In Chicago Directorial Homecoming, Heinen Discusses Caravaggio / by R. Sheth

September 12, 2006
News Release

With its world premiere production of Richard Vetere’s Caravaggio (Oct. 7 – November 26, 2006), directed by Dale Heinen, Silk Road Theatre Project hopes to continue the recent interest in the life and works of the great Italian painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. “I have long been an ardent admirer of Caravaggio’s work, and fascinated by his personality,” states director Heinen. “His life is an archetype of the tormented, misunderstood genius, and the contradictions and tensions in his work give it continued urgency.”

“Caravaggio was an amazing observer of life, and people were his subject,” says Heinen. “His compositions are raw humanity: Roman prostitutes, merchants, musicians and cardsharps were his models. He also used light in a startling new way: by starting with blackness and shadow, and introducing a single source from high angle- as if suddenly illuminating a scene at its moment of highest drama. Caravaggio painted life from life.” While his methods made him a revolutionary artist for his time, Heinen believes Caravaggio’s contradictory nature interests her most. “He was a person being pulled in different directions at once, and this tension shows in his work. Caravaggio was driven towards violence and offence (he was repeatedly arrested), and yet his paintings were full of seduction and compassion. He believed in God, yet couldn’t serve or trust him. Caravaggio was unable to resist the profane even when painting the sacred- or perhaps that’s more accurate in the reverse.”

And although Heinen recognizes the richness of Caravaggio’s life in terms of drama, she realizes the dangers associated with directing biographical plays. “It’s always worrying to do bio-drama because you are inviting people to match their preconceptions about the man to the way we choose to present him,” she explains. “There are many questions: how can we get inside his head, and not merely report the facts of his life? How can we avoid the tortured genius clichés? Do we need to show his paintings in the play, and if so, how? What about his life will resonate with audiences today? In answer to the last question, perhaps it’s that Caravaggio was looking for his purpose in the world, and how best to use his talent, as most of us are.”

The production of Caravaggio marks a homecoming-of-sorts for director Heinen, who started her career in Chicago and now resides and primarily works in London. Heinen’s most notable Chicago theatre credit was as co-Artistic Director of Footsteps Theatre, which was Chicago’s premiere women’s theatre for over a decade. “Working [in Chicago] is a warm, familiar experience. I love the directness and humor of Chicagoans, and the terrific pool of well-trained actors. Chicago’s a friendlier town to work in. I think the most exciting, original writers are currently coming out of the U.S.A…. I spend a lot of time talking about and promoting Chicago theatre.”

Directing for Silk Road Theatre Project was also an exciting prospect for Heinen. “Silk Road impressed me in several ways. Their new space in the Chicago Temple building is beautiful, and their mission is ground-breaking. It’s also amazing how much Jamil and Malik have accomplished in a short time. It’s clear that they are running SRTP very responsibly and that they are in it for the long haul. If a theatre gets the financial side right, then everything else is possible, as Silk Road’s record shows. That makes me feel like I’m in good hands, and that allows me to throw myself into the work.”