The Organic Theater Company will be transplanting itself from Chicago to Naperville four days this week, staging its production of "The Emigrants" at the Meiley-Swallow Theatre on the North Central Campus.
"Our goal is to develop a presence in both places, to try to establish ourselves as a fixture in Naperville," said Josh Anderson, who has been a member of the troupe since 2006 and its managing director since 2011. "It's also a chance to see something different. We have a unique brand of theater that you don't often see in the suburbs — we do plays that are outside the beaten path of musical theater."
The repertory company often has more than one show in production at a time and actors cross over in multiple roles. This model allows the company to continually add new works to previously staged shows.
"That gives you some interesting depth and perspective," Anderson said about the evolution that happens when actors restage a work after months or even years. "The show gets better and better."
"The Emigrants" is a fresh title. Written by Polish playwright Slawomir Mrozek, the two-man show features two characters, AA and XX, who are impoverished emigrants from an oppressive dictatorship now living in an also unnamed democratic, capitalistic, free country.
"It's about two men stuck living together in this basement apartment. It's about their interaction and their struggle to find their humanity and come to terms with their lives and the decisions they've made," said Anderson, who plays AA, the intellectual political exile in the dark comedy. "Even if you're not an emigrant, it really makes you think of your own life: Do you like your job? Do you feel trapped there? It's about the decisions we make in our lives, why we make them, how we live with the choices we've made and is it possible to change those choices?"
Joel Huff plays XX, his working-class roommate.
"It's a great journey for them to go on," Huff said. "It asks all the hard questions. It's got everything in it — there's comedy, there's drinking, there's drama, violence, love, crassness, male chauvinism."
The play takes place on New Year's Eve in the emigrants' grubby underground apartment, where they argue while the rest of the world celebrates.
"I love getting in the trenches — there's a lot of conflict between the two characters," Anderson said. "I love that it makes you reflect on your own life and what's important."
Huff, who teaches advanced acting, voice and movement and stage combat at Elmhurst College, agrees.
"Hopefully everyone will take away something different," he said, "whatever they bring in the door that they need to address, in a good way."
A two-character show has special challenges.
"I think there has to be a lot of trust and communication between the two of us, and we only have each other to make the whole show happen," Huff said. "There are a lot of highs and lows, and we only have each other to get us to those extremes."
The production is directed by Alexander Gelman, Organic's producing artistic director, who was born in Russia and emigrated to the United States as a teenager.
"He tries to pick plays that are about everything," Huff said of Gelman, who is also the director of the School of Theatre and Dance at Northern Illinois University. In addition to universal themes, Organic's shows tend to be more abstract.
"Building a world from nothing is something we do quite often," Huff said.
Both Anderson and Huff have enjoyed Organic's various runs in Naperville over the past few years.
"I really love the Meiley-Swallow," Huff said of the intimate theater space. "They've been really receptive to us. It's been a great place to make theater."
"The Emigrants" is scheduled 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, as well as 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Theatre at Meiley-Swallow, 31 S. Ellsworth St. Tickets are $30 for adults and $20 for seniors and students. This play contains adult themes and language. For more information, go to organictheater.info.