Berwyn's Arts Blog
Friday, January 22, 2010
Opening Night
Opening night was last night, Thursday, for This Train. Only seven more performances.

Check out what the Sun Times wrote:

Tony Fitzpatrick is a streetwise renaissance man of his own making. He's an accomplished artist, writer and actor who gets inspiration from Chicago, the world and the people he encounters there.

As an actor, Fitzpatrick has performed in Lookingglass Theatre productions and in many films and television shows. But what he loves best is bringing his own vision -- a combination of his artwork and writing -- to the stage.

In 2002, he teamed with a pal, singer-songwriter Steve Earle, for a one-night performance at Steppenwolf Theatre's Traffic series that featured music, art and words to great effect.

Now, the straightforward and opinionated Fitzpatrick has created a new show, with help from 16th Street Theater artistic director Ann Filmer, that revolves around his collage series and journal entries inspired by the hobo alphabet (marks left by hobos on fences to inform others as to what to find within).

"When Ann told me the theater's season this year was about 'home,' I thought that was a perfect fit for the hobo alphabet," Fitzpatrick said. "The series is all about home and homelessness."

Filmer calls the creation of "This Train" "the craziest thing I've ever been involved with."

"I'm the Tony wrangler, guiding the train so it doesn't go off the tracks," she said with a laugh.

The process started with no script, just the art and journal entries that align with each collage.

"Tony has a lot of opinions and a huge heart," Filmer said. "He's also got a wonderful way with words."

Filmer spent several days in Fitzpatrick's studio watching the artist in his work environment. Working at the window of his Damen Avenue studio, he sees the world go by.

"I wanted the piece to blend a day in his real world with the life of his stories and art," Filmer said.

Fitzpatrick has created collages about Chicago, New Orleans, Japan and Native Americans. He says he began the hobo alphabet series as a way to honor Chicago writer Studs Terkel after he passed away in 2008.

"As a kid, I read Hard Times, his towering oral history of the Great Depression," Fitzpatrick said. "I try to remember these stories when men come to the door on Damen Avenue looking to shovel walks or wash windows."

Backed by projections of the collages, Fitzpatrick reads journal entries and tells stories. Singer Sally Timms and musician John Rice have been tapped for the musical side of the show, which includes Fitzpatrick's poems set to music and classic songs like John Prine's "Angel from Montgomery."

"The music adds a curious sadness to the piece," Fitzpatrick said. "And Sally has a perfectly haunted voice for the American road."

The characters the artist meets on Damen Avenue outside his studio also make an appearance in the show.

Fitzpatrick's Facebook friends already are familiar with the "old Ukrainian lady" who lives four doors from his studio. From the sound of his postings, she thinks he's a hoodlum and really doesn't like his dog Chooch.

"She's kind of the bane of my existence," Fitzpatrick said with a laugh. "Like the posse after Butch Cassidy, she's always there in her housecoat and babushka ready with a comment."

• "This Train" continues through Jan. 30 at 16th Street Theater, 6420 16th, Berwyn. For tickets ($20), call (708) 795-6704 or visit the Web site

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