and Lawrence Grimm, Shannon has remained an active member of the ensemble. 

And right now, he's currently starring alongside Grimm and Travis A. Knight in Turret, a world premiere written and directed by ensemble member Levi Holloway. The show runs through June 9.

Shannon and Knight—the theatre’s associate artistic director— respectively play Green and Rabbit, two soldiers living in a bunker in the woods of the Pacific Northwest, while Grimm plays Birdy, a survivor from the outside world. “Something very terrible has happened to the world outside and something very terrible wants to get inside,” says Holloway. “And over time, we start to learn that maybe the most terrible thing is already inside.”

“I’ve always been very excited to work on new plays,” shares Shannon, when asked what drew him to Turret. “And Levi’s aesthetic as a writer, I feel like it’s very much in tune with the initial impulse of A Red Orchid, which is to put on shows that push the envelope.”

Lawrence Grimm, Michael Shannon, and Travis A. Knight in Turret Fadeout Media and Jesus Santos

As a playwright, Holloway made his Broadway debut in 2023 with Grey House, a thriller that ran for 64 performances at New York’s Lyceum Theatre following its 2019 world premiere at A Red Orchid. Grey House and Turret don’t literally share the same world, but they could be considered “spiritual cousins,” suggests Holloway. “Grey House is my take on a ghost story, and I would call Turret my take on a werewolf story. If I were to designate a genre to Turret, it might be a thriller, a little puzzle box, but underneath, it’s something very vulnerable, about fathers and sons and the worlds that fathers build for their sons, that their sons inevitably have to break free from. I started writing it in 2020, shortly after my father died. And it was connected to my relationship, as a man, to my father, as a man. However, I didn’t finish the play until my son was born, which was very recent. And so, the work has become much more tender and much more open.”

Knight was drawn to the way Turret looks at characters living in extreme circumstances and asks, “Where do you find love? How do you find family? How do you find joy in a world like that?” The element of human connection is important to Shannon, too. “Always, in anything I do, I am most drawn to exploring the ways that human beings connect to one another, because I think it’s something we take for granted, or that we just assume is a natural thing,” he says. “And I think it’s actually quite difficult for people to really connect to one another and that it takes a lot of work, and it takes a lot of self-exploration and vulnerability.”

A Red Orchid’s strong sense of ensemble and persistence through many challenges keep bringing Shannon and Grimm back more than 30 years later. “I’ve lost track of how many times Red Orchid should have closed,” says Grimm. “At a certain point, it starts to defy logic, especially with the recent theatre closings post-pandemic, and I just think that’s a testament of wills and endurance. It’s really hard to not double down and recommit to the cause when it just keeps going.”

“The theatre’s been around pretty much as long as I’ve been acting,” said Shannon. “I feel like any success that I’ve had as an actor is directly correlated to my experience of working at A Red Orchid, and all the incredible artists that I’ve had the opportunity to work with and learn from over the years there. Because I wasn’t always on TV, you know? And there was a time when that theatre was everything to me.”

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