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Southland native stars in Steppenwolf’s ‘Three Sisters’

OrlPark native Tom McGrath stars Steppenwolf Theatre Company's 'Three Sisters.'

Orland Park native Tom McGrath stars in Steppenwolf Theatre Company's "Three Sisters."

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‘THREE SISTERS’

◆ Through Aug. 26, with an official opening on July 8

◆ Steppenwolf Theatre,
1650 N. Halsted St., Chicago

◆ Tickets, $20-$75

◆ (312) 335-1650;
steppenwolf.org

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Updated: August 7, 2012 6:10AM



He has performed on stage before, but Tom McGrath said getting a part in “Three Sisters” at Steppenwolf Theatre is the breakthrough of his acting life.

“I feel really fortunate to have this stepping stone. It’s a fantastic opportunity. The whole process of being in this show is wonderful. I’m having the best time,” he said.

“It’s not only because I’m working at Steppenwolf, but I’ve learned so much from the show’s playwright, director and its actors.”

The Orland Park native said he dreamt of stepping onto the Steppenwolf stage for a long time and finally made it, but not as he had expected.

“I had been auditioning for parts in Steppenwolf productions for the last couple of years to no avail,” he said.

“I can’t get over that I finally got a role in a Steppenwolf production, and I didn’t even audition for it.

“I was in a two-part show, ‘East of Berlin’ and ‘The Russian Play,’ last fall at the Signal (Ensemble) Theatre. Martha Lavey, the artistic director of Steppenwolf, saw me in the show, and asked me if I would like to be in ‘Three Sisters.’

“Of course, I jumped at the chance. I couldn’t say yes fast enough.”

Written by Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, “Three Sisters” was first presented in Moscow in 1901.

The story centers on three sisters who live suffocating lives in a small, nothing-ever-happens town in northern Russia.

The sisters long to return to Moscow, which they remember with fondness from their childhood.

But the women are stuck between the past and the future, which gets in the way of their living in the present.

The Steppenwolf production is a new adaptation of the Chekhov classic by Tracy Letts, who won the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award for best play for “August: Osage County,” his searing work about a dysfunctional family.

According to McGrath, in “Three Sisters,” Letts follows Chekhov’s lead to focus on the human condition and human folly, but Letts also adds his own humorous twist.

“In the play, there’s a military garrison in the town, and I play one of the soldiers. The reason for the town’s existence is based on the fact of an artillery brigade,” McGrath said.

“The sisters are in the middle of nowhere, and I represent what’s going on outside their enclave.”

The 31-year-old actor said he became interested in acting when he was a sophomore at Sandburg High School in Orland Park.

A friend of his talked him into auditioning for a school play.

McGrath and his friend were chosen for “The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged,” and McGrath said he found acting to be an exciting experience.

“By the time I went to college at Northwestern (University), I had decided to do something practical with my life,” he said.

“But by my second quarter in school, I felt that something was missing. That something was acting, so I transferred to the school’s theater department.”

McGrath became an actor but the friend who convinced him to try out for the school play became a dentist.

Once McGrath graduated and was out in the theater world, he had to take a day job to survive the difficulty of making a living as an actor.

Fortunately, he has been able to make money with what was once a hobby.

“I grew up playing with cameras and took photos for the Sandburg High newspaper. It was a hobby that stayed with me,” McGrath said.

In 2007, McGrath met a photographer who took headshots of actors. She offered him a job and within a few years he was on his own taking photos for weddings, celebrations and headshots.

Now, McGrath acts by night and takes photos by day.

“I’m having a blast,” he said. “It’s a pleasure to be in ‘Three Sisters’ and to work with the Steppenwolf ensemble, who are teaching me so much.

“I’m also enjoying freelancing in photography. And then, to top everything, I recently got engaged. Life is good.”

Betty Mohr is a local freelance writer.



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