Preview/Review:  Gift Theatre Celebrates Its Birthday With Ten 10-Minute Theater Pieces

Winter seems to be the season for stage fests in Chicago (Rhinofest, Musical Theater Festival, Pegasus’ Young Playwrights Festival, Fillet of Solo) and Gift Theatre, one of our fine storefront companies, adds to the wealth with its TEN 2020, a set of 10 10-minute pieces. Continuing for another weekend, Gift’s festival is its 19th birthday celebration.  And it’s a gift to its audience: a diverse, funny, sometimes sad, set of short dramas.

The productions include eight short plays, a film and an improv set by Natural Gas, the Gift improv team. A few of the plays certainly stand out more than others, but on the whole, TEN is a fun and rewarding way to see the array of Gift talent and guest artists. And tickets are cheap!

Michael Turrentine in The Game of Life. Photo by Claire Demos.

The set opens with Michael Turrentine in The Game of Life, the only musical piece, as a student and budding talent entrepreneur. With the help of an audience volunteer, Turrentine enacts the woes of a student and wannabe performer. Directed by Eric Weiss. Book and lyrics by William Nedved; music by Stephen Coleman.

In Unmoved, written by Hansol Jung (Wolf Play) and directed by Brian Shaw, actor James D. Farruggio tells the poignant story of a man taking his young son on his first deer hunt.. The boy asks the unanswerable question, “Dad, what if she’s the last deer?”

Non-Disclosure Agreement gives Turrentine a chance to show his ability as an actor as well as a song-and-dance man (h/t to Bob Dylan). He finds out how his relationships are affected when he learns he’s HIV positive. Written by Michael Allen Harris and directed by Gregory Geffrard.

Perhaps the most smartly written piece is Buried Mother by Mickle Maher. Two women, mother and daughter, try to file mom’s recipes from her life as a failed writer. Deanna Dunagan and Diana Slickman play mother and daughter, with direction by Michael Cotey.

Katie Gonzalez and Jay Worthington in Pledge Drive. Photo by Claire Demos.

Pledge Drive, the final piece, is a very funny look at a WBEZ pledge drive where the two hosts receive some odd phone calls. “Is anybody screening these calls?” Jay Worthington screams in frustration. Oh and there’s a bit of a love story too. Katie Gonzalez is the second host. Written by Michael Patrick Thornton and directed by Jonathan Berry.

The show runs just under two hours with an intermission. Fifteen actors portray the various roles and off-stage voices. But note that other actors may perform the roles described above at other times. Lighting design is by Daniel Friedman and sound design by  Michael McShane.

TEN will play thru January 18 at Gift Theatre, 4802 N. Milwaukee Ave., in the Jefferson Park neighborhood. Tickets are free for Gift subscribers and $10 for the general public. Tickets are currently available at or by calling 773-283-7071.

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Nancy S Bishop

Nancy S. Bishop is publisher and Stages editor of Third Coast Review. She’s a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and a 2014 Fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. You can read her personal writing on pop culture at, and follow her on Twitter @nsbishop. She also writes about film, books, art, architecture and design.