January 26, 2009
Vol. 28 No. 8

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    Revels return to honor Darwin with ‘Gunk’

    By Josh Schonwald
    News Office

    Photo by Lloyd DeGrane

    Before he retires at the end of June, Michael Behnke, Vice President for College Enrollment, will take the stage one last time in the University Quadrangle Club Revels production. His wife Lee Behnke is co-producer of the show and was one of the key people to revive this Chicago tradition. This year’s performance is dedicated to the Behnkes.

    Scientists have recently found that half the answer to eternal life lies within the University’s Botany Pond.

    Just below the surface of the famously bucolic pond—just beneath the stone bridge, the water lilies and baby geese—there is a special kind of liquid. And when it’s mixed with the mitochondrial juices of an ancestral turtle only found in the Galapagos Islands, a serum is produced that eliminates the need for Botox, plastic surgery and exercise.

    The public can get a firsthand glimpse of the Great Race to the Galapagos in Search of the Urturtle when the Quadrangle Club Revels, the University’s legendary team of skit comedians, returns for its annual performance.

    Celebrating the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth, this year’s production, titled “Gunk” and co-written by Sara Paretsky, Andy Austin and Will White, will be performed Friday, Jan. 30 and Saturday, Jan. 31 at the Quadrangle Club, 57th Street and University Avenue.

    As usual, a motley group of University faculty, staff members and others from the community comprise the cast, including Noel Taylor, University Press Manuscript editor; David Bevington, the Phyllis Fay Horton Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Humanities; Elizabeth Davenport, Dean of Rockefeller Memorial Chapel; anesthesiologist Patsy Ann Beyer, and Barbara Flynn Currie, Illinois House of Representatives Majority Leader, and Paretsky.

    Howard Timms returned from England to again direct the show, which Lee Behnke will produce. Julian Harvey and Will White composed the score, with additional lyrics by Ted Fishman.

    This year’s performance also marks a historic Revels event—Lee and Michael Behnkes’ swan song. The two Revelers will retire from their respective University posts in July—Michael from his position as Vice President for College Enrollment, and Lee from her position as Senior Lecturer and Director of the Undergraduate Latin Program in Classics.

    Photo by Lloyd DeGrane

    Alumna Sara Paretsky is one of three co-writers for this year’s Revels production “Gunk.” Andy Austin and Will White are her co-script writers.

    “Lee resurrected the Revels,” said Nancy Levner, the Revels’ assistant producer, who noted that this year’s performance is “dedicated to the Behnkes.” Last year’s show was dedicated to Robert Ashenhurst, Levner’s husband and Professor Emeritus at Chicago Booth. He wrote music for the Revels for 50 years beginning in 1958.

    Lee Behnke was one of a core group of people who revived the Revels tradition. After arriving on campus in 1998, she learned about the University’s century-old tradition of staging comedic vignettes and musical parody, and that the Revels productions had been dormant for more than a decade. After hearing about “this Revels thing” at a dinner party, she said, she and Helen DeGroot and Jean Meltzer helped bring it back to life. Since 2001, Lee Behnke has helped produce all of the Revels shows.

    Her husband Michael Behnke, the performer of the two, has been a mainstay of the Revels shows. Lee’s favorite memory of Michael’s Revels career: 2005, “when he played Big Rocco, a Don Corleone-like mobster who was trying to buy the Midway.”

    Lee Behnke helped revive the Revels from dormancy, but she isn’t worried that Reveling will disappear after her departure. The Revels, she believes, are here to stay.

    “It’s grown and grown every year,” said Behnke. “There are close to 50 involved in some way this year—everyone from Lab School students to grad students to community members. We already have a composer thinking about next year’s score.”

    As for the Behnkes’ future in theatre: “I love theatre, and I’ve been involved in community productions all my life,” said Lee Behnke, who will split time between Maine and Boston. “I’ll go to New York to see theatre—because I love it. And maybe something will materialize. But this was rare. No other places we’ve been—MIT, Tufts, Amherst—has anything like the Revels. I think it’s a unique thing, a unique tradition.”

    Tickets to the 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 30 performance are $25 per person, with a buffet meal available for an additional $25. The Saturday night performance will include dinner at 6 p.m., and the show will begin at 8 p.m.

    Tickets to Saturday’s show and dinner—a “moveable feast” that will feature food stations throughout the Quad Club—are $65 per person. For more information or to make reservations, contact the Quadrangle Club at (773) 702-2550.