Theater People: Danny Thompson breaks a leg | Calendar | Chicago Reader

Theater People: Danny Thompson breaks a leg 

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One week before his new play was set to open, actor and playwright Danny Thompson stepped off a platform while wearing combat boots with five-inch heels. He lost his balance. Trying to break his fall, he landed on his right foot--or, more precisely, his right ankle. When he put his weight on it, Thompson felt a sharp pain.

"My first thought was, 'Oh no, how am I going to hobble around this show with a sprained ankle?'"

He should have been so lucky.

"When we took off his shoe, you could tell it didn't look right," recalls dramaturge Lisa Pawlik. "The ankle and foot were going in separate directions."

Thompson's cast and crew carried him out of the theater and drove him to the emergency room at Edgewater Hospital, where things were so quiet that everyone was sitting around watching ER on television. X rays confirmed what everyone suspected--Thompson had broken his leg.

This was the second setback in as many weeks for Thompson's play Necessity, a comedy about Thomas Edison and other famous figures from the 19th century. The show was supposed to inaugurate Theater Oobleck's 11th season, but the opening had been delayed when a key actress had to leave town with Second City's touring company. Now Oobleck faced two choices: replace Thompson in his own play and delay the opening for at least another week, or scrap the show and remount it after Thompson healed.

A founding member of the popular avant-garde theater troupe, Thompson had long been content to appear in other people's works while writing his own short comic plays. He never received the accolades regularly handed to other members, such as Jeff Dorchen and David Isaacson. But in the last several years, Thompson has come into his own. He's refined his comedy act, "Danny and His Things," in which he plays out dramatic scenes using common household items as characters; pots, cans, and biscuit dough transform the always charming sketches into biting satire. Necessity is his first full-length play since his topical 1996 collaboration with David Isaacson, The Campaign by Marilyn Quayle and Her Sister and Theater Oobleck.

While Thompson was in the hospital having his leg pinned back together, Isaacson and the rest of Oobleck decided to delay the opening until this fall. Two days and $17,000 later--not counting the surgeon's fees--Thompson was back home. Housebound and uninsured, Thompson's short-term financial prospects look bleak. Before the accident he was dependent on a part-time job as a cabdriver, but now his right foot is in a cast. "I can't drive my cab, and my theater company doesn't have worker's comp," Thompson says. "If I had just let myself fall, we probably would be in the third week of our run. But I try not to play woulda coulda shoulda."

Instead, Theater Oobleck will be mounting a "Fragile Foot Benefit" to help raise money for Thompson at 7 PM this Wednesday at Footsteps Theatre Company, 5230 N. Clark. Music will be offered by Maestro Subgum and the Whole; the klezmer band Schloinke; and Wounded Jukebox, featuring Ken Vandermark, John Corbett, and Terri Kapsalis. There will also be performances by members of the Neo-Futurists, Jeff Dorchen, and David Isaacson, who will give a dramatic reading of Thompson's medical bill ("$71.36 for a toothbrush, toothpaste, and soap."). Tickets are $15, or "pay what you can." Call 773-252-3154.

--Jack Helbig

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Randy Tunnell.

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